The Handmaid’s Tale’s second season is a warning for white women

Gilead’s dystopian society is not as far off as it should be

The Handmaids and wives during a ceremony.
Screenshot from YouTube

As Canada’s southern neighbors question their democracy, and rights seem to be little more than suggestions, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is here to remind us that the worst is yet to come.

The eerily-relevant dystopian drama, which recently wrapped up its second season, should serve as a wake-up call for anyone who values their freedom. But for women, especially those of us seemingly protected by the privilege of wealth and whiteness, The Handmaid’s Tale is a warning.  
The Emmy-winning, small-screen adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic novel, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of June, a “Handmaid” in the dystopic land of Gilead—formerly known as the United States of America. In the wake of a fertility crisis, far-right religious leaders stage a coup and the country’s democracy is overthrown.  
The solution to the fertility crisis is Handmaids: women who have birthed children but are deemed morally unfit to be mothers. June—the protagonist—was an adulteress, while her friends, Moira and Emily, are members of the LGBTQ community.
In the eyes of Gilead, they’re all sinners. 
These women—who don’t meet the tale’s arbitrary standards of morality—have their children taken from them as punishment. As Handmaids, they are forcibly raped each month in the hopes they’ll get pregnant and provide a child for what’s considered a morally sound family. 
As these women go through their pregnancies, they additionally must grapple with the idea of giving up their babies.
To say the least—it’s dark. The rights of minorities are slowly stripped away, families are torn apart, and fertile women who are believed to be immoral forced to be sex-slaves and bear children for wealthy men. 
For those who care about where the world is heading, The Handmaid’s Tale’s depiction of what our world could turn into if we stop paying attention to our basic human rights, makes it a must-see series. But I think the show also has an important message for white women, who can be blinded by ignorance and privilege.
As a group, I think white women take our rights for granted, and fail to recognize that we also suffer as the rights of others are stripped. In the 2016 election, 61 per cent of white women without a degree.
They voted because of economic uncertainty, trust in Trump’s ‘good business skills,’ and a dissatisfaction with the current political climate, among other reasons. But they didn’t vote to support reproductive rights, immigration rights, LGBTQ rights, or civil rights—because those were not part of Trump’s platform.
For many women, these rights—especially reproductive rights—are in the periphery of everyday life. They don’t affect us until we need them. Women protected by the privilege of wealth, whiteness, and heterosexuality don’t experience the degradation of these rights in their daily life.
But The Handmaid’s Tale reminds us that we are more affected by these changes than we think, and history has shown that for all women, reproductive rights are often a life and death issue.
The protagonist of the show, June, is a white, middle-class, straight woman. Before her world flipped upside down, she had a good job and was politically aware. However, in flashbacks during the second season, we see June exhausted by her mother’s ceaseless protesting. She’s excited she got a new job as an assistant editor, but her mother thinks she should be doing more as the world falls apart around them. 
These flashbacks reveal to us that June—played brilliantly by Elizabeth Moss—is comfortable in her seemingly progressive ignorance.
Many of Gilead’s extremes and theatrics do seem far-off. The costumes are outdated and the biblical scripture is exhausting. Yet the changes that lead to Gilead are changes that are debated today—both in the United States and Canada
In one flashback during the second season’s premiere, June realizes she needs her husband to sign a form so she can get her birth control.
He asks her if she’s “serious” and they both scoff at the ridiculousness of the situation. The idea that June, an educated and independent woman, is somehow inferior to her husband is amusing to them. But signing a form isn’t a huge hassle, so they comply.
Another character, Emily, has a flashback where she finds out she’s been relieved of her teaching privileges.  When asked why she was let go, her superior—a gay man—says it’s because she’s a lesbian. “I thought you guys had it easy,” he tells her.
These flashbacks speak to different issues our society is currently facing.
Across the US, abortion clinics are being de-funded in a coordinated campaign to diminish a woman’s right to choose, and with the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice, Roe v. Wade, the law that legalizes a woman’s right to choose may be overturned.
In Canada, the new Ontario premier, Doug Ford, has said he wouldn’t stop anti-abortion legislation from being debated in the legislature and teenage girls should need parental permission to access abortions.
However, similar to the show, many of these changes are not as apparent in Canada. Toronto is the safe-haven for refugees of Gilead and Canadians are appalled at what women are suffering through.
But as our American neighbours have their rights challenged and families torn apart at the border, The Handmaid’s Tale begins to feels more like an incredibly well-shot documentary series than a post-apocalyptic drama. 

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