Ruby Jamison 3.4
The relationship between Offred and the Commander in the handmaid’s tale shows the influence/power of gender within society.
By saying “Boys will be boys” do you mean that as an excuse for men’s belligerent behaviour? Do you mean that is it ok for men to show aggression and act as though they are still juvenile? But for a woman to do the same, she would be considered aggressive, hormonal and bitchy. By saying “Man up” do you mean that in order for anyone to be considered strong or emotionally secure they have to be a male? Is this because of societies ideologies that assume that all women are whiny, weak, and almost pathetic? Within society we have grown oblivious to the fact that our gender so heavily defines how we are perceived. In the text ‘The Handmaid’s tale.’ The relationship that is developed between Offred and the Commander shows how much influence that your gender has over your perception and place within society. This is shown in the text as Gilead’s expectations of the commander and Offred are vastly different. This is reflective of what occurs between the sexes within our modern society. As the relationship between the Commander and Offred, showed how society has tremendously different views and expectations of how women and men should bty. Although in the text these expectations are exaggerated they do show similarities between how men are typically the workers, and women are the housekeepers. Their relationship also shows how women are often considered sexual objects, how women in society are often socially excluded, and how men are extremely privileged in comparison to women purely because of their gender.
Gilead mimics how our society demonstrates aspects of sexism to an extreme level. Especially considering the contrasting expectations between men and women both in Gilead and our own society. Fertility plays a major role on the placement of women in society, as historically a woman’s role in the household has always been as a homebody and child bearer. Women in our modern society, are constantly asked as soon as they reach adulthood when they’re going to get married, when they’re going to have children, when they’re going to settle down. But never asked about their careers, goals or aspirations. This is in direct contrast to how men are treated as they are so often praised over their career triumphs. Offred has the responsibility for being a child bearer for infertile and higher ranked couples in Gilead. She serves as a machine to create the product that is so heavily desired – a child. Offred understands how her worth is purely dictated by her fertility as she refers to herself and the other handmaid’s as “two legged wombs” Other women in the text such as the Martha’s who are infertile, older women. Are the housekeepers, their role within society is only to maintain the cleanliness of the commander’s house, and to provide meals. Once again this demonstrates how a woman’s role centralises itself around the management and care of a household. Even the wives in the text, are simply existing without meaning in their lives due to the lack of children. They take on a similar role as grandmothers do in our society, as they fulfill the stereotype by knitting and gardening – nurturing what is available to them. Offred takes note of that as she mentions, “Many of the wives have these gardens, something to order and take care for.” This heavily contrasts the way men are treated in the text. Men of power such as the Commander and other men who lead the Gilead movement, live lives of much more variety compared to that of the women. Men are considered the providers in any traditional household, this is demonstrated within the text as the Commander is the one in the household that has the freedom to come and go at his own will. But this is also shown in our newer societies as men are considered the breadwinners. This may only be due to men typically having a higher pay due to the inequality when regarding the wage gap between the genders. Gilead is full of highly educated men who are exploiting their positions of power in order to regulate and have control over the religious regime. A regime that if any woman went against would be punishable by death. As it would be classified as a ‘sin’. However many higher ranked men within the regime, including the commanders went against their own policies by forming companion/relationships with their handmaid’s and by going to Jezebels. “Gilead is a tormented city full of evil men and the memories of their sins.”. The Commander uses his power and position in the Gilead regime to manipulate the women of his household and to especially show his control of Offred. Their relationship is entirely based on the Commander using Offred’s fear of the possible carnage he could enforce on to her to get what he wants in return. He offers Offred certain privileges such as access to books and hand cream so he can watch her, as what she is doing by accepting such things is considered a sin to the regime. He also asks for a goodnight kiss every evening as she leaves his office. Further showing how the Commander uses his position in society to re enforce a relationship with Offred that would be socially considered as a sin.
Women are severely isolated within the Gilead regime, this is demonstrated as the handmaid’s are forced to only travel a set route which is dictated by the Commander and his cohort. The Gilead regime forces women to abide by specific guidelines, of which if they were to go against they would receive fatal repercussions. Throughout the text we are shown how heavily the Handmaids are monitored, watched and manipulated in order to keep the regime active. The Handmaids are only given a very small amount of freedoms, this is shown as Offred is only allowed to exit the confines of the house when the Commander gives her permission to. This is only prescribed as exercise to maintain healthy fertility. But as she leaves the house, she can only leave in pairs with another handmaid, and can only walk a certain trail throughout the town’s centre. She refers to herself as a rat involved in almost a clinical science experiment as she says, “a rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.” The Commander and Offred’s relationship in the text shows how the gender of each character has access to differing quantities of freedoms including that of movement and inclusion. Offred is isolated as she doesn’t have the freedom to actively communicate with anyone, except the Commander. Which was established once their secret relationship in his office began. A woman in Gilead society is typically hidden away from everyone except the Commander as she is his possession to control and exploit. Offred can only leave with permission and is followed the entirety of the time, the wives rarely leave but often attend ceremonies related to the regime, the Marthas never really record any instance they leave the house excluding the rare occasion where they’d run errands instead of Offred. But the Commander is able to travel in and out of the house as he pleases, he often attends ‘business meetings’ which were suspectedly out of town. He also took Offred to Jezebels, which is the Gilead equivalent of a brothel, to partake in sins which go against the laws of Gilead. This shows that gender heavily influences the amount of inclusion and freedom each character has. Especially considering that Offred was only allowed to leave the house or travel at all if she had been told to by the Commander, further escalating the level of control that the Commander had over her. The relationship that the Commander and Offred developed provided an odd sense of security although laced with fear. She felt simultaneously safe and in danger, cared for but used. She noted that, “there’s no doubt about who holds the real power.” As no matter how comfortable Offred became, she had the understanding that the Commander could take that away from her at any time.
There are many parallels between the objectification presented in the handmaid’s tale and modern society not only between men and women but also between women and themselves. Handmaid’s were turned into sexual objects as they were only valued by their ability to conceive, by men and by other women. A handmaid was given her role purely based on her level of fertility and were treated as, simply the machinery that operated in order to create a child. Offred and the Commanders relationship can be seen as a trade deal. As the only contact they’re supposed to have is a part of the operation to create a child. But anything other is forbidden. Offred is also forced to dress in red as it signifies her purpose and position within the regime. Red which is symbolic of fertility and a woman’s period. Other women in the text are also forced to dress according to the regimes uniform. With the Martha’s wearing green, wives in blue and the econowives that are known for wearing red, green and blue stripes as they are able to fulfill each role, of a handmaid, wife and martha. Although women who reside in Jezebels show a level of exclusion when it comes to uniforms as they don’t have one. The purpose of this dress code was to not only enforce a label on who each woman was, but was to also prevent men from having sexual thoughts of them. But as the relationship between the Commander and Offred develops and grows we are shown that this isn’t effective as he forces a goodnight kiss each evening and takes her to Jezebels to have sex without Serena being present. This goes not only against the regime but also shows how even though the regime attempts to prevent sexual desire, that it is in human and animal nature to seek a sexual experience. But the experiences of which Offred is forced to partake in, are that of possession, ownership and crime. She refers to herself as “a walking womb” as that is all she is considered to be by not only herself but by other women and men. Women self objectify to an extreme level, as it was taught to them at the Red Centre. The Red Centre dehumanised women, and stripped them of their worth. Women were told that they were to blame if they were sexually assaulted, or unable to conceive. It forced these heavily influential ideologies that women should only be considered for their fertility. This caused women to be consumed by the idea that they only serve as a byproduct of a creation they haven’t even birthed. Fear controlled women’s views of themselves. Offred expressed her fear by stating, “I don’t want to be a doll hung up on the Wall, I don’t want to be a wingless angel. I want to keep on living, in any form. I resign my body freely, to the uses of others. They can do what they like with me. I am abject.” As the relationship between Offred and the Commander extended she stated that “He doesn’t mind this, I thought. He doesn’t mind it at all. Maybe he even likes it. We are not each other’s, anymore. Instead, I am his.” Showing how no matter how close their relationship became she will always be his possession.
The relationship formed between Offred and the Commander, showed how heavily gender influences each characters position in society. Society holds extreme expectations of both men and women and puts their most desired traits on a peddle stool of which must always be met. Stereotypically men are the works, the money makers, the breadwinners. But women, they are the child minders, house cleaners and home body. A man’s role is to extend himself and climb the workplace ladder, hsi role is surrounded by money and its link to masculinity. A woman’s role is to settle down, have children and take care of the next generation. Both of which are roles mirrored by both the Commander and Offred, and their interaction with one and another. The regime also enforces strict levels of social exclusion, mostly upon the women. As women are required to have permission from the man of the household in any situation regarding movement or activity. Offred was also shown an extreme level of objectification by the regime and the Commander as he exploited her silence to fulfil his desire for intimacy. Each of these examples show how the text shows that the male within each context always has the power. Whilst the woman always tends to take on the more submissive role, as if she opposed she would receive major social backlash.