The problem wasn’t only with the women, he says. The main problem was with the men. There was nothing for them anymore . . . I’m not talking about sex, he says. That was part of it, the sex was too easy . . . You know what they were complaining about the most? Inability to feel. Men were turning off on sex, even. They were turning off on marriage. Do they feel now? I say. Yes, he says, looking at me. They do.

This quotation, from the end of Chapter 32, recounts the Commander’s attempt to explain to Offred the reasons behind the foundation of Gilead. His comments are ambiguous, perhaps deliberately so, but they are the closest thing to a justification for the horror of Gilead that any character offers. He suggests that feminism and the sexual revolution left men without a purpose in life. With their former roles as women’s protectors taken away, and with women suddenly behaving as equals, men were set adrift. At the same time, changing sexual mores meant that sex became so easy to obtain that it lost meaning, creating what the Commander calls an “inability to feel.” By making themselves soldiers, providers, and caretakers of society again, men have meaning restored to their lives. This sounds almost noble, except that in order to give meaning to men’s lives, both men and women have lost all freedom. The benefits of the new world are not worth the cost in human misery.