The Handmaid’s Tale as a Representation of Women Under the Law

Jori Reiken
9 min readApr 27, 2021

The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel and TV show, is about a dystopian society where women have been stripped of their rights by the religious government of Gilead. This government organization has limited women by not letting them hold jobs, have a bank account or control their bodies. An event of environmental poisoning had sterilized most of the female population, so Gilead enslaved the fertile women, they call them handmaids. Each handmaid was assigned to an influential family where the husbands rape the handmaid, once the handmaid becomes pregnant, the baby is raised by the husband and wife. The Handmaid’s Tale demonstrates areas of law, patriarchy and the body and is an interpretive take on the experience of women under the law.

Law as Punishment and Discrimination

As seen in Season 1 Episode 3 of the Handmaid’s Tale, women are not given the right to a fair trial. The trial of Emily, a gay handmaid, she was not given the opportunity to speak or to defend herself. Her trial was based on the prosecution’s case, unlike in the present day where both sides are given the opportunity to present their case and defend themselves. The trial started and the judge asked the prosecution if the prosecution’s report was truthful, the prosecution responded by confirming and Emily was sentenced to redemption while her Aunt was sentenced to death, all because Emily was gay.

“The bad mother in present law is the one likely to be surveilled, prosecuted and punished, pressed into involuntary sterilization, forced pregnancy, coerced cesareans or forcibly implanted birth control devices.” (Myrsiades, 229) The process of collecting evidence for the report mentioned in Emily’s trial included questioning Offred about Emily. Offred did not give much information, but did explain to the officers that Emily had mentioned being married to a Woman pre-Gilead. Offred was then punished for not telling anyone about this offence and was tasered multiple times before the wife came into the room and stopped the punishment because Offred was assumed to be pregnant. “Law in this sense becomes a means of constructing a “narrative tarot” that permits a society to avoid or deny central realities” (Myrsiades, 225) the legal system in Gilead is only about punishment unless it harms its overall purpose of the handmaid’s which is to reproduce for the influential families.

Women’s Bodies as Vessels for Reproduction