Problems of a women in Gilead

In the novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the world controlled by Gilead oppresses women of their freedom. Gilead only views women who have the potential to procreate with as mere flesh.  For Offred, the main protagonist, it has been difficult for her. She doesn’t have the right to be able to do simple things for herself, like to own lotion for her skin, and people disrespect her for the role as a Handmaid. 

Offred remembers when she was young about an interview of a woman wearing heavy make-up, this influences her thoughts about the commander. Recently the commander has been acting strangely towards Offred. As if the commander starts to care about Offred’s feelings. She suddenly recalls a moment  of watching a documentary about World War II that she saw as a child. Offred mostly remembers the documentary about a mistress of a Nazi concentration-camp supervisor. The mistress said she had no knowledge about the mass extermination taking place next to her home. The old mistress, wearing a lot of make-up at the time, responds in the interview that her lover wasn’t a monster. Offred mostly remembers how sweet and kind the Nazis was behaving. A couple of days after the interview the mistress commits suicide. Offred mostly remembers the make-up (145-146). Offred has strong memories about having make-up or lotion before Gilead. This items hold a strong importance to her. She really cares about keeping her appearance, this recalls in chapter 17 when Offred uses butter as lotion for her face. The documentary seems to be used as an anecdote to warn Offred about the commander. No matter how the person may appear outside, they are different person inside. The commander may be nice to now, but later can be different. This shows how people can treat the Handmaids very poorly.

Offred receives lotion from the commander as requested, the commander soon realizes that Offred isn’t allowed to have such things in her room. When Offred is alone with the commander in their third meeting. Offred requests if she may have lotion for his face. She later explains that she used butter before as lotion. The commander found it funny. “Butter, he said, musing. That’s very clever. Butter. He laughed. I could have slapped him,” (159). Offred is very irradiated by what the commander said. This represents important make-up or lotion is for Offred. She wants keep up her appearances but she can not do so with Gilead interfering with their rules. This shows in the society of Gilead that they have no empathy towards Handmiads and that their don’t understand their feelings towards Gilead.

2 thoughts on “Problems of a women in Gilead

  1. Daniel

    “The old mistress, wearing a lot of make-up at the time, responds in the interview that her lover wasn’t a monster” ….What is the significance of too much make-up for the mistress?  Was it guilt?…Was it fear of reprisal?…Was it denial?

    “She really cares about keeping her appearance, this recalls in chapter 17 when Offred uses butter as lotion for her face” …I think that the desire to use make-up in Offred’s case is different. She wants to maintain her beauty, which is one of the few resources that she was! For Offred its about exercising the little power that she has, both to maintain sanity and to survive.


    A new study (see Abstract below) published in the journal Perception finds that men perceive women who wear makeup to be more prestigious, while women perceive other women who wear makeup to be more dominant—and also more promiscuous.
    “Women wearing cosmetics have been associated with a higher earning potential and higher status jobs. However, recent literature suggests that status can be accrued through two distinct routes: dominance and prestige. In two experiments, we applied a standardized amount of cosmetics to female faces using computer software. We then asked participants to rate faces with and without cosmetics for various traits including attractiveness, dominance, and prestige. Men and women both rated the faces with cosmetics added as higher in attractiveness. However, only women rated faces with cosmetics as higher in dominance, while only men rated them as higher in prestige. In a follow-up study, we investigated whether these enhanced perceptions of dominance from women were caused by jealousy. We found that women experience more jealousy toward women with cosmetics, and view these women as more attractive to men and more promiscuous. Our findings suggest that cosmetics may function as an extended phenotype and can alter other’s perceptions differently depending on the perceiver’s sex.”


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