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Terrifying real life inspirations for The Handmaid's Tale series

The Handmaid’s Tale series was the most terrifying dystopian show of the year. The haunting program saw women who were still able to bear children brutally forced to become breeding machines for an oppressive fundamentalist regime. We watched onscreen as they were no longer able to work, own property, control money or read and were instead subjected to ritualised rape in the hope of counteracting the plummeting birth rates.

The series is set in the future, or so it claims anyway. However, despite that to most us the idea of this society is a near impossible foreign concept, to other women out there it is far more than fiction. In fact, to a certain extent, watching the show to them would be almost like looking in a mirror. Yes, although one would hope that society never comes to the militarised, totalitarian existence, the truth is that a lot of women across the world are living in it right this second.

Enforced breeding

On the show: Fertility rates have collapsed as a result of STIs and environmental pollution in The Handmaid’s Tale series, so women who are still able to have children are subjected to monthly rape by their male masters in order to become pregnant and bear children for them and their wives.

The real life inspiration: Terrifyingly, this storyline reflects multiple instances in real life society. Perhaps the most recent known instance of enforced breeding is by the terrorist group ISIS. According to reports from a few years ago, ISIS barbarians regularly rape women in Iran and Syria so they will fall pregnant and mass-produce children who will follow in their footsteps, being indoctrinated and brought up as fighters.


Illegal abortion

On the show: Abortion is illegal in The Handmaid’s Tale dystopian world and any doctor who performs the procedure is hanged.

The real life inspiration: Six nations across the world – the Holy See, Malta, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Chile – still do not allow women to have abortions under any circumstances, even if it is to save her life. In addition, it is illegal to have an abortion in several other countries unless you have been raped, there is risk of fetal impairment or if the mother is in danger. Shockingly, American state, Arkansas, also has stopped women from taking control of their own bodies by forcing women who've been sexually assaulted to get permission from their rapists before having an abortion.

Women protest against abortion laws in Ireland Credit: Getty Images

Female genital mutilation

On the show: Viewers were left shocked when the tyrannical government discovered that Alexis Bledel’s character, Ofglen, was gay and she was captured and forced under the surgeon’s knife to remove her clitoris in order to quell her sexual desires.

The real life inspiration: FGM is something that happens frequently all around the world in order to either preserve family “honour”, beautify a girl’s genitals, make her a “woman” enhance men’s sexual pleasure or quench a woman’s sexual appetite. In fact, according to statistics, a case of FMG is discovered or treated in England - a so-called “civilised” society - each single hour and a half of the day.

Victim blaming

On the show: Handmaids gain their status by being able to have children, but there are also some other criteria that gives them their name. The red and white clad females must have some kind of past that is considered scandalous by the Republic of Gilead; this can include when the woman has been raped.

The real life inspiration: Victim blaming, when the victim of a crime is held responsible for it, is prevalent in rape cases across the world; this behaviour includes where the sexual assault victim is held accountable for the crime for the clothes she is wearing, how much she drank or her promiscuous reputation. For example, in 2006, a rapist in Manitoba, Canada, was given no jail time at all because, according to the judge, the 26-year-old woman, who was forced into intercourse in the woods along a highway, met the rapist under "inviting circumstances." He claimed that she and her friend were wearing, "tube tops with no bra, high heels and plenty of makeup."

 Salimata Knight, a survivor from Genital Mutilation is seen on March 3, 2004 in London

LGBT rights

On the show: In the show, homosexuals are regularly murdered in what the government call a “dyke purge”. Perhaps the most horrifying scenario is when we see Ofglen sentenced to FGM and forced to watch her lover hanged, but is kept alive herself because she is still fertile.

The real life inspiration: New research shows us that gay relationships are still criminalised in 72 countries around the world and in eight of these countries same-sex contact can result in the death penalty. Unsurprisingly, we don’t have many reports of gay people being murdered because people will not openly admit they are gay, as well as governments tending to keep these incidents hushed. However, there was speculation in July 2017 that a secret mass execution of up to 56 people was carried in the volatile Russian region of Chechnya had links with “honour killings” of homosexuals.


Invention in clothing

On the show: In the novel and in the book, high-ranking wives wear blue, Marthas wear green while Handmaids are clad in shapeless dresses which swathe their bodies in “the colour of blood”, as well as wearing white hoods that conceal their faces. The style and proscribed colour send a proclamation to the world of who the women are and what their role in society is and desexualise them by covering every bit of their body up.

The real life inspiration: Although the two certainly have their differences, the Handmaid’s outfits can be compared to the attire of many Muslim women, who cover themselves for the sake of modesty. The hijab, a veil traditionally worn by many Muslim women in the presence of adult males outside of their immediate family, has caused controversy in the past, amid reports that Muslim men force their wives to wear it so they are not sexualised. Of course, there are many Muslim women out there who chose themselves to wear either a hijab, burka or niqab, but what we can’t forget is that others are coerced into putting in on, in spite of it often being hot, limiting and impractical.

Young women in Saudi Arabia Credit: Getty Images

Everyday rights

On the show: In the story, women are banned from working, owning property, voting controlling money, driving, as well as an abundance of other important normal rights.

The real life inspiration: The truth of the matter is that many women still don’t have these everyday rights even now. It’s been reported that women own less than 20 percent of the world’s land and this is no surprise, considering all of the countries that still don’t allow women to own property; this includes Cameroon, Chad, Chile, Indonesia and The Philippines

With reference to not being able to control their own money, Islamic law dictates that, when it comes to inheritances, women will often take half of what their male counterparts have. Traditional Muslim society dictates that men look after their female families, meaning that they deserve twice the amount that is given to females. Reportedly, this is also in the holy book, the Qur’an, where it is written that: “Allah commands you regarding your children. For the male a share equivalent to that of two females.”

In addition, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women still cannot drive. While women can legally drive a car in Saudi Arabia, this doesn’t translate into reality as it is near impossible to get a license and they risk being arrested if they choose to drive.

The Handmaid’s Tale series sparked a strong reaction from women all over the world who were disgusted to see their onscreen counterparts subjected to appalling fates. It has received comments like “I can imagine this happening in the Middle East, but it could never happen in the West.” But what we must always remember is that the events onscreen are not fiction. Don’t kid yourself. It could happen any time and it is happening in different countries across the world as we speak.

  • Sep
  • 39 shares
  • Emma Brazell