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Notes Towards Day 15: Dystopia of Gender and (or?) Technology

Summary of Discussion
"Freedom To and Freedom From"

There is, of course, much to discuss in The Handmaid’s Tale. I can’t pretend to be covering everything, even with the quotes listed below. Break into your original discussion groups (listed here). I will assign each of the groups one of the following quotes as a starting point for discussion. Feel free to venture beyond the quote itself. Perhaps the quote reminds you of other parts of the novel, of issues in your discipline (since you’re divided that way) or of concepts and ideas we raised earlier in class.

The Technology of the clothing:

1. Although the comparison is a stretch, I think there is something to be said for the intentions I have for my dog in making him wear that thing and the intentions of Gilead’s government in cutting off the gazes of the women in their jurisdiction. It’s “for their own good.” But my dog can’t see the bigger picture and probably doesn’t realize what the collar is for, whereas Offred clearly sees what’s going on in her society. Despite being “winged.” I wonder if there’s a reason why Offred seems to be more aware of the horrors of Gilead than some of the other characters in the novel. Or perhaps it only seems that she’s more aware because it’s only her insight that we’re seeing. (Michelle)

A shape, red with white wings around the face, a shape like mine, a nondescript woman in red carrying a basket, comes along the brick sidewalk towards me. She reaches me and we peer at each other’s faces, looking down the white tunnels of cloth that enclose us. She is the right one. (19)

In returning my pass, the one with the peach-colored mustache bends his head to try to get a look at my face. I raise my head a little, to help him, and he sees my eyes and I see his, and he blushes. . . . What if I were to come at night, when he’s on duty along–though he would never be allowed such solitude–and permit him beyond my white wings? What if I were to peel off my red shroud and show myself to him, to them, by the uncertain light of the lanterns?(21)

2. I’m looking down, at the sidewalk, mesmerized by the women’s feet. One of them is wearing open-toed sandals, the toenails painted pink. I remember the smell of nail polish, the way it wrinkled if you put the second coat on too soon, the satiny brushing of sheer pantyhose against the skin, the way the toes felt, pushed towards the opening in the shoe by the whole weight of the body. The woman with the painted toes shifts from one foot to the other. I can feel her shoes, on my own feet. The smell of nail polish has made me hungry.(29)

The above quote reminds me of DC’s paper on fashion:

What does fashion/clothing represent in the Handmaid’s Tale?

The body

3. This washroom used to be for boys. The mirrors have been replaced here too by oblongs of dull gray metal, but the urinals are still there, on one wall, white enamel with yellow stains. They look oddly like babies’ coffins. I marvel again at the nakedness of men’s lives: the showers right out in the open, the body exposed for inspection and comparison, the public display of privates. What is it for? What purposes of reassurance does it serve? The flashing of a badge, look, everyone, all is in order, I belong here. Why don’t women have to prove to one another that they are women? Some form of unbuttoning, some split-crotch routine, just as casual. A doglike sniffing.(72-3)

4. I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will. I could use it to run, push buttons of one sort or another, make things happen. There were limits, but my body was nevertheless lithe, single, solid, one with me.
Now the flesh arrounges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping. Inside it is a space, huge as the sky at night and dark and curved like that, though black-red rather than black. Pinpoints of light swell, sparkle, burst and shrivel within it, countless as stars. Every month there is a moon, gigantic, round, heavy, and omen. It transits, pauses, continues on and passes out of sight, and I see despair coming toward me like famine. To feel that empty, again, again. I listen to my heart, wave upon wave, salty and red, continuing on and on, marking time. (73-4)

5. To be a man, watched by women. . . . To have them putting him on, trying him on, trying him out, while he himself puts them on, like a sock over a foot, onto the stub of himself, his extra, sensitive thumb, his tentacle, his delicate, stalked slug’s eye, which extrudes, expands, winces, and shrivels back into himself when touched wrongly, grows big again, bulging a little at the tip, traveling forward as if along a leaf, into them, avid for vision. (88)

6. My arms are raised; she holds my hands, each of mine in each of hers. This is supposed to signify that we are one flesh, one being. What it really means is that she is in control, of the process and thus of the product.


What’s going on in this room, under Seren Joy’s silver canopy is not exciting. It has nothing to do with passion or love or romance or any of those other notions we used to titillate ourselves with. It has nothing to do with sexual desire, at least for me, and certainly not for Serena. (93-4)

Medical Technology

7. I know I lost time.
There must have been needles, pills, something like that. I couldn’t have lost that much time without help. You have had a shock, they said.
I would come up through a roaring and confusion, like surf boiling. I can remember feeling quite calm. I can remember screaming, it felt like screaming though it may have been only a whisper, Where is she? What have you done with her? (39)

The strange thing is we needed the rest. Many of us went to sleep. We were tired there, a lot of the time. We were on some kind of pill or drug, I think, they put it in the food, to keep us calm. But maybe not. Maybe it was the place itself. (70)

8. It used to be different, they used to be in charge. A shame it was, said Aunt Lydia. Shameful. What she’d just showed us was a film, made in an olden-days hospital: a pregnant woman, wired up to a machine, electrodes coming out of her every which way so that she looked like a broken robot, an intravenous drip feeding into her arm. Some man with a searchlight looking up between her legs, where she’s been shaved, a mere beardless girl, a trayful of bright sterilized knives, everyone with masks on. (114)

Handmaid’s Tale as anti-technological dystopia

9. In Handmaid on the other hand [compared to novels like 1984, Brave New World], the exact opposite [technological] process seems to be at work. The Republic of Gilead strikes us, not as a techno-dystopia, but as a reactionary step backwards in time, to a kind of government and lifestyle that resembles that of the Middle Ages-based on one part biblical patriarchy, one part Islamic militantism, and one part Hindu caste system. Technology as we usually think of it-as the tools, mechanisms, machines and expertise that either make our lives easier or threaten to destroy them-seems to have been banished from this society with the exception of a few cars and a couple of computers. Perhaps the most chilling aspect of this technological banishment is Gileadian society’s absurdly inefficient rejection of any of the medical techniques for preventing and curing infertility-which seems to be this society’s major problem. (Hammer, 45).

10. The chances are one in four, we learned at the Center. The air got too full, once, of chemicals, rays, radiation, the water swarmed with toxic molecules, all of that takes years to clean up, and meanwhile they creep into your body, camp out in your fatty cells. Who knows, your very flesh may be polluted, dirty as an oily beach, sure death to shore birds and unborn babies. Maybe a vulture would die of eating you. Maybe you light up in the dark, like an old-fashioned watch.(112).

Summary of Discussion