As a TwentySomething female, I’ve studied the women in history who permitted me to have the privileges I’m lucky enough to live with today. To watch it all stripped away in Hulu’s original series The Handmaid’s Tale has taken me through a complex set of emotions, ranging from pity, to anger, to fear. As I dove deeply into the first four episodes, I realized these emotions were centered around the thought of something like this happening in my lifetime. The unfortunate truth is that though it didn’t occur in my lifetime, everything that occurred in the show has happened during somebody’s lifetime.
Based off Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, the series follows a theocratic society living under a fundamentalist dictatorship in the Republic of Gilead, formerly known as the United States. Here, women are forced to leave behind their previous lives and identities in order to oblige as concubines, useless to their commanders and mistresses until impregnated.
The Handmaid's Tale via Marie Claire
It’s a chilling, humbling, and disturbing plot that packages women as items. Whether the female characters are sexualized through their role as handmaids or as slaves, they all exist in a man's life – and in society as a whole – as voiceless, helpless objects.
The Handmaid's Tale, via TV Guide
Unfortunately, once protagonist Offred, portrayed by Elisabeth Moss, begins to find a voice and to commiserate with her “partner" Ofglen, played by Alexis Bledel, she quickly loses Ofglen. Their storylines separate, depicting two very different, though both oppressed, situations: sexuality versus fertility. This enforces how the female body is treated in Gilead.
Like Angelica Jade Bastièn highlights in her recap of the third episode in The New York Times, “Both Offred and Ofglen’s plots underline the ways in which female bodies carry currency in this world and how quickly this worth can change.”
When Offred is presumed to be pregnant, all behavior towards her shifts. She becomes humanized by her mistress, the help, and the men, as they become invested in her best interest and show concern for her emotional and physical state. Yet, upon learning she’s not pregnant, she goes back to being treated like an object. Watching Mrs. Waterford toss Offred back into her room demonstrates poorer treatment than before. I wondered: how do these mistresses have no empathy for their fellow woman, after coming from a society where women had come so far? How could they allow this future to happen, by reverting to traditional and conservative roles?
In Offred’s flashbacks of living with her husband and daughter, we get a glimpse of the past society. It’s also relayed through Offred’s narrative in her present life in Gilead. Her words make comments that will affect all audiences, women and men alike.
Regarding this topic, Elisabeth Moss told GQ, “I do hope – whether you’re a man, whether you’re a woman, whether you’re gay, straight, whatever religion you’re a part of, whether you’re right-wing, left-wing – whatever the hell you are, I hope that you see through your own eyes, and through your own experience, and apply what is talked about through the show through your experience. That’s how we come together, and that’s how we learn.”
And I think that “coming together” is a huge theme in the show. Each handmaid struggles with different issues, but their struggles are what bring them together. Women are much stronger together when they exist as a unifying force. Coming together is depicted both positively and negatively in the cult-esque handmaids, but it’s clear they recognize they have no other choice than to conform, and if they are to survive, they'd have to do it together.
The Handmaid's Tale, by George Kraychik
I have to echo Moss’ words – watching the show isn’t just an eye-opening experience to what women once endured, it’s also applicable to learning and understanding the present and future. It’s about survival as a humanity and a peek into how far we’ve come as a society. We’ve made too much progress to watch that unravel to the circumstances portrayed in the show, and the only way to move forward is to unite as a collective.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.