The Handmaid’s Tale

by: Margaret Atwood

Feminist science fiction

Many writers use the genres of science fiction and speculative fiction to explore ideas about gender, sex, and sexuality. By imagining alternative worlds and possible futures, feminist writers emphasize elements of women’s experience that have been under- or mis-represented in traditional fiction. An early work of feminist science fiction was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Shelley’s novel about a man creating a living creature examines ideas about motherhood in Shelley’s society. With its portrait of an oppressive, male-dominated society, The Handmaid’s Tale suggests ways in which oppression and violence shape women’s experience in our own time. Unlike Frankenstein, The Handmaid’s Tale focuses on the interior lives of women, relegating its male characters to the margins. The Handmaid’s Tale’s use of a speculative setting to explore women’s experience has been extremely influential. Contemporary writers like Ann Leckie (Ancillary Justice) have set their work in far-removed futures in order to imagine a female experience freed from gender norms.