Is Atwood’s Novel Ultimately a Feminist Work of Literature, or Does It Offer a Critique of Feminism?

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Although this is posed as an either or question, this essay will explore how Atwood has been able to create what is ultimately a feminist work whilst also criticising the failures of feminism. Atwood is addressing a topical issue of the 1980’s, the contrast and conflict between the more traditional feminist ideas of sexualisation being disempowering, and the post-feminist perspective of claiming one’s sexuality . Firstly, by condemning complacency in characters like Offred, and advocating for the stronger feminist role models. Atwood is promoting feminism through this because she is showing the importance of activism against patriarchy. Secondly, Atwood critiques the social structures and attitudes surrounding femininity. She does this by exposing the contradictions of expectations of women within the patriarchal regime of Gilead. However, Atwood does criticise feminism for its tendency to alienate people, with the example of Offred’s mother. This essay will argue that these criticisms don’t stop the novel from being a feminist work. In order to express her feminist ideas, Atwood uses criticisms of Offred and Janine’s complacency juxtaposed with positive feminist role models like Moira. When Offred has the affair with the commander, she is helping to sate the loneliness and desires of a man who is part of her oppression. She is therefore partly responsible for her oppression because she is helping her oppressor. As Barbara Ehrenriech¹ said, Offred’s character ‘has sunk too far into the...household she serves’. Although this can be seen as a failure of Atwood to create a strong feminist character, it seems to be more intended as an anti-role model, making Offred’s complicity obviously undesirable. This technique is used to create a feminist work because instead of creating a hero, or a few heroes, to save everyone, it shows the necessity for everyone to rebel and
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