Women’s Freedom: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Freedom is a natural birthright which permits individuals to act, speak, or think as they please without any restrictions. It is something that can not be taken or given away, touched, seen, nor felt, however, freedom is not absolute. In other words, people are “free” within limits. In The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the narrator, otherwise known as Offred, tells a story set in the near-future about her day-to-day life as a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. Although the most powerful live restricted lives, the Handmaids have it worse.

Confined to their bedrooms, Handmaids rarely ventured out, except for authorized outings to grocery stores, childbearing ceremonies, or even executions. Their sole purpose in society is to bear children with men, even if it is against their will. If a Handmaid becomes pregnant by their Commander, she is forced to give birth to a child she can not keep. Despite losing their rights to their own bodies, women can now “walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at [them], speaks to [them], touches [them]. No one whistles” (Atwood, 24). According to Aunt Lydia and Gilead, “there is more than one kind of freedom,… freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now [women] are being given freedom from” (Atwood, 24). Aunt Lydia and Gilead argue the Handmaids are free and should be grateful for their newfound freedom rather than complain about the freedom they have lost. Whatever freedom they believed to have had was stripped away.

The Handmaid’s Tale parallels current day societal phenomenons about women’s freedom. To some extent, women today face the same restrictions regarding their safety and rights as the women in the book. Handmaids too were once cautious about their surroundings because women were not protected then. Although they are “free” from catcalling and danger, women today still face those issues because they are not protected by guardians. However, women today have ownership over their bodies, whereas Handmaids do not. A Handmaid’s purpose is to get pregnant and give birth. If she is unable to fulfill her purpose, she is executed. Women today have the freedom to choose whether or not they want to get pregnant. With those similarities in mind, there is still room for improvement to be made in The Handmaid’s Tale and the world today in regards to women’s freedom.