Lead actor Elisabeth Moss caused a stir in advance of The Handmaid’s Tale’s premiere on Hulu by stating that the film “is not a feminist story. It’s a human story because women’s rights are human rights.” Rather than approaching the series with a feminist agenda, Moss reported approaching it with a human agenda, citing Offred’s roles as a mother, friend, and wife, all of which she sees as speaking to the human – rather than the female – experience.
Social media didn’t take well to the perceived rejection of feminism in the series, and suggested that actors ought listen to Atwood, who openly asserts the inherent feminism in the book and series. Atwood swooped in via social media to quell the ruckus, stating via Twitter that users should be kind to the actors as they wanted to be inclusive. Atwood further clarified that feminism can sometimes infer “Hiss Boo” or “Yay Cheer” – in other words, feminism can be vilified, or it can be celebrated.
Having viewed the first few episodes of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood’s hand in the series is evident. While it can be argued that the series, in neoliberal context, “uses” feminism and the plight of women to sell media, there are at once frames in the series which suggest that the feminist agenda is actually well played out: violation and control of a woman’s body is inhumane, homophobia is destructive, and patriarchy is controlling and violent.
Though disturbing, the series mysteriously meets, in Atwood’s recent words, “’Feminism ‘Yay Cheer.’” The dystopic effects of patriarchy are hauntingly represented, and the series has the potential to convince “Feminism ‘Hiss Boo’” that we must look not simply toward equality but, as feminist theorist bell hooks argues, toward ending “sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”
The series is more than a contemporary repackaging of the age-old plights of a patriarchal culture. Although presented in context of neoliberal ideologies of consumption and "female empowerment," the series can also be a turning point for a more nuanced understanding of the necessity that, as Offred does in the series, choosing love is the first movement toward freedom (hooks, 2000).