The Handmaid’s Tale:
Adna Bertrand Rockwell
An Indictment of the Sexual Revolution
The Handmaid’s Tale, Season 1 (2017)
Produced by Hulu
Based on the 1985 book The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Max Minghella, Yvonne Strahovski, Joseph Fiennes, & Ann Dowd
I decided to watch The Handmaid’s Tale with some trepidation, given that the series is based on the novel of the same name by the deeply Canadian, semi-feminist author, Margaret Atwood.
Other works by Atwood include Alias Grace, which was a 2017 Netflix miniseries that was basically a well-made period piece with dull feminist talking points: men are rapists, back-alley abortions are the only answer to unplanned motherhood, hold off on marriage and wait for a perfect husband until menopause, blah, blah, blah. The narrative in Alias Grace drives its characters off a cliff of improbability. Even with the great costumes and props, it can’t even remotely be called a flawed masterpiece. With that said and before proceeding further, I must add that this review only concerns the Hulu series of The Handmaid’s Tale, not the book or the earlier film of Atwood’s story.
Atwood doesn’t identify as a feminist, but her works are widely read and interpreted in a feminist light. There is even a group of activists who dress in the same outfit as the Handmaids on the show and endorse boilerplate feminist-Left talking points. Here is an example taken from their Website:
Handmaid Coalition™ is a political action group created in the wake of increasingly volatile political trends targeting women, the working class, and minority groups across the country. We monitor pertinent legislation . . . nag, nag, nag.
The trademark in the above quote is not ironic, it’s verbatim, by the way, but I digress. The series’ message is far richer than what any feminists see in it. It also goes beyond its underlying sexual femi-porn angle, which allows its female audience members to vicariously live out the fantasy of being a younger women who edges out the older, lawful wife in the marriage bed of an older, accomplished man. (No way around it, readers, this titillating concept is front-and-center in the show.) Rather, The Handmaid’s Tale is a well-made exploration of the failure to address irrepressible problems through democracy, North America’s regional cultures, and the very real drop in the fertility of intelligent, high-class women. It is also a very negative exploration of feminism, although that is not apparent at first. As Atwood said in an interview, “It is a blueprint of the kind of thing human beings do when they are put under a certain sort of pressure.”
The World of the Handmaids
The Handmaids live in a North America that has fallen apart due to war, environmental collapse, and a plague which has caused barrenness in most women. This plague affected all humanity, so one racial group isn’t about to overwhelm another through the proverbial battle of the cradle. We are shown the world prior to the time that the series is set in flashbacks. We see that the environment had decayed, mothers could not conceive, and the democratic government couldn’t find a way to fix the myriad of social problems. Eventually, the capitol of the United States retreated to Anchorage, Alaska, and in the time that the show takes place, only two states remain in the Union (the other being Hawaii). New England (and I suppose the northern states down to Washington, DC, although the borders are never explicitly defined) has become The Republic of Gilead. This Republic is a puritanical/Public Protestant theocracy in which biblical laws are being applied to all of society. The Republic of Gilead could also be seen as a Canadian’s view of nearby (and from their point of view, dangerous) New England, a region whose “stereotypically Yankee [people],” as David Hackett Fischer wrote, “had a lean and hungry look.”
In this world, Roman Catholic cathedrals are demolished, priests are hanged, and The Republic of Gilead is ruled by a group of Commanders (somewhat like the Judges in Old Testament Israel). The Handmaids’ world is highly technological, with the Internet, social media, cell phones, cars, clean streets, and stable electricity still around, and with tank battles being fought in the “ruins of Chicago.” There are also colonies that are a bad place to be sent.
The Handmaid’s Tale’s protagonist, Offred (Elisabeth Moss), is shown living in a society which is racially mixed, and its citizens live SWIPL-style. Offred has an adulterous affair with a married, high-ranking SWIPL Type, she gets him to leave his wife, and they have a child together. I believe that the integrated society, the adultery, and the pointless office jobs are intended to show a spiritually, environmentally, and politically bankrupt society that is very close to our own.
Fertility treatments in this world don’t exist. There are no egg donors, in vitro fertilization, and so on. Childbirth has fallen to the level of the seventeenth century. As a result, fertile women, called Handmaids, are forced to have sex with powerful men who are the husbands of barren wives, and then ritually give birth to their children on the knees of their wives. All of this likewise symbolically represents the crisis of our own age: intelligent, high-class white women aren’t having as many children as they should. The right to abortion and birth control for these women isn’t really a victory for themselves or anyone else. Feminism, if fully realized, will lead to a crisis in fertility and civilization not very different from the conditions that brought about the fictional Republic of Gilead – something that is becoming clearer and clearer in the decades after the advent of The Pill and the sexual revolution.
