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The Handmaid’s (Feminist?) Tale

Please watch (and read) The Handmaid’s Tale.


Now that I’ve said that, I have some questions.

Some internet commentary surrounding how the show is being promoted on its press tour has raised questions about the reluctance of the producers, showrunner, writers, and actors to call the show feminist and to speak about it as the political entity that it is.

The Handmaid’s Tale, based on Margaret Atwood’s seminal 1985 novel, depicts a theocratic regime that rules what was once the United States in a time that is uncannily (and quite intentionally) like our own. Due to environmental pollutants, the majority of the population are infertile — the few fertile women are enslaved to elite men in order to bear them children. One such handmaid, Offred, details her story of survival.

A story about women’s autonomy being systemically removed by a religiously fanatical government as told by a strong woman doing everything she can to survive — but it’s not feminist, it’s a human story; it’s not political, it’s universal, say the cast and crew.


Rachel Handler deftly notes, “I couldn’t understand why the creators and stars of one of the most deeply and inextricably feminist stories to date would ‘all lives matter’ their own nakedly political production.” In the interest of marketing or appealing to a male demographic, sure, maybe. But that isn’t–shouldn’t be–enough to justify such indelicate washing over of the show’s overtly feminist themes.

This challenge raises for me questions of how responsible an artist is to their art once it’s in the world. Yes, TV is different, and actors and producers have contractual obligations to say and not say certain things on a press tour, but still. This show is art. And to treat that art’s strong political message as anything but is at best a disservice to it and at worst an act of irresponsible complacency — the type of complacency that landed us with “all lives matter” and a Trump presidency and maybe, one day, handmaids’ tales.


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