Feminist criticism is a gender criticism approach that has been used in “The Handmaids Tale” in an attempt to reveal how the literary works support or challenge the assumptions of having a male-dominated social order. The subject matter of this tale can be said to have gender criticism approach because the narrator is a female. Moreover, the novel has other complex female characters and this is an added reason when claiming that it is coming from a female perspective. The novel has portrayed how the rights of women in the society can be revoked. This pushes women back to extreme gender roles where they have no opinions, rights and no beauty products or cosmetics. This shows how an independent woman can be stripped of her powers and rights in the society (Atwood 14). It is turned into an object or ‘vessel’ who has a sole purpose of bearing children to save the population of the society from extinction. This act of driving women back has seen them become breeders and house cleaners, as a result, their diversity, and individuality are erased.
‘The Handmaids Tale’ uses ‘extreme gender’ although exaggerated to highlight the social constructs of gender presentation in the society. Moreover, these extremities have brought out expectations of the gender presentation as elaborated in the novel. Looking at Atwood’s choice of having a female narrator in the novel, has managed to turn the traditional masculine dystopian genre upside down. From this, the readers of dystopian fiction will recognize the presence of themes such as constant surveillance, war, lack of freedom and oppression, and the presence of underground rebellion and movement (Atwood 42). Such issues are easily traceable even in the world today. Therefore, Atwood uses dystopias to show readers what might happen when certain attitudes are carried to their extremes. He has managed to give a different dissident account because the novel looks at a Handmaid who has been relegated especially on the margins of the nation’s political power. In the novel, Offred, a protagonist, has looked down the sexual agency of females on rebels by having sexual engagement with Nick and the Commander. However, these sexual acts are performative just as gender expression is because it largely consists of acting that is purposeful and pretentious in nature. In addition, the sexual acts are performative because they are consciously imitating the romantic scenes objected in the movies. Therefore, all the love plots in The Handmaid’s Tale are dangerous to women because it depicts the negative expectations that come from pre-existing ‘molds’ such as the rescue fantasy (Atwood 64).
In addition, Atwood also uses the gender criticism approach when she looks at how to challenge the romance genre in her literary works. At this point, Atwood manages to allude to some of the conventions and familiar tropes of the romance genre. In this instance, Atwood manages to reveal the imitative structure of both sexuality and gender (Atwood 22). The other instances that the novel ascribes to gender criticism regard the female sexuality, the relationships of mother and daughters in the novel and those between men and women.
Overall, the novel has managed to use gender criticism when looking at the feminist movement in the novel. In addition, the Aunts role and portrayal are feminist in that, the power of the Aunt has been ‘disguised as a spirit of camaraderie.’ Her portrayal depicts resistance throughout the novel.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986