The Women of the Handmaids’ World
We see Gilead’s politics only in brief glimpses, where it is necessary to propel the story. The bulk of the insight in The Handmaid’s Tale is conveyed through the lives of four different types of women:
- The Handmaids: They are fertile. To emphasize this, Elizabeth Moss’s face is radiant in her Puritan-style bonnet. The Handmaids all have good figures. There are no fatties.
- The Aunts: They supervise the Handmaids and apply discipline and training, the most interesting one being Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), who believes in her mission. The Aunts hold a prominent place in The Republic of Gilead. They are also cruel, but surprisingly fair in some circumstances.
- The barren wives: These women are married to powerful men. Their characters are mostly flat, and they serve as fairy-tale “witch” figures in the story, similar to Snow White, where a young virgin is pursued by a vain, older woman who is jealous of the virgin’s youth, beauty, and fertility. The exception to this is Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski), whose situation will be explored further below.
- Unmarried barren women: These characters are mostly in the background, but they do have significance, as will be discussed.
Most women, especially feminists, imagine themselves in the role of the sexually-exploited Handmaids, and either ignore or feel contempt for the rest of the characters. (Of course, being sexually exploited by a powerful man is also a femi-porn fantasy.) For example, President Trump’s Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Saunders, was compared to Aunt Lydia in a very hostile roast at the most recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner. However, the truth in this world is that all women become fertile “Handmaids” after puberty, and they eventually become barren as they age. For a woman to identify with the Handmaids and ignore the other types of women in the world of the series is a mistake, given that the life cycles of all the women pass through the phases of Handmaid, Barren Wife, and Aunt.
The unmarried barren women are the most often ignored, albeit important, aspect of the world of The Handmaid’s Tale. These women represent a considerable portion of the female population in The Republic of Gilead, and they teach us lessons about the real world: namely, that women must keep their eye on the ball in their fertile years to find a husband and have children. I’ve come to conclude myself that it’s not that easy.
I’ll provide an illustration. At one of Greg Johnson’s secret gatherings, I spoke to a fellow Counter-Currents author after showing off my rocking gym bod crafted by my trainer Kyle. I’m young enough to have always had social media, but this gentleman is older, and he described his entry into the Facebook world thusly:
It was like a 25-year high school reunion. All my pals from high school friended me over a two-day period. It was emotionally overwhelming. I hadn’t seen these people in years. What was most interesting was that the passage of time had marked the women far more than the men. All the women had become somewhat frumpy and lost the hourglass figures that I recalled them having. Next, for every man that had gone gay or died young (in our twenties there was a cruel spate of car accidents, a fatal heart attack at 27 for one pal, the Iraq War, and a rodeo accident), there was one woman who had never been married. It was quite literally one-for-one. I came to conclude that while women can easily find a sexual partner, it is far more difficult for them to find a committed husband. The gates for this are narrower. The man must be the right age, social class, income level, religious denomination, and so on. The women who had no children did appear younger then the married moms, and their Facebook posts were a flurry of vacation photos and “you go girl!” affirmations, but as they reached beyond their forties, a great many cried out in Facebook posts about their spinsterhood and looming menopause. One woman over forty couldn’t understand why she hadn’t found a minister to marry, with whom she’d have had six kids. It was both contemptible and saddening. Some of these girls were real shoot-‘em-down gals in high school. Meanwhile, all the women with children proudly posted pictures of graduations, learner’s permits, Eagle Scout Awards, and so on. Children were the highlight of their lives. Their careers, degrees, and such were a distant, distant second.
I believe Offred’s attempted escape to Canada with her husband and child in one episode is not reflective of SWIPLs smugly fleeing a Republican in the White House for Toronto, but a symbolic representation of just how precarious the nuclear family of one man, one woman, and their offspring has become in the light of the explosion in the divorce rate and the sexual revolution.
