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.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.