I started The Handmaid’s Tale series on Hulu on the recommendation of my husband because, in his words, “you like weird shows like that”. Dystopian shows are some of my favorite because they at least attempt to show the seedy underbelly of human behavior that we so often try to gloss over and hide. So I began the first episode on an early spring Saturday morning and I was not at all prepared for how it would affect me.
Growing up, my mom would always tell me I had to be better than the best because, unfairly, some people would think my best was only half as good as a boy’s mediocre. I shrugged her words off as only the young and innocent can. If I tried my hardest then I’d surely succeed in all that I took on. Oh, young Samantha. Fast forward to senior year of high school and me sitting in a classroom at Berea College in an upper level women’s studies course. Students at my high school could take college classes at Berea or EKU if our schedules and parents allowed. I ended up taking intro to women’s studies my last semester of junior year and continuing down the path until I was two classes short of a minor. On this particular day, the mall group of women and our professor were talking about whether or not one person could change the world. Everyone else had said they couldn’t, but my 17 year old self said that, indeed, one person could change the world. The others laughed and said I’d change my mind once I knew more of the world. In a way, they were right.
As a freshman at a small college in an even smaller town in Southeastern Kentucky, I wasn’t at all prepared for the attention I would garner. Freshmen women, I would come to find out, were a source of intense interest because they represented new romantic possibilities. Fresh meat entering the market with little to no idea of the environment we were walking into. I remember the first full day on campus when other students had moved in. I was walking from my dorm to the chapel for a meeting and a group of men were sitting on the sidewalk next to the student center. They began sucking their teeth and calling out to me as I neared. This was my first cat calling experience and it occurred right in broad daylight next to campus safety’s office. That should’ve told me all I needed to know about how women were viewed and treated.
Junior year, I’m a resident assistant in the freshman dorm and finishing my rounds for the night. It’s a weeknight so my shift is over at midnight. I’m tired ad have class early the next morning, I’m deep into my course load for my two majors and studying for the GRE. I turned my radio off right before there’s a knock at my door. I open it to find one of my residents visibly shaken, wide eyed, and crying. Once I get her into my room and close the door she tells me she’s been raped by one of the football players. I know the guy she’s talking about, it’s a small school so I’ve had a class with him and I remember getting the warning vibe we learn to develop early. I offer to drive her to the hospital for a rape exam, assuring her they’re free and that I won’t leave her side. She refuses. I know better than to offer to radio anyone or alert any authorities. We both know it won’t do any good and would only be harder on her. So we sit. I still feel her tears soaking into my shirt and my tears soaking into her hair.
I’m in graduate school and trying to learn how to juggle my classes, graduate assistant position, a personal life, and the never ending pile of homework on my desk. This campus is way larger than my undergrad college’s and I still get lost if I’m not paying attention every second. I’ve already been warned by other women that I need to tone my personality down. I’m too loud, too crude, and just too much. Their words hurt. I thought I could spread my wings here, and I can, but only a little bit further. There is still a cage and I still very much feel it.
I have a bunch of letters after my name and I’m working on more, but a man maybe 10 years older than I am addresses myself and a coworker as “girls”. I don’t think he’s even aware of the implications behind what he just said. Does he know that rings in my ears as it would a black man’s if you called him “boy”? Probably not. A friend, meaning well, says maybe I should tomboy it up to be taken a little more seriously. I decline. I love my full 50s style skirts, heels, pearls, and elaborate makeup. I feel pretty and most myself like this and don’t want to change.
When Offred is living her hellish nightmare of a life, I feel her pain because it doesn’t seem that far away to me. My body is seen as a social commentary. Too big, too small, too this, too that. My level of education is easily wiped away with one word. Why don’t I have a baby yet? We’ve been married almost 2 years and my husband has a steady job. I am a threat because everything I am and have accomplished lives inside of a female body. I am both Eve and Mary; the temptress and the mother. If I could crawl outside of my body, I would. What would they hold against me then?