Backlash as Elisabeth Moss says The Handmaid's Tale is “not a feminist story”

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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We’re a mere five days away from the release of the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, one of the year’s most eagerly awaited TV shows.

An adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s bestselling feminist dystopia novel, first published in 1985, it details a bleak American future where women are forced into a life of sexual servitude and surrogacy. 

But after months of hype and speculation, Elisabeth Moss, who plays the lead role of Offred, has spoken out against one of our most basic assumptions of the show – by saying the storyline is not a feminist one.

Appearing in a panel for the show at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday, Moss was asked whether she considered The Handmaid’s Tale to be feminist in the same way that the role of Peggy Olson, the character she played in Mad Men, was feminist.

“Honestly, for me it’s not a feminist story — it’s a human story, because women’s rights are human rights,” she answered. 

“I never intended to play Peggy as a feminist; I never intended to play Offred as a feminist. They’re women and they are humans.”

Moss continued to describe Offred as “a wife, a mother, a best friend” and said that her character is “not supposed to be a hero”.

“It’s about love, honestly, so much of this story,” she added. 

“For me, I never approach anything with any sort of political agenda. I approach it from a very human place, I hope.”

Her comments sparked a furore on social media, with women taking to Twitter to slam the actress for denying the story was a feminist one.

“In bizarre panel, #handmaidstale cast are forcing @MargaretAtwood to explicitly state that her feminist book is a feminist book. Sad,” wrote one user.

Brilliantly, however, Atwood herself was quick to defend the actor, tweeting that the panel “needed an ‘only,’ an ‘also,’ and a human rights definition of the F-word [feminism]”.

And in response to the tweet, she replied, “Calm... Be kind.”

“They wanted to be inclusive: ie everyone's caught up in it. As we are.”

“That cast needs to listen to the woman who wrote the fucking story,” another user tweeted. “I can't believe how pissed off I am over their idiocy.”

Again, Atwood had a soothing reply.

“Calm... They Meant ‘Everyone is in this story.’ And that is true,” she replied.

The Handmaid’s Tale premieres on Hulu on 26 April.

Images: Hulu