Published in 1985, Margaret Atwood’s, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” portrays the oppression of women living in a relapsed fundamentalist dystopia. Since then, the novel has become a bestseller, earned its own Hulu series, and ignited a sense of activism across the globe. Atwood sat down with us to discuss her initial hopes for the novel, its newfound significance, and the series adaptation’s call to action.
What do you hope The Handmaid’s Tale inspires in readers and, now, viewers? How is this influencing women’s empowerment?
Back in 1985 when the book was published, the hope was to inspire people to think carefully before allowing ourselves to get close to a totalitarian or authoritarian society in North America. However, now that this is no longer seen as simply fantasy, the show’s iconic red costumes have become an impressive mute symbol of protest – in places where women are fighting for their human rights, and in places where they are seeing their already-gained rights being removed. We live at a time when nothing can be taken for granted. Things can change overnight, and the show is a reminder of that
How do you, as an author, confront stereotypes?
Stereotypes are complex, they change over time. Authors always try to portray the characters in their novels as complex individuals – not as angels or devils, but as individual people with a full range of human emotions and human flaws. Women are people. They come in infinite varieties. Fiction reflects that.
Why is it so important to speak out against injustices—big or small—even if you’re afraid or if there are risks?
Speaking out against injustices is a luxury not everyone can afford. In western democracies, people fear being fired for speaking out. In other countries, journalists are murdered for doing so. Fortunately, there are organizations devoted to exposing injustices of all kinds. If people are unable to speak out, then at the very least, they can make a donation to one of these organizations. The price of preserving democracy – where it exists – is a free press, so supporting a reputable news agency is also important.
You’ve called Season 2 a call to action. How do you think viewers and fans can convert their emotions about the show into activism?
In the United States, many of them are already doing that by working to enfranchize and encourage voters to elect legislators who will protect their rights. But books and TV shows cannot affect change by themselves. Change has to come from the ground level.
Who inspires you to #EmbraceAmbition?
My parents – they never told me I couldn’t do something simply because I was female. My Dad once said, “You’ve been given a brain. Use it.” So I did. Of course, he said this to me in response to a bad mark in Latin class, but still….
Want more of Margaret Atwood? Watch her at the Tory Burch Foundation’s Embrace Ambition Summit: