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Class and Gender Hierarchies in The Handmaids Tale

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Jess Maurie

on 20 April 2018

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Transcript of Class and Gender Hierarchies in The Handmaids Tale

Class and Gender Hierarchies in The Handmaids Tale
Class:a set or category of things having some property or attribute in common and differentiated from others by kind, type, or quality.
The color coded society of Gilead was not only based on diminishing the women to 'two legged wombs' but they needed to internalize there was still a class structure.
Offred was a revered handmaid that held the future of Gilead and her own in her ability to produce offspring.
Serena Joy the wife of the Commander still made her status known to Offred. Her husband was still hers. What little she had in her society she intended to keep
The inequality of men still appeared in the status structure of women where the Econowives were marked by their stripes
Men in Gilead
Although there seems to be more stratification of women, men too were divided into classes and could find themselves on the worse end of a Salvaging
The Commanders were on top of the social hierarchy. Under them were the Eyes, Angels and Guardians. All with their own woman to dominate.... who also tries to find another woman to dominate, in the never ending struggle for power
In the end....
There will always be stratification in societies how else will those in charge assure others of their status. The handmaids tale saw it to a more extreme end but in actuality Atwood curated Gilead from nations across the board.
What does class & gender hierarchies have to do with The Handmaids Tale
It is no secret Atwood uses instances in history to write this Narrative of Offred. From the Salem Witch Trials to Modern Day (or the 80's when she wrote it) she saw the obvious struggles between classes adn genders as so commonplace , it would of course be seen in such a dystopia as Gilead
Divisions of Women in Gilead
Handmaids(Red): fertile women forced to bear children for elite, barren couples
Wives(Blue): Barren Wives of Commanders but still hold status
Marthas: House women, older. No longer able to have children
Econowives(Stripes): Wives of Poorer men. Hates the handmaids as they have to do all the work
Aunts: job is to indoctrinate the women at the red center. Weapon of choice is the Electric Cattle prods
Unwomen: Societal dissidents sent to the Colonies. As good as dead from toxic waste

How are all of these Class and Social Hierarchies mirrored in real life?
What about the good ol' 2017 Election
The previous election was analyzed in as many ways as possible. From education, to race, to gender.
Hierarchy :a system or organization in which people or groups are ranked one above the other according to status or authority.
But before any analysis of the book its important to understand what class is and what a hierarchy is.
Cars go by, black most of them, some gray and brown. There are other women with baskets, some in red, some in dull green of the Marthas, some in the striped dresses, red and blues and green and cheap and skimpy that mark the women of the poorer men. Econowives, they're called. These women are not divided into functions. They have to do everything; if they can. Sometimes there is a woman in all black, a widow. There used to be more of them, but they seem to be diminishing. You don't see the commanders' Wives on the sidewalks. Only in cars.
(Atwood 24)
Well what about such a well known class system as the caste system?
Although outlawed we still see classes vying for power in a nation a billion strong. It still affects how people are seen and like a color coded society it makes it easier to determine who is less worthy
Is American Much different?
Between the 60's and 80's middle class women have seen amazing strides in their rights and have gained rights that were well deserved.
Then the 80's. "Right-wing wives such as best-selling Phyllis Schlafly made a handsome income telling other women to return home, to let their husbands provide, and to use their femininity and feminine wiles as the core of their success and fulfillment as women" (Neuman 860)
How is this any different from Wives keeping their high status no matter how many woman it keeps marginalized
Of course in true American fashion, money played a major role. In Gilead women are their bodies and merely nothing more. Their body are their lives
These groups were still a set of people with very ideas hoping the candidate of their choice will give power to their values
Who can Blame these women for complying
"In the case of Gilead, There were many women willing to serve as Aunts, either because of a genuine belief in what they called "traditional values", or for the benefits they might thereby acquire. When power is scarce, a little of it is tempting" (Atwood 308.Historical Notes)
What does this show about the American Woman
Women in the Handmaid's tale have seen the evils of men diminishing them to their uterus's but what about in real life when roles and attitudes women embody vary even from region to region
"But in America a woman is told she can do anything and then is knocked down the moment she proves it."(Porizkova)
The previous quote shows many American women are told they are themselves but in actuality they belong to society, their husbands or the government.
I guess we can say the American is possibly the Econowive, she may have more rights but she has to do everything herself. Her power is in telling herself there's still women in worse positions.
In America women's rights have been on every notch of the liberal and conservative spectrum, with many women trying to find their plce in a society that prides itself in being so progressive

Extra Resources
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/10/opinion/sunday/paulina-porizkova-america-feminist.html?_r=0
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/08/opinion/caste-india-hindu-violence.html
http://www.wnyc.org/story/conversation-margaret-atwood/
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/behind-trumps-victory-divisions-by-race-gender-education/
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