Dehumanization of Women

In the city of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale, women are protected from violence but at a horrible cost- their absolute freedom. Women are no longer raped or abused by strange men but must submit to the state-sanctioned rape by their commanders. In chapter five Aunt Lydia speaks about freedom: “There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia.  Freedom to and freedom from.  In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you are being given freedom from.  Don’t underrate it” (Atwood 24).

The “freedom to” she is referring to is the freedom to choose. In chapter eleven we can see how Gilead has taken away Offred’s ability to choose. The doctor has given Offred an escape and yet she is horrified at the thought of such freedom, of being able to make her own decisions: “Why am I frightened? I’ve crossed no boundaries, I’ve given no trust, taken no risk, all is safe. It’s the choice that terrifies me. A way out, a salvation” (Atwood 61). Offred has become accustomed to the prisoner lifestyle of Gilead. When she bears her chains well they are almost comforting for her and she does not dare to do otherwise.

The “freedom from” that Aunt Lydia talks about is freedom from violence. “Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles” (Atwood 24). In chapter thirteen Janine testifies about how she was raped and had an abortion at fourteen, something that would never happen now in Gilead. However, with this freedom from, another freedom is taken away. In the society of Gilead, women are always the guilty party as is shown when the women in the group chant that the rape is Janine’s fault for leading the men on. The next week Janine admits, “It was my own fault. I led them on. I deserve the pain” (Atwood 72).

Through a close reading of Aunt Lydia’s quote in chapter five, we see that in Gilead women are protected and given freedom from many evils but at the cost of their own free will and choice. Furthermore women are dehumanized in this society as shown in the quotation: “I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will . . . Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping” (Atwood 73). Before, Offred’s body was an extension of herself but now she is no longer the master of her own body. Her body is now only the covering of the only thing that matters in Gilead- her womb. Offred is no longer a woman or even a human being-only a womb.




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4 responses to “Dehumanization of Women

  1. aeernst

    I find it very interesting how you bring up the point that in the Republic of Gilead, women have freedom from being raped by strangers, but have to submit to rape by their commanders. So really this “freedom from” that the Aunts try so hard to convince them they have isn’t freedom at all. The Aunts actually shift the meaning of freedom to fit their purpose, and brainwash the handmaids into thinking they do have freedom, just a different kind than before. This different kind of freedom however, means that the handmaids have freedom from control over their own bodies.

  2. Sophi

    I like your choice of quotation when you were describing how the women of Gilead are being dehumanized. When she describes her uterus as “shaped like a pear, which is hard and more real than I am”, you can literally picture her as this translucent “cloud” that people simply look through.
    Also, I agree with your description of what “freedom from” is. To add to your explanation, particularly the example of Janine’s case, it’s as though having the “freedom from” also applies to being able to defend yourself. By forfeiting your freedom to the whims of other individuals, you give up the ability to decide how to react to ideas that you feel strongly against.
    The chanting of the women putting Janine being at fault of the rape would be instantly reacted against by any women in the twentieth century, but Janine could do nothing but what she was supposed to do: submit to the idea that the rape was her fault. Her “freedom from” violates her true freedom to act with her happiness in mind, but in Gilead happiness is irrelevant. Like you said, the most important part of a woman in Gilead is her womb, and that is what defines her.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed the subject of your post and think it is a very important aspect to consider. Your post forces one to consider what is the cost of security and how much do we value freedom? I also really liked how you established what you believed “freedom to” and “freedom from” represents in the story. The connection you made between guilt and freedom is very interesting. If you think about it, it is impossible to have guilt and be totally free. The women are made to feel constantly guilty, and thus lack any chance at true freedom. Is protection from a few crimes really worth the loss of any freedom? Offred’s reduction to merely a womb is a sad and harsh reality. I wonder if the men of Gilead were able to find a way to have children without the need of a woman, would they just wipe woman out of society completely?

  4. “Dehumanization of women” sums this book up pretty well. Women are not considered “human”. They are worked as slaves and used for their “talents”, whether it be cooking/cleaning or reproducing, their purpose serves nothing more than that. For Aunt Lydia to feel that Offred should not underrate her “freedom” is something I disagree with. If I were put in Offred’s situation, I would also believe that this type of “freedom”, if you can call it that, is not truly being “free”. She is only used for sex–that is all. She is not allowed to talk to men, look at them, or dress/act as she pleases. This lifestyle she lives is not truly being “free”. She is being treated as way less than what she worth, a woman–moreover, a human.

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