I started hearing the buzz about The Handmaid’s Tale a few months ago. It was released in the US in April and has been dubbed “brilliant”, “terrifying” and a profoundly unsettling tale of “what if”.
“What if” women’s rights were stripped in the name of greater good? “What if” men ruled all women in a new fundamentalist Christian society? “What if” your rights were stripped away so your new normal was life as a baby making slave?
The Handmaid’s Tale is 10 episodes of unsettling, violent and important viewing. Based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel the US government has been overthrown in a bloody coup and now The Republic Of Gilead rules. This is a near future where environmental pollution is so toxic fertility has plummeted and only a few women can now bear children.
These women are given over to the Republic Of Gilead’s elite, to have babies for “barren” couples. Gilead is a cruel place where women are property, punishment for not obeying the myriad of backward rules is harsh and paranoia and division permeate everything.
LISTEN: In a special bonus episode of The Binge, Mamamia unpacks this years’ most important TV show, The Handmaid’s Tale (post continues after audio…)
What great family viewing I thought…
I didn’t think that. I thought I want to watch this so much, but can I watch this with my daughters who are 17, 15 and 12? I re-read Atwood’s book in preparation (her updated February 2017 intro to her novel is brilliant reading in itself).
I watched the trailer a few times. I asked the 17 -year-old. She has exams and couldn’t commit to over ten hours of TV. I ruled out the 12-year-old because the subject matter is too disturbing and the trailers looked too violent and graphic.
That left my thoughtful 15-year-old. She’s the quietest and most self-contained of the girls. I figured we would watch the first episode together and if it was too much she could bail.
She never bailed.
And we talked. We pressed pause. We pressed rewind. We ate rice crackers and sometimes chocolate under thick blankets and we talked some more.
We watched all 10 episodes, just the two of us, and it made us want to change things. It made us question things.
We talked about women's rights, gay rights, human rights, the environment and how to never take things for granted.
We talked about the sadness of a world where children were rare.
We argued a little about social media (with teens all roads lead back to social media) and how it isn't a tool for protest. Protest is real not virtual. Get off your bum and do something (that was me), don't send off a 120 character tweet (also me). But Facebook is a good place to start and spread the word (daughter).
When she watched me try not to cry as a mother had her baby taken away from her, we talked about love.
When we watched Offred on "ceremony night" we talked about delusion, power, violence and religion.
We talked about whose turn it was to go get some rice crackers.
We talked about freedom and hope.
Yes, there were confronting scenes to watch. There were times we both closed our eyes. But that is the beating heart of The Handmaid's Tale. You can't close your eyes when you don't like what you see. Because that is when the bad things really do happen.
You need to change what you see.
You need to make noise. You need to watch carefully the men and women entrusted to watch over you. You need to cherish freedom and love.
You need to be the one to clean the world up. Not someone else.
When the credits rolled on the last episode, we lay together on the couch for a little while and dissected the last scene. We both wanted more.
Then the talking stopped.
"What are you thinking?" I asked.
"I'm wondering if I should have a bath."
It was time to return to the real world. A wonderful real world.