Forget about gender, race, class or anything else, because for June & Gilead alike, it’s all about the children.
As The Handmaid’s Tale continues to wander away from the big questions the book asked its readers to ponder, its protagonist has been reduced to the same motivational paradigm as the antagonistic evil empire of Gilead. In the most recent episode we see June return from madness in a miraculously short time to have her newest scheme validated by the community of Marthas and handmaids. She is going to save the children, or so she believes. Which, incidentally, is the same thing that Gilead believes it is doing.
Okay, I will acknowledge right up front that the motivations of Gilead’s leaders are more complex and sinister, but the narrative upon which consent for the maligned national entity rests is the necessity of preserving humanity by saving its children. Although the people in charge are obviously more driven by power and archaic religious and social ideas, the power rests on an alleged interest in doing what is best for humanity’s offspring. Without that lie it seems unlikely that Gilead would have gained enough support to have ever gotten off the ground.
With June now leading an ill-fated crusade to save the children, and apparently getting a lot of support from the other subjugated women in the Boston community, the question is why aren’t these women saving each other and themselves? Why have they reduced themselves to the service of children, exactly as Gilead has done to them? The attitude that women are subordinate to the needs of children is precisely how Gilead has dehumanized these women, so why must they now do it to themselves?
Is that where this is heading? Is this a labeling theory thing, where we are going to see that the worst thing Gilead does to women is reduce their self-concept to the service of humanity’s offspring? Because if so, that is super weak. It would feel like we came all this way to learn what the subtext of characters like Aunt Lydia taught us about what Gilead does to women’s self-concept right from the start.
Or is this even a clumsier attempt at the ‘change it from the inside’ message that has reduced the anti-patriarchy attitude of classic feminists to cheering about women leaders within the patriarchal hierarchy? Ugh.
June and the other women need to get out. Sure they need to save the children and destroy Gilead at some point, but they cannot do so as prisoners within. They need to escape and gather resources and make realistic plans. They should see themselves as valuable and worthy enough to deserve their own liberation, and not as clumsy wannabe heroes of the children. They should be working together and helping one another.
Instead we have to watch them stoically accept their lot and persevere, injecting Protestant ideology into their pathos, as they battle Gilead to be the Champion of Children. Can we please get back some semblance of The Handmaid’s Tale being about women and their struggles in a patriarchy?
Or at least add some killer robots or something to make it interesting, sheesh.