Reversing the Control

Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing. (Atwood 135)

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood “speculates” a society in which the structure of freedom rights is reversed from what America accepts today. If our society is structured to emphasize the freedom for citizens to act how they wish with less concern for the consequences of one’s actions, Atwood’s depicted society is structured against citizens acting however they wish in order to provide a “freedom” from the worry of the consequences of one’s actions. In order to accomplish such a structure, Atwood’s society diminishes much of women’s freedom of choice and seems to place most of the power in the hands of the men, creating a hierarchy of power. In the passage above, Offred has a moment of reflection in which she forms a conclusion that goes against the structure of the society illustrated by Atwood as a way to fight internally against the basis of the society she lives in.

Offred first defines that what she is reflecting about is the power dynamic exchanged between two individuals. She considers both those with power, “who can own… who can do,” and those without power, who are owned or acted upon. The relationship between the two is shown through the use of symmetric sentence structure in this passage. The short sentences in the beginning and end and the two parallel sentences in the middle with “[m]aybe it isn’t” show an exchange. However, this seemingly symmetric structure is interrupted when Offred interjects with what “it is about,” making a symbolic break in society’s hierarchy structure.

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An exchange between those with power and those without power

One of the most obvious devices of this excerpt is the repetition of the word “maybe” at the beginning of each sentence. This word is intimately related to the action of speculation. In this short reflection, Offred is speculating a different society than the one she lives in, without the hierarchy of control. By speculating this different society, she tries to create a new world for herself in which perhaps she is in control.

This passage as a whole begins by arguing against the fact that control is what defines Offred’s society. Offred lists examples of what society “isn’t about,” all of which depict a comparison between those with power, who perform actions, and those without control that are acted upon. By dismissing this comparison between those with power and those without, she again defies the basic structure of power in society. Near the end of this reflection, she chooses to put importance in action of forgiveness. Forgiveness opposes the idea of “get[ting] away with it,” which defines her current society. Her decision to put importance on forgiveness brings power to those “without power” because only those “acted upon” can forgive others, while those “acting upon others” must receive forgiveness. Thus, the role of those acting and those acted upon, in this case, are reversed, effectively creating a society with a reversed power dynamic in Offred’s own world.

 

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The Constant Internal Battle

Gender imbalances are a constant in our society. Albeit, there are fewer differences between the two genders – female and male – today than there have been in almost all of human history. The novel The Handmaid’s Tale, written by Margaret Atwood, is a piece of speculative fiction that focuses on the story of Offred, who is a handmaid. Through the lens of Offred found in an excerpt on page 88, the differences between gender are heightened to a state in which the children of today would not recognize, which is shown by the internal questioning displayed, and the reader gains insight of Offred’s internal struggles between wanting to rebel and wanting to survive as long as possible within the societal structure she lives in, as seen through the back and forth internal banter. Continue reading

Freedom from Freedom

Moira had power now, she’d been set loose, she’d set herself loose. She was now a loose woman… Moira was like an elevator with open sides. She made us dizzy. Already we were losing the taste for freedom, already we were finding these walls secure. In the upper reaches of the atmosphere you’d’ come apart, you’d vaporize, there would be no pressure holding you together. (Atwood 133)

In this passage, Offred recalls Moira’s escape from the Red Center. The contrasting descriptions of Moira and the other Handmaids at the Red Center, revealed through similes and ambiguous diction, exposes human susceptibility to indoctrination due to the multifaceted, fleeting nature of freedom of thought.

The use of ambiguous diction in the word “loose” reveals that a lack of clear definition creates an environment in which it is easy to succumb to a source of structure and rigidity. The repetition of “loose” emphasizes the freedom that Moira has acquired through her escape, but also illuminates the multiple meanings that the word takes on in Offred’s thoughts. The phrase “set loose” compares Moira to a wild, untamed animal that is released from its captor, dehumanizing her into a creature that acts instinctually and without reason. In Offred’s mind, power has transformed into something uncontrolled and dangerous; by exaggerating the harmful instances of humanity, the society in The Handmaid’s Tale takes advantage of fear to control women.

Moira is like an animal “set loose” from its chains (steemit.com)

Rather than praising Moira for her freedom, Offred categorizes Moira as a “loose woman,” implying that a woman with freedom must also be promiscuous and unchaste, further revealing the prejudiced attitude toward woman that is adopted by the novel’s dystopian society and instilled on the Handmaids.

The simile comparing Moira to “an elevator with open sides” implies that Moira’s freedom gives her the ability to raise her living standards. However, this becomes twisted in the Handmaid’s mind as they can only focus on the dizzying nature of Moira’s freedom, her “open sides,” because they feel unstable and out of balance. The fact that the Handmaids are losing their “taste” for freedom reveals the idea that they have become numbed to any sensation due to the indoctrination at the Red Center. Without any exposure to freedom, the Handmaids have forgotten its value and thus are satisfied with their new rigid and structured lifestyle.

