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How The Handmaid's Tale is so worryingly relevant to our daily lives

Blessed be the television.

04 Jul 2019

It’s no secret that dystopian drama series The Handmaid’s Tale makes for extremely harrowing viewing. The women are treated like second-class citizens with zero autonomy and bleak scenes include rape, murder and torture. Environmental crisis is also a strong theme, and STDs feature widely as well.

But while some viewers may find it too hard to watch (and yes, that’s me), award-winning star Elisabeth Moss explains how stark parallels with reality make the show even more important.

In a recent Radio Times interview, Elisabeth emphasises: “It’s shockingly relevant. It’s important to hold a mirror up to society and to ourselves to try to get people to face what’s going on, before it’s too late."

If you’ve not seen The Handmaid’s Tale, civil war and environmental peril set the scene for a society whose birth-rate is in serious decline. While most of the women are now infertile, those still able to become pregnant (The Handmaids) are enslaved and sexually coerced. The human rights removed in The Handmaid’s Tale are on a nightmarish scale, and extreme enough to rationally joke that this would never happen in real life. But, the fundamentalist dictatorship of fictional setting Gilead is not a million miles from recent well-publicised events in America.

In May, Alabama’s entirely male senate passed a ban on abortions at any stage in pregnancy. Other states this year have signed into the so-called ‘fetal heartbeat’ bill, making abortion illegal as soon as a heartbeat can be detected, which happens from 6 weeks into pregnancy. Horrifyingly, the Alabama legislation doesn’t make any exceptions for rape or incest either. Within this ruling, doctors face 10 years in prison for attempting to carry out an abortion, or 99 if they were to terminate a pregnancy. The only allowance is when a mother’s life is at serious risk, in which case an abortion would be legal.

Men having their say about the future of a woman’s body is eerily similar to the patriarchal regime within The Handmaid’s Tale. Protestors in Alabama dressed as Handmaids marked the undeniable link, with signs stating, “abortion is a human right”.

MSI United States represent family planning organisation Marie Stopes International in the USA. President Marjorie Newman-Williams said: “The Alabama abortion ban is cruel and unconstitutional. We hope that it will be blocked by the courts, and we’re deeply alarmed to see states attempt to punish women for making choices about their own bodies, lives and futures.”

In season 3, Elisabeth’s character June (or Offred) has become a slave deserter, marking her resistance against the regime. Showrunner Bruce Miller explains, "After a couple of seasons of being beaten down, she’s had quite enough. She’s finding ways to rebel."

At a time when women are rallying worldwide because they too have had enough, the abortion legislation is being fought against and well-known figures are recounting their own experiences. Our voices have never been louder. Trump being at the helm is clearly a focal point of concern. He just this week, when accused of rape, referred to his accuser writer E. Jean Carroll as “not my type”. The fact that the President of America deemed a comment like that acceptable is sheer testament to the world we’re currently living in.

Another distinctive link between The Handmaid’s Tale and reality is the toxic wastelands and emphasis on infertility being caused by air pollution and contaminated food, amongst other environmental issues. Climate anxiety is at peak levels for millennials, with rallying cries globally to find a solution to our current (and real life) environmental crisis.

There’s no doubt society is currently undergoing huge challenges and thankfully, just like on the show itself; inequality and misogyny are being met with equally enormous opposition. Elisabeth finishes: "When people say the show is hard to watch, I get my hackles up. If you can’t face our show, then how are you going to face what’s actually happening in the world?” And evidently, it is a strong visual representation of very real issues which require resistance.

Women’s rights are at the forefront of much debate, and here at GLAMOUR HQ we will continue using our voice too. And as MSI United States powerfully underline, “When women and girls make decisions about their bodies and their futures, entire societies benefit.”