(Spoiler alert: I talk about the current and past two seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale.)
The Handmaid’s Tale tends to inspire a lot of questions — “Will June get her daughter back?” is a major question throughout Season 3.
But I think there are larger, more interesting, questions that came out of Episode 6, “Household.”
Is Gilead redeemable? Can it be conquered? Will it be one of those oppressive regimes the world deplores but accepts?
I had even more questions when I watched the scene in the National Mall. There were thousands of Handmaids, all bowing down in submission. So many women, yet they refuse to resist? At what point in pre-Gilead could so many fertile women be rounded up?
In earlier seasons, it seems like there were a series of tipping points (women no longer being allowed to work, for example). My impression, though, is that not all of the Handmaids are unwilling surrogates. At least, initially, some must have agreed in order for such a system to have gained ground.
There must have been true believers on all levels.
The collective presence of so many red coats reminded me how, prior to this episode, we saw the Handmaids in relative isolation. Maybe, at the most, we have witnessed groups of maybe fifty in ritual situations (a stoning, baptism, etc.) There isn’t much space for rebellion.
Collective action is necessary for a revolution.
On the other hand, perhaps there wasn’t enough collective action pre-Gilead, which made this world possible. It’s a warning to us in a post-feminist generation of what happens when women take their rights — their freedom — for granted.
For Gilead to be so strong, there had to be a lot of complicit people during its birth. We get the sense in past episodes that women’s rights were slowly encroached. We can assume the majority of women didn’t resist as a group — at least, not in time to prevent the overthrow of the American government.
Instead, Serena Waterford’s treatise, “A Woman’s Place,” spoke to enough women — perhaps mostly infertile women? — to make such a world possible. She helped create a world that gave women (and herself) no voice in an effort to have a child. June hits the nail on the head when she admonished Serena Joy, saying, “You created a world just so you could have someone to love you.”
However, it is June who appears cruel, never having experienced a life where being loved by one’s own child is impossible. Is the desire to have a child at any cost ever understandable to a woman who isn’t infertile? Perhaps Serena and June aren’t so different, though, if giving up one’s voice — one’s power — is necessary to have one’s own child. Serena chose this pre-Gilead, and again when she wants Nicole back. June sacrifices her freedom for Hannah.
Both put motherhood above the feminist ideal of autonomy.
Motherhood and feminism are constantly at odds in this series, but even more so for Serena Joy, who advocated for a “domestic feminism” that left her without power. This makes her, as June duly notes, cruel.
But, while watching the scene, I am left with the question: is Serena’s cruelty truly her nature, as June seems to be saying, or the product of this world?
June certainly changes and does things she would never imagine she would do while in Gilead. It’s a world where the end (children) justifies the means (surrogate-slaves). But we see more and more a world that ends up enslaving everyone, even those we think are powerful.
All of this leaves me wondering, is resistance even possible? The Waterford “household” looks like it might get Nicole back. Serena Joy isn’t an ally to the Handmaids anymore. Nick is going off to the front lines. He’s just as responsible for this world — a patriot of Gilead, it turns out.
And June? What means does she have left to resist? The Commander seems sympathetic, but he’s made it clear that there are limits to his help, especially after he tried to get June out and she chose not to escape. She ends up choosing slavery for the possibility of getting Hannah back — her ultimate sacrifice.
Is resisting even possible, given her goal?
Most likely, she’s going back to being Commander Lawrence’s Handmaid. Maybe there, she will get to do small rebellions, like helping the “Underground Railroad of the Marthas,” if the Commander doesn’t squash it.
Or — this is a long shot — trying to get the other Handmaids to, in their own way, unionize. Maybe small acts of kindness towards others there who are oppressed is all she can do, at this point.
June realizes on the trip to Washington, D.C., that, in a way, she has it pretty good back at home. At least she has her voice (instead of literally being muzzled like the Washington Handmaids are).
The question is: How will she use her voice? Will she be the voice of the revolution like Selena was in ushering in the age of Gilead?
We will just have to see in future episodes if the revolution is even possible.
Or is resistance futile?