On Wednesday, The Handmaid’s Tale episode “A Woman’s Place” aired. Serena Joy, the blond polished wife of a commander of the oppressive Gilead, held court at a diplomatic dinner with a Mexican ambassador. It would be the first diplomatic relationship that Gilead establishes after the brutal coup that rendered women’s rights obsolete. The purpose of the dinner? To create a trade deal selling the fertility of Gilead’s handmaidens.
On Sunday, Ivanka Trump, the blond polished daughter of the President of the United States, held court at a roundtable in Saudi Arabia. It was the first diplomatic visit of the beleaguered Trump presidency. The purpose of the dinner? To create a trade deal for arms, oddly couched in a charitable contribution for women’s rights from notoriously repressive regimes.
In both of these scenarios we see the face of complicity. Of women who have succeeded as individuals at the expense of society as a whole, who have couched women’s oppression in the language of women’s rights, who have prospered because of their connections to men with power while turning a blind eye to the atrocities they perpetuate.
This episode of The Handmaid’s Tale revealed Serena Joy as more than a pretty face with a violent desire to procreate. She is also the power-hungry architect of gender roles in the conservative republic of Gilead. She is the Phyllis Schlafly of this speculative future, a woman whose advocacy for traditional gender roles ends up erasing her own agency.
Ivanka is the proto-Serena Joy, the female ambassador of a sexist regime, attempting to present a palatable face to a power structure so masculine, so anti-feminist, that the Vice President cannot even be alone in a room with a woman. The irony of her championing women’s rights on a foreign diplomacy trip to a country where women cannot even leave the house without a male companion is not lost on anyone. But even more so, as a representative of the Trump regime. A reminder of its one moment of transparency: