The TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has been critically acclaimed since its debut on Hulu and subsequent airing on Channel 4, the dystopian story of a near-future America first published in 1985 ringing true decades later.
However the show’s star, Elisabeth Moss, came in for criticism in April for saying that the tale was “not a feminist story – it’s a human story, because women’s rights are human rights.”
In a new interview, Moss explains that while she stands by the idea that her character Offred’s story is at heart a human one, she now understands the importance of talking about feminism specifically.
Speaking to The Guardian, she says: “What I meant to say was that, for me, feminism is equal rights for men and women. Men and women are both humans, so, for me, that makes my characters and the work that I do human stories.
“I play a f***ing sexual slave, I play a breeder, a host, a woman for whom all of her rights, and all of her family and friends, have been taken away. She has nothing. So, yes, it is a feminist story.”
She goes on to reference the role that made her famous, Peggy Olsen in Mad Men, and how the change in political context since that show (airing 2007 to 2015) has amped up the need to be loud and proud about feminism.
“I was constantly being asked about feminism [during Mad Men]. And I could have, at that time, said what I said at Tribeca and it would have been fine.
“As a woman, now, you have to speak up. “You have to own it [feminism] in a way that you never have before. It is different now.”
The Handmaid’s Tale envisages a world in which the American government has been overthrown by a far-right group which suspended the constitution under the guise of preventing terrorism, later using the ‘emergency’ measure to take full control over the population – stripping women of their money, jobs and rights in order to ‘advance’ a nation facing a birth-rate crisis.
Women in anything other than the officer class are ranked according to their fertility status, with many older women designated Marthas and put into servant roles and fertile women labelled Handmaids and forced to live in the houses of Commanders. These women are then raped on a monthly basis in the hope of providing their masters and wives with a baby. The ultra-conservative regime denounces gay people as “gender traitors” and has them killed.
With Donald Trump in government, the themes covered are uncomfortable viewing for many, and in the interview Moss points out that the leaders in the fictional world of Gilead infiltrated slowly, with nobody paying enough attention until it was too late.
“Our rights are under threat in a way they have never been before. Or certainly, that they haven’t been in our lifetimes,” says Moss.
She later adds: “People have to stay awake. And after you wake up, you should get out of bed and start doing things. There is no time later. My worst fear is that people become complacent, and apathetic, again.”
Read the full interview at theguardian.com.
Main image: Channel 4/Hulu