Women belong to a social class of their own defined by the gender differences between them and men. For a long time, women have faced oppression from men and the societal patriarchy that enables them, who are positioned as superior to women. The author of The Handmaid’s Tale highlights the oppression of women in a new dystopian society. The oppression is not subtle, as positions of power are not only intended for men but reserved for them. As for women, they are excluded from positions of power and their needs are dependent on being fulfilled by the men in charge who cannot begin to understand their personal struggles. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the lack of representation of females is hopefully not lost on the readers. The marginalization of women in this dystopian society poses significant threat to their lives, which are void of independence and liveliness.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale represents the oppression of women in a society that upholds men higher than their female counterparts. The new regime demeans women, treating them as mere sexual objects to men and only a vehicle of life through childbirth and childrearing so that society can continue. This element of the story is a not to the public health fear of the United States government as birth rates dropped in the 1980s, likely due to the introduction of birth control and contraceptives into the public health sphere and the public consciousness. This fear is persistent today, as several news outlets have reported on research findings that birth rates hit a new low in 2016, as women in their thirties and forties are giving birth more than women in their twenties. In the story, its regime ranks women in different groups ranging from wives of commanders who get the highest form of recognition to the workers who should work under the influential people in the society. Those who break the rules are put to death, yet not instantaneously—some are sent to work with dangerous chemical elements, ensuring the slow breakdown of their bodies. The restriction means that women will not reach their fullest potential as most decisions made in the society are made by men who do not care about the welfare and development of the females. In addition, women have no choice than to obey rules set for them if they hope to live meaningful lives. This paper will focus on the marginalization of Marthas, the women who serve not as incubators for children like Handmaids, but as servants to wealthy and/or high-ranking families.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale represents Marthas as people who cook and clean around the houses of commanders’ wives, who must obey the house rules. A Martha is a domestic servant that must possess skills such as cooking and cleaning in order to serve the people in the household. The name Marthas is likely a representation of Martha in the Bible, the sister of Mary of Bethany; Martha is the more practical and domesticated of the two. They are restricted to a life of duty, yet in juxtaposition to the Handmaids, their roles are less violent and oppressive as they are not relied upon for sustaining the population for centuries to come. The Marthas are infertile and low-class women and in the story, are typically ethnic minorities. The author intends to create a mental picture in the minds of readers that women are only supposed to do what would make the men happy, by being submissive and servile. However, since the Marthas are generally infertile, they take advantage of the opportunity to be a nanny if a Wife has one, as it is likely their only chance. Their needs were ignored since laws and regulations came from the men. It can be argued that that religion was a basis to make rules oppressing the women, which presents to readers that people in leadership use baseless arguments to take advantage of others who have no say. However, in religion, childrearing and childbirth is crucially important to the survival of a population, especially in Christianity and just as it is in The Handmaid’s Tale. The Marthas can be seen as both an antithesis and representation of that religious dogma, as they do not fulfill a woman’s “purpose” in childbirth but are servile and domestically obligated to both men and women, the latter of which is typically unexpected. At times, Marthas bring food to and for the Handmaids as well. The stripping away of the Marthas’ identity is comparable to the Handmaids, although the two groups are sometimes involved in conflict with each other. Both groups of women are destined to an unfulfilled life which, if they defy, their death is almost certain.
The author of The Handmaid’s Tale decides to highlight the silencing that women experience, which takes different, forms. For instance, men fail to give women a chance in the society to engage in other activities, other than being in the kitchen. In addition, when females do not get an opportunity to advance their education, it means that they lack representatives from among them who can spearhead for changes in the way the society treats women. Excluding women from making decisions also means that men will always make decisions that favor their preferences without considering the needs of women. For instance, women in the text are silent as the law forbids them from engaging in activities that can add value to their lives like reading for example.
In contrast, the Handmaids are ranked the second after the commanders’ wives. Their work revolves satisfying the needs of men in the society so that they can birth children to sustain the population and quell the fear of another era of frequent transmitted diseases among men, rendering them impotent. The Handmaids face a much more oppressive existence than the Marthas, as all fertile women are forced to become such. Like the Marthas, the concept of the Handmaids is biblical in its roots as well, originating from the story of Rachel and Jacob. Rachel, an infertile woman, suggested that Jacob impregnate the maid Bilhah to have a child for them to raise. Handmaids are delegated to domestic duties as well, but a reprieve comes when they are pregnant, making them the subject of envy, most likely of the Marthas who cannot stop working, nor can they have children. his means that handmaids were to prepare their bodies for the men, as and when needed. The relationship between the Marthas and the Handmaids is only slightly similar, as their responsibilities and duties can overlap, but the fundamental difference between hem are not only the physical ability to carry a child, but Marthas are essentially only housekeepers who are less likely to be subjected to their own objectification and unbridled use of their bodies. Marthas have a different kind of power and a significant degree of freedom and ability that the Handmaids do not.