“Freedom from” vs. “Freedom to”

In The Handsmaid Tale, freedom of women is something that is not talked about much. The women just do as they are told and live by the rules. In Chapter 5, Aunt Lydia says to Offred,“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.” This quote says a lot about freedom; it hints to Offred not to take the type of freedom she has “for granted” because things could be a lot “worse”. Freedom from, the type of freedom Aunt Lydia says Offred has, can be defined as protection or security. A few lines before this quote, we see the words “Women were not protected then.” This gives us the hint that freedom to during the “days of anarchy” must have been when women were not protected. Now, what Offred has, freedom from, keeps her confined, from whom?  Men. Men are no longer able to speak, touch, or make any typeof contact with them. The text states, “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.” This type of freedom, freedom from, can be a good and a bad thing. Good, because the women are somewhat protected from men and out of harm’s way. Bad, because now women may have a hard time finding a soulmate, or possible husband. Also, sex life for them is also scarce. Aunt Lydia tells Offred “not to underrate it” because in some way, it is better than freedom to. Overall, in my opinion, it’s a “lose-lose” situation. Women can not have total freedom. They can not have their own voice or do what they please in either situation. Men will always have the “upper hand” and control them. As in today’s society, the male gender is the dominant gender. This is a reoccuring trend in society which may never be reversed.



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6 responses to ““Freedom from” vs. “Freedom to”

  1. smboehm

    I completely agree with your post. It’s also interesting to consider that the women are “protected” from the men in that they can no longer make cat-calls or whistle at them off the street, yet the women are now in some ways sex slaves to their “commanders”. Although the women’s current situation is said to protect them in many ways from the awful way of life in the past, in my opinion they are still much the same as far away from freedom as they were before. They are free from the frantic and constant worrisome behavior of the past, but now they must worry about following the rules of their commanders.

  2. You state that the “freedom from” that Aunt Lydia is referring to is a freedom from violence or protection. This may be what the society wants women to believe but do they even have this freedom? Even though women may be protected from random acts of violence they are still subjected to state-sanctioned violence- namely the acts of rape by their commanders. Furthermore, even though by law men may not be permitted to sexualize women, this is not what happens in fact. Throughout the first half of the book, the doctor, Nick, and the Commander, make sexual advances on Ofglen even though the punishment for doing so is death. Perhaps human instinct can not be stifled no matter what the consequences are.

  3. siegvald

    It’s curious how the Handmaids’ role in the society of the Republic of Gilead is supposed to be one that is important and respected–it is through them that repopulation is supposed to have its greatest chance. But everybody hates them, well not the Commanders of course. All the other women hate them though–Wives, Econowives, and even the Marthas seem to view them as a function and not as people. And even more, after awhile the Handmaids themselves don’t even seem to question their lifestyle. Offred has the opinion like, ‘at least this one wasn’t bald and smelly’ like now the new Commander had some plusses. Seemed almost as if she was growing complacent, limiting herself to the confines of already very restricted choices.

  4. vrosengrant20

    While I agree that the women in the story are limited, the men are not as all-powerful as the audience is led to believe. Since the protagonist is female, we are able to sympathize with her position better as we see the contrast between her previous life and the obstacles that she faces in the present. Yet, we do get a passing glance at the limitations that are pressed upon the men, such as not being able to touch women without permission from a superior or even have a straightforward conversation with them. The men in the story may have more freedoms than the women, but are still oppressed in order to provide protection to the women.

  5. autumncassidy

    I also agree that the men in this story are somewhat powerless. The Commander, although at the top of the hierarchical society, is also limited. This limitation is displayed in his desperation to cling to the past, particularly when he invites Offred into his study to partake in a game of Scrabble. Although the security of “freedom from” is present in Gilead, it is truly a double-edged sword. The individuals are so constrained in their individual agency to evoke change that at what point does living outweigh the cost of forgoing one’s natural rights? I think that the character that is most free in the novel is Nick, although he is seen as one of the lower class citizens of Gilead.

  6. stperry1

    I think the helplessness of the men in this story is also a very interesting point. When the women become slaves to safety the men become slaves to protecting them and both parties suffer because of it. Its definitely important to realize that the oppression that faces one group also in turn causes problems for the ones doing the oppressing. Once the men decided to change the world in such a fashion, they were then forced to follow the same rules and be constantly in check. The men who created this world have also become slave to it, and in a way have led to their own oppression.

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