Why Every Arab Should Watch the Handmaid’s Tale
There is a TV series that I have become addicted to lately, and I am here to tell you why watching this show is a pursuit that is worth every Arab’s time . The show -called the Handmaid’s Tale- is based on a novel under the same title by author Margret Atwood. The show’s plot – much like the novel- imagines a not so far in the future dystopia.
What sets this dystopia in motion is a plague that has come to target women and men: most women and men are impotent, and can’t have babies. Even when and if a women were to get pregnant her chances of miscarrying, or giving birth to a still born, or giving birth to a child with extreme deformities, are extremely high due to this unknown plague.
As a direct result of the plague a strict social, and political order is created. The new order is one which justifies itself through religious scripture. Moreover, this new order is the most sexist thing imaginable. Women can only either be domestic workers, or wives to political leaders, or nuns, and/or handmaids.
A handmaid is, according to this political order, a woman who is still fertile, despite of the aforementioned plague. Handmaids are directly supervised by the nuns, and are assigned a given political leader’s home.
Once a month the handmaid -with an assigned home and political leader- has to get raped by this leader in an attempt that he impregnate her, and that the handmaid bear children for the leader and his wife. The ritualistic rape is called the ‘ceremony’ and the political leaders’ wives watch and hold down the handmaids for their husbands.
In this society, the punishment for a woman caught reading is to have her hand cut-off. In this society, a woman’s value is measured against her reproductive capacity, and/or her ability to serve her husband. In this society women who have been raped before this dystopia came to exist, are told and trained to believe that the rape was their fault. Not to mention, of course, the fact that the handmaids do not have their own names: their names change according to the commander that they are assigned. Finally, the women of this society are not allowed to drive.
While some people think that both the novel and the series are hyperbolic and far-fetched imaginations from the way things currently are, they are really not. Despite the obvious Arab country that still has a law criminalizing female driving, how many members of Arab countries not already blame female survivors of rape and/or sexual assault for this crime?
In how many Arab countries is it alright to throw out a wife who can’t get pregnant, and replace her with one who can? In how many Arab countries does a woman’s name disappear, and get replaced by her husband’s name and/or her first born male child’s name? In how many Arab countries is it alright to tell a woman to put down that textbook or reading book, and go get married?
In how many Arab countries does a woman’s social worth increase once she becomes “Mrs.” someone? In how many Arab countries is religious scripture used to justify patriarchy? In how many Arab ritualistics do we tell our girls to idealize a controlling husband, because his control is a sign of his love? In how many Arab countries is a female’s body seen as her husband’s property? In how many Arab countries is a woman not in full control of her own reproductive rights and capacities?
The answer to all these questions is “in many Arab countries.” Although some of these ills do plague western society as well, I am much more concerned with the society in which I reside. The fact that I can watch a show like this one, and feel like I can relate to its events the way I did, and feel like its events are a mere ‘next logical step’ to the currently existing gender order, is more than just a mere problem.
The truth is sexism is a universal problem, with multiple international versions and iterations. The truth also is that our current regional iteration is far too scary. Don’t believe me? Watch the show yourself, and you will hear things and see things that are disturbingly familiar. This show will literally make you home sick.