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The Handmaid's Tale and the Reality of Womanhood

If you have never seen Hulu's TV show titled The Handmaid's Tale, then this post might intrigue you enough to see the show. The show premiered in 2016 and is based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid's Tale is a story set in a totalitarian dystopia where fertile women are forced to reproduce to repopulate the earth. This drama digs into what we can essentially call reproductive slavery.

The most intriguing part about this story is that while it is set in a dystopia, there have been similar instances of forced childbearing throughout all of human history. In many cases, forced childbearing is not as overt as in The Handmaid's Tale but there are also instances where religious fanatics have forced women to bear children within their sect or cult. These instances are an example of extreme cases that is a part of human history. Women have been forced to have children to populate these fanatic groups. The male children borne out of this specific need often grow to carry on that group's message while the female children are also used as reproductive vessels when they are old enough.

Many women, furthermore, grow up being told that they must create their own families to fulfill their womanhood. This is more commonly seen in everyday life and is not particularly forced although an argument might be made for conditioning. This familial and societal expectation is often so negligible that women who have no wish to bear children are othered. The womb is perceived as an intrinsic aspect of being a woman. Dr. Batya Weinbaum, in speaking about her experience in teaching Women and Gender Studies spoke about the pushback she encountered when she taught materials like The Great Cosmic Mother and Elizabeth Barber's Women's Work which linked the participation of women in the workforce to their ability to be mothers.

You can read Dr. Weinbaum's experience at or watch her talk about it at

While womanhood can be defined in many different ways in the 21st century, persons assigned the female sex at birth have been historically taught that birthing may be their highest achievement. For this reason, the female experience is almost always linked with the capabilities of their womb.

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