Episode 4: The Handmaid’s Tale

Is Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale feminist? Hell yes! But it’s also a story about patriarchy, misogyny and a society built around state-sanctioned rape. Toby and Meg get help exploring these themes and others from Dr. Robin Hackett, an associate professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of New Hampshire. Robin’s specialities include literary modernism, Virginia Woolf, feminist theory, queer theory and LGBTQ literature – so she’s pretty much perfect for this episode.


We also talk a little about the often-overlooked 1990 film adaptation and get insights via emails from listeners Mary, D’Anne, Cameron and Laurie.

Also: Toby gets in a fight with his microphone, Meg runs through the first-ever Fact Check Edition of The News from Dystopia, and Robin recommends we all read Swastika Night by Katharine Burdekin.

P.S. Robin isn’t on Twitter, but you can find out more about her work here.

P.P.S. We’re now on Stitcher! 


13 thoughts on “Episode 4: The Handmaid’s Tale

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale, in my opinion, is a perfect depiction of what would happen if men gained the true control over women they seek in today’s society. It is a misogynistic-disaster world. The bit about the scenes with the cookie from the Wives and Nick is very interesting to me… the fact that Offred only wanted to commit these ‘illegal’ acts if they were of her own free will, and if she was instructed to, and her power was lost, then they no longer appealed to her.


  2. I like how the man describes the “mating” as ritualized rape because that is essentially what it is but the society of gilead chooses to ignore that and almost praises it.


  3. As a 17-year-old female, hopefully, going off to college in a few months…thank you, thank you, thank you for addressing these issues! I had a love-hate relationship with The Handmaid’s Tale, because I absolutely loved the plot, however, it was, at the same time, an absolutely terrifying warning for the possible future! Thus, as a society, we must be aware of our own “cultural moments” in order to fix these issues (ex. Rape, parenthood, fertility) before they force our nation into a spiraling downfall.


  4. I agree with Cameron’s point that the substantial amount of violence displayed towards women in the show is used to shed light on the horrors of a society that degrades women to that extent, a society that our own seems to be moving closer to. By displaying this violence and poor treatment of women to a mass audience, like Handmaids Tale does, the author and producers are initiating a conversation throughout society that primarily makes people uncomfortable; however, in order to prevent these horrors from becoming reality we must continue to expose everyone to these horrifying circumstances and have these uncomfortable conversations.


  5. Ray Jabagjorian – Prior to the podcast, I posed a mindset that the Handmaid’s Tale was written with a feminist intent that was highlighting the varied mistreatments and misunderstandings faced by women in society, but I realized that both men and women throughout the novel are encountered with unhappiness. Both genders are faced with conforming to the ideals of their society and it emphasizes the different stereotypes and underlying beliefs of both genders.


  6. I agree with the ideas that there are many modern elements brought into the series to make it more cultured and horrific to today’s society. The book is a great example of what could easily happen and the show makes it even more clear with the things like the caramel shops, technology, and much more. Do you think that if the director made the series just like the book, would it have a different impact? – Mackenzie Jones


  7. Hi, my names Matt and I’m enrolled in Laurie Davis’ Dystopian Literature class. About halfway through the book now, I’ve liked it alot so far and can’t wait to find out what happens. In regards to your podcast, you guys really opened my eyes to the racial/ethnicity difference between the show and the book. Although our class has only seen the first episode of the series, I failed to realize how ethnically different it was than implied in the book. While reading, the thought of white supremacy and handmaid’s only being white never came up but it makes more sense now, thankyou. With your help, I came to a question: are the “Children of Ham”, mentioned in the story of being resettled elsewhere, of color? Are they slaves? Is Gilead attempting to integrate the objectives alike to Hitler and the Nazi Party or colonial America, into modern America?


  8. I’m reading the Handmaid’s Tale for my dystopian literature class and this podcast really helped me understand the parallels and connections to today’s society that are in the book.


  9. I find The Handmaid’s Tale to be very intriguing, but so far, the novel has made me livid. The way that women are treated in the society, and the power that men have over them, is depressing. No person should be dehumanized the way that the Handmaid’s are. This episode of Radio Free Dystopia has brought to my attention the eerie feeling of the television series that I had not noticed before. Which has changed my view on the mood of some parts of the book itself.


  10. This podcast was helpful and helped me understand the novel in more detail on something’s I may have missed or interpreted differently. It has a lot of things in the novel that correspond in today’s society with woman’s health and the men in Congress deciding the health care a woman can receive. The Handmaids Tale has portrayed a good warning for women in the weird society created.


  11. The Handmaid’s Tale brings light to controversial subjects in today’s society such as rape. Although while reading or even watching the television, it felt uncomfortable to read or watch, its necessary to show those scenes, so that people can realize the wrongs and connect it to today’s society. More women and men are coming out and speaking up against sexual assault using the tag metoo. However its been seen multiple times when women come out claiming that they were raped, the blame was put on them instead of the assaulter. SImilarly to the novel, where all the blame is geared toward the women and not the men
    By listening to the podcast, I’ve gain a lot more insight on the television series. I’m usually not keen on bringing books to life however through the podcast, I’ve learned to look the other way. I’ve learned that one should pay more attention to small details, angles, and lighting to see what the overall message the director is trying to get across. Seeing some of the small visuals such as only seeing women walking at the grocery store or seeing people hanging on the wall in public gives a sense of danger. Seeing it more visually, emphasizes that they are not free and that there is something wrong with society. Also the use of lighting in the set gives the series of more eerie atmosphere giving off the vibe that the characters are miserable.


  12. Hi everyone,

    Apologies for just now approving your posts. It’s been a busy first semester at my new job. Thanks for listening and for leaving such thoughtful comments. Happy reading!



  13. I believe that The Handmaid’s Tale is an accurate depiction of what the world would become if men had complete control over women’s lives. If men were to gain complete control over women the world would become total chaos. This podcast helped me understand parts of the novel that I originally had questions about. It also made connections to today’s society that I was completely unaware of.


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