The Handmaid’s Tale: What is a Handmaid?

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The Handmaid’s Tale airs every Wednesday on HULU in the US, with the series arriving in the UK at a later date. The series is based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood and stars Elisabeth Moss in the leading role of June Osborne. If you are new to the series, Express.co.uk has everything you need to know starting with the most important question of all – What is a Handmaid?

What is a Handmaid?

The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a dystopian universe, following a Second American Civil War where a totalitarian state exists.

The women within this state who are fertile area known as Handmaids and they are subjected to child-bearing slavery.

In the new regime, fertile women are viewed as ‘fallen women’ who are enslaved to combat worldwide infertility.

The handmaids and fallen women often include those who have been married more than once, known as adulteresses, single or unmarried mothers, lesbians, who are called gender traitors, non-Christians, political dissidents and other academics.

They are assigned to the houses of the ruling elite, where they are forced to submit to ritualized rape, known as the ceremony by their male masters, known as commanders.

The ‘ceremony takes place in front of their wives and if the Handmaid falls pregnant, she will carry the child and give it up to their masters when born.

The Handmaids identity are completely erased and they are given the prefix Of – followed by the name of their commander.

When the Handmaids move commander, their names are changed.

The Handmaids are easily identifiable in society, sporting long red dresses, heavy brown boots and white coifs, with a larger white coif known as wings.

The larger white coif on their head conceals them from public view and impairs their peripheral vision.

The women who are not handmaids are also separated into small categories and are identified by the colour of dress they were.

Marthas

Marthas are housekeepers and cooks, named after the biblical figure.

They wear long, loose green dresses and wear headwraps.

Wives of Commanders

The wives of the commanders wear flowing blue dresses, reminiscent of the 1950s.

They are allowed to wear heels and have their hair tied back in a neat bun.

When outdoors, they wear elegant hats and gloves.

Widows of Commanders

The Widows of Commanders wear similar attire to the Wives but with the colours of blue and black.

Ecnowives

In the series Women of the lower classes wear grey which differs from the striped clothing, they wear in the original novel.

Unwomen

Female prisoners are known as Unwomen and wear drags and are worked to death in the Colonies.

Aunts

Aunts are the ruthless women who train and discipline the Handmaids.

They also oversee ‘partcicutions’, which are effectively public executions of the Handmaids.

They wear all brown and are the only women in Gilead who are allowed to read.

Jezebels

Jezebels is the term given to former professionals, academics and prostitutes.

In Gilead they are forced into prostitution, serving the elite ruling class.

In The Handmaids Tale, prostitution is seen as an alternative to execution or imprisonment.

They wear clothes, costumes and lingerie from ‘before’ the second revolution.

The Handmaid’s Tale airs Wednesdays on Hulu

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