The Aunts, such as Aunt Lydia, are doing the former career girl-turned-Handmaid a big favor in ensuring that they have children and carry civilization forward. Older women who stuck to feminist dogma throughout their lives missed out on providing wisdom to their younger peers. In fact, women who are strict feminists aren’t like the Handmaids, they are like the unmarried barren women who are ignored. In the end, Aunt Lydia is correct – it’s really all for the children. Not all children, mind you, but the children of your people. This idea is further explored during one exchange between Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and Offred. Waterford insists that children and family are the purpose of their entire effort, while Offred believes that “love” is important. I suppose that by “love” Offred means the euphoria in romantic courtship, a euphoria that always fades . . .
The barren wives represent the fertility crisis among intelligent, upper-class women. In The Handmaid’s Tale, this drop was the result of STDs and other factors. In our world, it is due to the endless encouragement for women to always be pursuing more degrees, more training, more promotions, and more careerism – all of it supported by birth control and abortion. The story of one of the barren wives, Serena Joy Waterford, should be seen as the tragedy of an intelligent, high-class woman who did not have children. Although the reasons for this are not made clear – perhaps it is because she had fertility problems – it is Mrs. Waterford who developed the ideology of The Republic of Gilead and the practice of making use of Handmaid surrogates. And indeed, the longer an irrepressible problem is ignored, the greater the effort required to fix it. Waterford also lays bare the fraud in feminist thinking which presumes that feminist ideology should be applied to all women in all circumstances. In reality, women should be free to observe the barren fruits of feminist dogma and thus turn away from it entirely.
The best episode of the first season is “A Woman’s Place,” directed by Floria Sigismondi. In this episode, we see that the Commanders who rape the Handmaids only perform their societal duties under duress. They realize that they have to prevent civilization from going extinct, and they’ve found a way – not a great way, but a plausible one under the conditions. But it is also true that the women are truly cruel to each other. In one episode, the Mexican Ambassador refuses to help Offred – because she can’t. To save Mexico, she must trade for Handmaids. And the scene were a group of damaged Handmaids are kept from a party by Mrs. Waterford over the objections of Aunt Lydia is especially poignant.
The Republic of Gilead is Really Saudi Arabia
The way in which The Handmaid’s Tale is interpreted by the feminist establishment and groups like Handmaid Coalition™ is to view it as a critique of Yankee culture, the Puritan strain in America, and the Religious Right of the 1980s. But when I watched it, all I could think of was Saudi Arabia’s marriage policies.
To quote William Tucker:
In my book, Marriage and Civilization, I offer a novel explanation as to why Islam has always been at war with itself and others. It is because Islam is the only major religious culture that embraces polygamy. Polygamy? What does that have to do with anything? Am I suggesting that because some minor sheik outside Baghdad takes two wives, two young Muslim brothers in Massachusetts feel compelled to blow up the Boston Marathon? Well, yes. In any human society there are approximately the same number of men and women. Under monogamy, which limits each man to one wife, everyone gets a fair chance to marry. When powerful and successful men are allowed to take more than one wife, however, as they are in a polygamous society, this creates a pool of unsuccessful men at the bottom of society who are constantly in conflict with the system.
All of society is dependent on the few fertile woman and the mating game surrounding them. But The Handmaid’s Tale could be seen as being about the more difficult, polygamous mating game of the Islamic world transplanted to a dystopian Massachusetts. Gilead features Islamic-style repression of young men, terrorism, war, clitoridectomies, and even harems owned by powerful men. There is even a white slave trade, such as that which took place in Eastern Europe during Ottoman Rule. And the uniform of the Handmaids is not unlike the burqas of Afghanistan.
Ladies, Don’t Miss the Point
The dystopian world of The Handmaid’s Tale is an excellent fantasy depicting the crisis of our age – the failure of intelligent, upper-class women to fully take advantage of their childbearing years. But unfortunately, a single, metrosexual, Seattle gym-nut on the far fringes of the political Right has no ability to turn this around. Any woman who reads this mansplaining review will automatically be offended. She’s been taught to interpret The Handmaid’s Tale from the cold perspective of the bitter harridan spinster. This perspective dominates feminism, and both the Left and Right limits of the female Overton window. It is truly up to our older “Aunts” – our real-world aunts who have not had children – to properly instruct our young nieces regarding the harsh realities of their short fertility window.
Adna Bertrand Rockwell is a veteran and a distant cousin of Commander George Lincoln Rockwell. He is also a believer in restrictions on the AR-15. He works out with Kyle and enjoys Seattle’s fat-free lattes.
 Genesis, Chapter 30, verses 1-5 (KJV): “And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her. And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son.”