Thoughts After Watching the Handmaid’s Tale with My Boyfriend

There are probably a hundred blogs and articles that you could read that tell you how AMAZING The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu is and how it’s a must watch and analyze it through a much more critical lens than I. But while I’m definitely going to tell you, “YES! Please watch it!” What I felt like would be the most beneficial dialogue I could bring to the table is my own personal experience.

In the summer of 2007 between my junior and senior year in high school, I had a reading assignment for my Advanced Composition course where we were given several lists of books on certain themes and we needed to read a set number from each list and write reflection pieces on them.

To be honest, this was my first foray into “adult” writing. I’ve always been a fan of young adult and fantasy literature and that’s pretty much all I read for fun up until to that point. But this assignment made me read some really amazing and thought-provoking literature. To this day, I still consider many of them to be among my favorite and most informative books. (Some examples include The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue, Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez). But the book that influenced me the most was undoubtedly Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It was the first book I ever read that depicted sex (and a rather unsexy version at that). It was first time I saw the everyday injustices of being a woman. It was the first time I began to fear what the government (or really any group with unchecked power) could do to me. And so despite it’s dark subject matter, it became one of my all time favorite books. A choice which when people asked me to list my favorite books was always confusing or appalling to them.

So 10 years later, when a television adaptation premiered on Hulu, I was so ready for it. But there was also a part of me that was terrified of it. The show was in production before Donald Trump won the presidency but somehow it couldn’t have been more timely of a release. It’s message is an important warning for our current political and cultural climate. And if adamant Trump supporters and those on the far-right want to know what these “snowflake women” are afraid of, it’s the universe in The Handmaid’s Tale. A world that seems so insane that it couldn’t be possible and yet, somehow, came to be when people stopped watching. When they got too comfortable. When they thought they already had all the rights they could ever need.

But you just don’t realize how quickly everything you’ve taken for granted can be taken away from you until they’re already gone and you’re dressed in a red with your skull bumping against a strange woman’s crotch as her husband tries to impregnate you.

Watching Hulu’s adaptation was a must for me, and I convinced my boyfriend to join me because I felt like it’s required watching in these times. While I knew the story and would have watched to the end no matter what, he was hooked after the first episode because it was just so INTENSE. And watching it became our weekly, much-looked-forward-to ritual. (He lovingly referred to it as “The Handbride’s Tale” in order to lighten the mood). And when we finished the series last week, I’d come to the following conclusions:

  • I’m so very glad that the world of The Handmaid’s Tale disturbed him as much as it does me. I’ve seen that this hasn’t been the case for everyone who’s watched with their husband/significant other. The feeling of mutual horror is important to validate the fear one has of this actually happening.
  • He kept waiting for the action which I thought was indicative of his love for post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories. But what’s really surprising about The Handmaid’s Tale is how many rights get stripped away with so little fight. And the fact that the story is from the point-of-view of a normal woman. That while there is violence that happens (e.g. the bombing of the Senate and the House), so little directly happens to our protagonist. It’s the fear that keeps people in check and allows this theocracy to take over.
  • It was interesting to watch with someone who didn’t have any preconceived notions about the story. I was always surprised if he correctly guessed what would happen next. But because the series expands upon the original world of the book, giving us more perspectives from Luke to Ofglen/Emily to Moira to Serena Joy, we also had several discussions about what was “assumed” when reading the book to what was shown in the series and how it affected our views.
  • Finally, we never discussed the fact that the Commander and Serena Joy are originally written to be much older than they ultimately were portrayed in the series. It does make me wonder what my boyfriend’s reaction would have been to the same situation had the Commander not been the relatively swarmy Joseph Fiennes but instead a much older actor. I do wonder if his “appalled meter” could have gone any higher.

So if you haven’t watched The Handmaid’s Tale yet, get a Hulu free trial and binge that thing! If you have, I’d be interested to know what your thoughts and experiences while watching it were. Let me know in the comments!

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