Life as a Two-legged Womb

“We are for breeding purposes: we aren’t concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. On the contrary: everything possible has been done to remove us from that category. There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us, no room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts; no special favors are to be wheedled, by them or us, there are to be no toeholds for love. We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.” (Atwood 136)

In the society of The Handmaid’s Tale, women, specifically handmaids, are objectified to be merely “two-legged wombs” (136). The women in this society are bound to staying home, doing domestic work as usual. There is no true love and emotion in this society, and these strict guidelines put forth in the women’s lifestyles are apparently for their own benefit. By intermingling words that usually describe animals as well as the repetition of negative words, Atwood emphasizes how unnecessarily restricted and confined women are in order to encourage women to not give into the objectification of themselves by the men in society as well as society itself.


Women have been degraded to be breeders, just like this mom polar bear

In the passage, handmaids are stated to be for breeding purposes. Breeding is typically associated with the reproduction of animals. By using this word, Atwood shows how dehumanized women in this society have become. Women have been degraded to being baby making machines and no more. While stating that the women are for breeding purposes, the narrator also lists what the women aren’t: concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. This is a list of women who perform many sexual favors. However, a lot of those are for the entertainment and pleasure of the men that are receiving these sexual favors. In The Handmaid’s Tale, sex isn’t enjoyable to either the men or the women, for it is only a required monthly activity. Also, by listing everything that the handmaids aren’t, the specificity and simplicity of the role of the handmaids is emphasized. The handmaids have one job and one job only: to make babies.

With the use of a negative word “nothing” and the repetition of the word “no” three times in the middle part of the passage, readers are shown how strict and numerous the rules governing what handmaids can do are. Also, the sentence that starts with “there is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us…” (136) isn’t divided at all. All the rules are continuously stated, either separated by a comma or a semicolon. Since this sentence isn’t separated between the different rules, it visually makes it seem as if the list of rules is endless.


Handmaids are “chalices”

Also, there are to be “no toeholds for love” (Atwood 136). The word toehold is described as “a relative insignificant position from which further progress may be made.” The fact that there can’t even be a toehold for love shows how cautious the commanders and rules are so that the emotion of love doesn’t get involved in the process of reproduction at all. Handmaids are also described as “chalices” (136). This means “a large cup or goblet.” The handmaids are degraded to being only a cup that gets filled metaphorically with a baby. Once that baby is out, the cup is then used again for the same purpose until the cup, metaphorically the handmaids, is no longer usable. With all these mechanisms, Atwood emphasizes how strictly the process of reproduction in this society is monitored in order to encourage women reading her book to not conform to society’s ideas of what a women’s role should be.


  1. Definition of toehold: Google
  2. Polar bear picture:
  3. Definition of chalice: Google
  4. Goblet:

One thought on “Life as a Two-legged Womb

  1. Hi Hannah!
    I agree with you and think this passage really establishes how dehumanized the handmaids have become and how they are literally nothing more than their reproductive ability. I like how you related this to a broader idea of society and explain how the author is using this story to reflect ideas of modern day feminism, and by doing so, this novel is a social criticism. I thought the point you made about the visual representation of the endless list of rules the handmaids must follow, emphasizing the restrictive nature of society, was very interesting and was something I probably would not have thought of. It’s also interesting to note that “chalice” and “sacred” are both words associated with Christianity—in religious terms, chalice is used to hold sacred wine, which goes along with how this novel is allusion heavy, exploiting references from the Bible to justify the oppressive rules and regulations in place.


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