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On Power Between Women: The Handmaid’s Tale Revisited

We know the damage of othering. What about the ravages of Same-ing?

The Handmaid’s TaleVolker Schlöndorff

Queer people of any kind are known as Gender Traitors and hanged.

Once a month, when she is most fertile, the Handmaid is brought into the bedroom of the Commander and his Wife for what is called the Ceremony. She lies down, face up, with her head on the stomach of the Wife while the Commander has intercourse with her. Should she become pregnant, the Wife and the Commander claim her baby as their own. Should she not become pregnant after three tours of duty with three different Commanders, she will become an Unwoman. The Handmaids wear long red dresses and winged white headgear, like nuns’ habits. They are strictly maintained and controlled, like valuable cattle; they are not allowed to read; they are known by the name of their Commander (Offred, Ofglen, and so on); their only worth is as baby-making vessels, the means of reproduction for the ruling class.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Mary McCarthyThe New York Times in 1986Cat’s EyeThe Handmaid’s Tale

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary ImaginationSapphira and the Slave GirlBelovedThe New York Times Book Review

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale

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in tough times any amount is seen as better than none

I doubt that alienated experience of the actor is what the organizers intended, but it raises the question of our modern reliance on identification, on an experience of sameness, as the basis of social justice. Must we be knowable to each other, must we be transparent to each other, in order to treat each other decently? Do I have to be able to “identify” with you, or you with me, to enjoy basic civic respect? Do I have to see my face on top of your body, or vice versa, for us to believe in one another’s humanity?

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The Handmaid’s TaleWho are you now? Where have you been?

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Stacey D’Erasmo is the author of the novels Tea, A Seahorse Year, The Sky Below, and Wonderland; and the nonfiction book The Art of Intimacy. She is an associate professor of writing and publishing practices at Fordham University. 

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