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“How pathetic sexists took a pivotal Handmaid’s Tale scene and made it about boobs”

handmaids tale sexist headlines.jpg

Ask A Feminist is our regular column tackling issues on sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st century context. Here, Stylist’s Kayleigh Dray rakes certain sections of the media over the coals for their unapologetically sexist coverage of The Handmaid’s Tale – and explains why this is the absolute worst (and most damaging) case of “missing the point” she’s ever seen.


The Handmaid’s Tale is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most important TV shows about women’s rights to date: over the past few episodes, we’ve seen it tackle important topics such as objectification, rape culture, victim-blaming, slut-shaming, consent, reproductive rights and our need to speak up about and defend ourselves from misogyny whenever we can.

And yet, despite highlighting all of these timely issues, sexists everywhere have still deemed it acceptable to turn one of the show’s most pivotal interactions into yet another ‘tits out for the lads’ moment. They’ve stripped away all the meaning and symbolism and reduced the scene to a pair of mammary glands – and, in doing so, they’ve absolutely proven the point that Margaret Atwood and everyone involved in the TV adaptation of her 1985 novel are trying to make: men run the world and they really do see women as nothing more than a collection of body parts to be pored over and impregnated at will.


Read more: The secret messages hidden inside every song on The Handmaid’s Tale


The disgusting display of misogyny all kicked off after the fifth episode of The Handmaid’s Tale aired on Channel 4. Full of heartache, and anguish, and unbridled fury, viewers took hope as Offred (Elisabeth Moss) got word of an organised resistance group: Mayday.

But it was Offred’s own small act of rebellion that stole the show completely.

We watched breathlessly as Elisabeth Moss’ character confidently left the confines of her room, walked purposefully through the darkened house and stepped out onto the dewy lawn. She didn’t look afraid, despite the fact that this transgression could lose her an eye, or a hand, or much worse. She didn’t look cowed, despite the fact that, for years, she has been forced into a life of sexual servitude by rapist dictators.

Instead, she looked like a resolute badass on a mission to reclaim her own identity: this was one of those ‘do or die’ moments and she fully intended to do.

Offred was awakened by her desire for change

Offred was awakened by her desire for change

Within moments, Offred was knocking on the door of Nick (Max Minghella) and kissing him until they were both left gasping for breath. Viewers cheered our hero on as she, in a moment intent on making a point about autonomy and consent, hastily removed her own clothes, undid her own hair and made her own choices.

And, while Nick initially pressed her down onto the bed, it wasn’t long before Offred/June – her desire mixed with her need to break the rules rather than be broken by them – pushed him away and clambered on top of him, a position she previously told us was her favourite when she was an autonomous woman with the right to seek pleasure wherever she wanted to.

All the while, Nina Simone’s melancholy voice can be heard intoning the lyrics to I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl – a song clearly selected with care, in order to remind us of all the complex emotions that sex can awaken within us. An act of passion can fulfil a primal, animalistic need. It can make us feel bold, and brilliant and on top of the world. It can help to distract us from all of the big bads going on in the world – but it can also reawaken us to them, too. And, when done with consent, a sexual act reminds us that we, and we are alone, are in command of our own bodies.

Those in charge of some sections of the British media, however, had a very different take on the scene.

Typing with feverish fingers, they spoke of “illicit romps” and “full-frontal nudity” – and they made sure to include the images to illustrate their point. Some chose to censor Moss’ nipples with a little black bar of shame, while others put them proudly on display across their homepages, noting gleefully that the award-winning actor “exposes EVERYTHING in steamy sex scenes”.


Read more: The Handmaid’s Tale fans, here’s what really happens to Ofglen in the book


One article, attempting to pack in as much nonsensical and irrelevant detail as possible, analysed and critiqued Moss’ body.

“Elisabeth later showcased her pert bottom and slender frame as Offred romps in the explicit scenes,” they shared.

Another ridiculous review referred to the actor as looking “stunning” in her “dalliance” (we assume this one was written sometime in the 1800s) and added that she was seen “sporting acres of auburn hair while going totally naked”.

Nobody commented on the fact Minghella went topless for the scene

Nobody commented on the fact Minghella went topless for the scene

One, after cramming as many buzzwords (‘naked’, ‘steamy’, ‘strips’, and ‘X-rated’) into their headline as possible, felt obliged to point out – almost as an after-thought – that the scene was from a “sci-fi drama in which women are forced to be sex slaves due to widespread infertility”.

Unsurprisingly, not a single article commented on the fact that Minghella was also topless or that his nipples were fully visible.

And that wasn’t the only thing headlines had in common: there’s also the patently obvious fact that no matter how many different ways the tabloids tried to spin it, each and every single one of these sexist and salacious headlines still sent the same message to the world.

‘F**k the story, Offred got her tits out for the lads.’

And it’s absolute bulls**t.


Read more: Finally, someone made a men’s version of The Handmaid’s Tale


This moment deserved so much more: it was intended to be thought-provoking, to spark conversations about consent, to encourage debate about our sexual urges and to redress the balance of power.

Instead, headlines reduced our heroine down to nothing more than her breasts in its utmost best to strip away Offred’s identity – and, in doing so, reminded women everywhere of “their place” in this patriarchal society.

Most of the headlines were written by women

Most of the headlines were written by women

The saddest thing of all, though, is that we’ve been forced to watch Offred being raped by her Commander (Joseph Fiennes) for weeks. In these scenes, we saw her lying motionless under his body, unable to move or fight back – forced into the prisons of her own mind by Gileadean law. More perversely, Offred is held in place by his wife, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), who clasps her Handmaid’s arms in her hands tightly as her husband works away at her.

It’s a woman holding back another woman. A woman refusing to let her fellow woman shine. A woman bowing down to the patriarchy’s skewed views and helping them – however distasteful she finds it, however much she may feel forced by the bounds of the society in which she lives – to discriminate and bully her fellow females into submission.

It seems ever so fitting, then, that the majority of the “raunchy” headlines – focusing solely on the value of Moss’ physical form, rather than the importance of the message she was attempting to put across – were written by women.

Now, tell us again that there’s no such thing as sexism.

Images: Channel 4

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