I read "The Handmaid's Tale" in high school and immediately started watching the show when it came out on Hulu. I was captivated by June's story and Atwood's way of telling it. More importantly, it was the first dystopian story that I saw some of our own world in. The TV adaptation of Atwood's famous novel provides audiences with images that look exactly like our modern world, taking us through all of June's experiences from living in America to Gilead. It is all the more eerie to see exactly how the repressive world Offred (June) exists in came to be. All of the characters exhibit normal, human characteristics and it is easy to understand how Gilead came to be.
For those who have never seen the show or read the book, Margaret Atwood created a world in which religious conservatives have taken control of the American government and the Republic of Gilead is the new United States. In this nation women, who are fertile are trained to be "handmaids" and are distributed among "commanders", the elite men of the society, and their families. Handmaids are used exclusively for birthing purposes. Sex is completely outlawed unless it is between a commander and his handmaid and a family only receives a child if their handmaid produces it. Following the birth, the handmaid is shipped to another home and will never see her child again.
Despite aspects such as excessive violence, torture, and otherworldly human rights abuse, at the heart of Atwood's world is the principle that women exist exclusively as a vessel for childbirth. The leaders of Gilead have decided that women are worthless unless they can produce children, which, other than housekeeping and childcare, is pretty much the only job a woman can hold. Handmaids are regularly raped and forced to deal with life as a slave to whatever commander they currently work for.
I think the reason why Handmaid's Tale resonates with audiences is that it is not hard to see the United States turning into a Gilead-type world. Women being used for their bodies is not a new concept. Between the history of sex slavery, sex trafficking, and the sex industry it is clear that women are highly sexualized. Women have always been taken advantage of for physical reasons, but they have also always been restricted in terms of childbirth. The idea of women not being able to control when they have children has always been a point of contention. While legislation should work in our favor, recently it is has turned abruptly in the other direction.
With laws restricting access to abortion and access to birth control across the country, it is clear that many legislators consider it a responsibility of women to bear children regardless of their own life circumstances. The reality that giving birth is supposed to be the first priority in every woman's life and that they are not even given the option to choose otherwise is scary. Women are moving closer and closer every day to being valued only for their capability to reproduce. If we aren't careful, Gilead is always just a few more laws away.