Given all of the threats to Planned Parenthood, despicable quotes from government officials about women's bodies, and a seemingly never-ending attack on women's rights, Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale could not have come at a better time. The TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel — which takes place in a dystopian society where fertile women are slaves in a misogynistic, oppressive, extremely religious government — has been highly anticipated, to say the least. It's not hard to draw parallels between the current political climate and the one Offred (played by Elisabeth Moss) experiences in the story, which makes the cast's recent quotes so off-putting.
At a Tribeca Film Festival panel over the weekend, a handful of The Handmaid's Tale's cast and creative team argued that the show is not a feminist story. "I think that any story, if it is a story being told by a strong, powerful woman . . . any story that's just a powerful woman owning herself in any way is automatically deemed 'feminist,'" actress Madeline Brewer, who plays Handmaid Janine, explained. "But it's just a story about a woman. I don't think that this is any sort of feminist propaganda. I think that it's a story about women and about humans . . . This story affects all people."
Moss, the show's lead who had women everywhere cheering for years thanks to her feminist AF portrayal of Peggy Olson on Mad Men, must've had something better to say, right? Wrong. "For me, [The Handmaid's Tale is] not a feminist story," she said. "It's a human story because women's rights are human rights. So, for me . . . I never intended to play Peggy as a feminist. I never intended to play Offred as a feminist. They're women, and they're humans." Joseph Fiennes, who plays Commander Waterford, echoed both of his costars, saying that "For me, it was the writing, not politics" which attracted him to the show.
So, let's break this down really quickly: there is no way to read or watch The Handmaid's Tale without understanding, or at least acknowledging, its political implications. Furthermore, it's inherently feminist and there's no getting around that. The core of the story is about women's rights being decimated by an oppressive government (sound uncomfortably familiar?) that forces them to reproduce. On top of that, feminism is about inclusion and equality, not exclusion. This "F" word is not a dirty one. By saying something is about women's rights, that's not to say it isn't about human rights; women are not "other," women are human (the same way Black Lives Matter isn't saying Only Black Lives Matter). Just because a man watching this show hasn't experienced sexism himself doesn't mean he's not going to be able to have empathy or understanding for Offred's situation, or be unable to relate to the show in some way.
The only silver lining about the situation is that Atwood doesn't appear to share those views. During a joint interview with the author for Time earlier this month, Moss said she doesn't consider Atwood's novel feminist because she sees it as "a human novel about human rights." Atwood was quick to refute this sentiment, saying, "Well, women's rights are human rights unless you have decided that women aren't human. So those are your choices. If women are human, then women's rights are part of human rights." Soon after the panel on Saturday, someone tweeted at Atwood asking for her thoughts, where she politely disagreed with what was said of the story and tried to offer an explanation for why they said what they did.
They needed an "only," an "also," and a human rights definition of the F word, imho.— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) April 22, 2017
1. Calm, calm... I know what they Meant (I think. Though I wasn't there.) They Meant "Everyone is in this story." And that is true. https://t.co/qd2kEBl6BW— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) April 23, 2017
Whether the cast simply misspoke or it was a fumbled attempt to appeal to a wider audience, it's unclear. Luckily Ann Dowd, who plays Aunt Lydia, wasn't afraid to get explicitly political at the panel. "I hope it has a massive effect on people," she said. "I hope they picket the White House, and I hope they're wearing these costumes . . . I hope it's all over the place, and it doesn't end. And that we never, ever underestimate the power of morons." Amen, Ann.