Riding an “elevator with open sides” can be both exhilarating and terrifying (www.travelpulse.com)

The simile of the elevator contrasts with Offred’s description of the Handmaids when she states “you’d vaporize.” By switching to second person, Offred generalizes her description to an unspecified audience, revealing the pervasiveness of the regime’s brainwashing. While Moira is able to remain whole as one entity, the Handmaids have become so accustomed to their strict lifestyle that they believe they would “vaporize” and disappear if given access to freedom. The women have become reliant on the “pressure” exerted by the society in order to continue functioning as a complete being.

 

Hidden values

“We hand over our tokens, and one Guardian enters the numbers on them into the Compubite while the other gives us our purchases, the milk, the eggs. We put them into our baskets and go out again, past the pregnant woman and her partner, who beside her looks spindly, shrunken; as we all do. The pregnant woman’s belly is like a huge fruit. Humungous, word of my childhood. Her hands rest on it as if to defend it, or as if they’re gathering something from it, warmth and strength” (26).

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood describes a society that is far-fetched and dystopian and yet corresponds to a lot of the values held in our modern society. By juxtaposing imagery and metaphors, Atwood establishes a dyarchy between women in order to illuminate the subconscious prejudice prevalent in today’s society.

The most apparent piece of imagery in this text is the description of the pregnant woman in comparison to the other women. Atwood uses phrases of positive connotation, such as “huge fruit” and “warmth and strength,” to portray the pregnant woman as a measure of success, whereas the woman beside her “looks spindly, shrunken; as we all do.” This juxtaposition reveals the well-defined goals of women in this society: to produce offspring. Although this goal in this society is very obviously depicted, Atwood displays to the reader a significant, often concealed, value held in today’s society.

These hidden values and priorities of the women are shown through symbolic objects in this text. As mentioned before, the pregnant woman is described as having a “huge fruit” that gives her “warmth and strength.” However, Offred and Ofglen are seen purchasing “the milk, the eggs” given to them by male guardians. These two objects are highly associated with pregnancy and child-rearing, portraying a life where the basic needs of the individuals are met. Thus, the two woman desire these specific types of produce as opposed to the others because the society that they are in has created a value in child rearing. On the other hand, the pregnant woman has a “humungous” belly and “her hands rest on it,” which can be seen as being satisfied because of a full belly. This constant symbolism of food and child-rearing equates these two concepts as one; both are vital to our existence and both are responsibilities of women in this society and, to an extent, our current society.

In conclusion, Margaret Atwood criticizes our values towards gender roles and child-rearing by displaying a society where these values are ubiquitous. By portraying juxtaposing, symbolic imagery, Atwood creates a society where the hidden values of our current society are prominent and unopposed.

Citation: Atwood, Margaret. “Shopping.” The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor, 1998. 26. Print.

Texas Women’s History: What Does Diversity Mean to the Medical Field?

Our project is based on materials from Texas Women’s History archive, which includes interviews of women medical practitioners in Texas Medical Center. The two female doctors we have chosen to research more deeply upon are Dr. Lu Ann Aday, an epidemiologist and an expert in health policy born and raised in Texas, and Dr. Ritsu Komaki, a Japanese woman who now works as a radiation oncologist in MD Anderson. We are studying what benefit diversity in ethnicity and background can bring to the medical field, and how access to healthcare in terms of education and treatments varies across national borders.

 

 

Our targeted audiences are admission officers of medical schools, college administrators, and minority undergraduates who want to pursue a medical career. Our research in the benefit minority groups brings to healthcare appeals to our audience in different ways: medical schools need to know the positive impact of having doctors with different backgrounds; college administrators can have more insights in providing more opportunities for underrepresented student groups; the minority pre-med students can have a better understanding of the distinct value in their international perspectives and unique personal experiences and the fact that they can be as competitive and successful as any others in medicine. Moreover, our analysis on Dr. Lu Ann Aday’s research in healthcare access and Dr. Ritsu Komaki’s international background in medicine carries weight because these are the problems that the future doctors need to address, and they are the answer to why we need a diversity of medical personnel. Both medical schools and pre-med students care about the career outlook and how doctors from different backgrounds can contribute.

In order to effectively reach our audience and achieve our goals of informing them the impact of diversity in healthcare, we will build a website which is most accessible to our audience and centralizes all resources and our findings. We will put up a video on the homepage, which features our takeaways from this research project – Ariana and I are planning on entering the healthcare field, and we both fit the bill of minorities in this industry: she is Hispanic and I’m an international student. We will basically summarize the whole project and talk about how it inspires us, and the visitors can reach the core of this research through the video very quickly. We will also create three different types of flyers that focus on the questions that different audience groups care most about, and lead them to the right location of the website where they can find the answer.

women-in-science-3-e1430588224659To make this project more comprehensive and effective, we will firstly conduct research on how are different genders and ethnic groups represented in the US medical field currently, gathering data such as medical school admission statistics. This will help us better understand the current situation and reach more accurate conclusions. Additionally, we will reach out to Rice administrators and ask about how they see the importance of diversity in STEM subjects or healthcare, and we will conduct a survey on how confident Rice pre-meds feel as a medical school applicant in terms of their gender, ethnicity, and background. Ultimately, our project is aimed to raise awareness of the importance of diversity in medical practitioners and its positive effect on healthcare and to better inform and inspire our audience.