Gender traitor is a term we hear a lot in The Handmaid’s Tale and never was it more apt than in last week’s episode in which we learn that Serena Joy helped orchestrate the subjugation of her own gender.
The episode focuses mostly on Serena Joy’s flashbacks and life before America turned into Gilead. We see through many flashbacks the planning she and Fred do in concert with others in order to “save everyone” else. Nevermind what anyone had to say about it. One thing is very clear in “A Woman’s Place”, though: Serena Joy did not know what exactly she was getting into when she planned the attacks on the US government. Serena was a well known public figure before the fall of America, and she clearly loved her job (and her husband). The two talk excitedly (in public, mind you) about the bombings being approved to occur, and Serena tells Fred about her idea for a new book positing the theory of fertility as a national resource. It’s made clear pretty soon, though, that she has no place in the rebuilding effort. She may have had an idea of how drastically life would change but, hey, the grass is always greener.
We don’t only live in flashbacks, though. Turns out a Mexican delegation is coming to town in order to discuss trade with Commander Waterford, and Offred is invited to tell them about her life as a Handmaid. Offred is rather fond of her hands and head, and therefore tells the Ambassador (a woman dressed in shockingly “normal” clothes) that she is very happy in her “chosen” life. It may be the least convincing testimony I’ve ever seen, but it seems to be enough for the Ambassador and all the Commanders in the room.
During all of this, Offred gets few moments to relish her night with Nick, and fewer still to create new ones, kissing in the hallway and quietly flirting. It a bit of “normal” in a terrible situation, and she holds onto it.
The contrast is all the more striking when Fred exerts his control over her in his office. He orders her to leave when she doesn’t seem attentive enough to his ramblings, and then calls her a “sweet girl” after ordering her to kiss him. Moss does a fantastic job of letting us see Offred fortifying herself to please a man we see as more and more of a monster.
The next evening is an exciting one, as all the Handmaids are invited to an opulent dinner, where they are considered guests, just like everyone else. Serena Joy inspects all the girls and Aunt Lydia shows a rare moment of compassion after the “damaged” girls such as Janine are sent back home, unfit to be seen at the party. Her defense of the maimed girls, as well as her comforting of Janine is completely at odds with everything we’ve seen from Lydia so far. During dinner the Handmaids are “honored” by getting to see the children they bore (and who were stolen from them) play while we learn that the big trade deal with Mexico is for Handmaids and not, in fact, oranges.
After a successful banquet, the Waterfords get it on in what I assume is the first time in half a decade while Offred goes to Nick’s room to freak out about how fucked up her life is. She feels guilty for saying she was happy and chose this, and despite Nick’s reassurances that, in a room full of Commanders, she didn’t have a choice, Offred feels as though she has betrayed herself and every other Handmaid in Gilead.
The next morning Ambassador Castillo and Offred run into each other and Offred (in what I had initially assumed was a dream sequence) tells her everything that has happened since America fell. She tells about the rape and mutilation. The fear and imprisonment that Handmaids have been through. She begs Castillo to help her, to help them, and Castillo simply says she can’t. Again the term “gender traitor” seems fitting, because no matter what a man does to us, the women who allow or encourage it are worse. All hope is not lost, though, as the Ambassador’s aide tells Offred that though he can’t find her daughter, he may be able to get a message to her husband. That’s right, looks like Luke is (possibly) ALIVE!!!!!
Never mistake a woman’s meekness for weakness.