Handmaids as technology
With our broad definition of technology in mind, I’m beginning to see technology everywhere. While rereading The Handmaid’s Tale, I am becoming exceedingly frustrated with the paradoxical role of technology in the novel. I will save the larger discussion of this topic to the final paper and will focus this post on how the handmaids/their bodies can be seen as technology.
Already on page 16, we have our first reference to a handmaid being doll-like: “They used to have dolls, for little girls, that would talk if you pulled a string at the back; I thought I was sounding like that, voice of a monotone, voice of a doll.” Then, on page 43, referring to her twin, Ofglen: “Without a word she swivels, as if she’s voice-activated, as if she’s on little oiled wheels, as if she’s on top of a music box.” In this two quotations, we understand these women to be doll-like; the former is acting out a scripted role while the latter is physically mimicking the movements of a toy (the quotation is a little cyborgian, no?).
In addition, while waiting for the Ceremony to begin, Offred contemplates the act of waiting (pp. 66): “I wait. I compose myself. My self is a thing I must now compose, as one composes a speech. What I must present is a made thing, not something born.” I was struck by the similarity of this description of self to (one of) our definition(s) of technology. The self she creates/composes is, by our definition, technology; it is something created by humankind to improve quality of life, to make things easier. But what are the complications of this? Offred’s publicly presented self is technology, but it is not also a gender? The self she composes is the appropriate embodiment of being a woman of the time. So, to get a little mathematical on you, technology = Offred’s public self = gender. Then, by transitivity, doesn’t technology = gender? How’s that strike you?
Before I get carried away contemplating that, let’s move on to other ways in which handmaids/their bodies are technology. I first thought of handmaids’ bodies as an economic commodity, as the bodies of the workers in Metropolis, on page 24: “Women were not protected then.” The idea was reinforced on page 63: “I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely.” These quotations imply that women are valuable enough to be protected and that it is a woman’s body that is more valued than mind. If you’re not convinced yet, turn the page (to 65) and read the first full paragraph:
“I cannot avoid seeing, now, the small tattoo on my ankle. Four digits and an eye, a passport in reverse. It’s supposed to guarantee that I will never be able to fade, finally, into another landscape. I am too important, too scarce, for that. I am a national resource.” Offred is no longer a ‘who,’ she is a ‘what.’ A valuable ‘what,’ but nevertheless, she has become a tool, a version of technology necessary in the process of producing children.
What do you think? Do you agree or not? Perhaps you believe that the very nature of how the handmaids are used in the process of producing children makes them non-technology. Perhaps you go further than I do and believe that the handmaids are cyborgs, robots with programmed responses. Thoughts?