The latest episode of The Handmaid's Tale touched upon a subject that's been on the minds of many viewers lately: Why isn't the rest of the world doing anything to help the handmaids? Why is there such a lack of foreign intervention?
#TheHandmaidsTale Episode 6 introduced a surprise guest character: the (female) ambassador for Mexico. Offred's commander was trying to negotiate a trade deal with their bordering neighbors; something that was critical to their economy staying afloat.
While Offred was hoping that the trade delegates could help her, it soon became apparent that the ambassador was not willing to do so. And as shocking as that was, it's neither unrealistic nor unheard of in the world we currently live in.
But first, let's break down Gilead's relationship with the rest of the world, and the reason for the serious lack of foreign intervention:
Why Were The Handmaids Cleaning The Wall?
That concrete wall next to the river is ordinarily covered in bodies; executed "traitors" strung up as an example to others. But in Episode 6, there are no bodies, and the Handmaids are scrubbing the blood from the wall. Why? It's all about keeping up appearances.
Gilead are set on making a positive impression on the Mexican delegates, and that means getting rid of any evidence that they're actually a nation of dangerous psychopaths. Before the dinner, Serena Joy has the "damaged" Handmaids removed from sight (those missing eyes and limbs), comparing them to rotten apples displayed at the top of the barrel. Serena Joy even addressed the room during the dinner (much to the shock of the other Gilead members), giving the illusion that women have more power than they actually do.
You might assume that the whole world is well aware of the atrocities being committed under Gilead's rule, but that's not guaranteed to be the case. Dictatorships are very good at pushing positive propaganda about their own government, as well as maintaining media silence.
In a previous episode, the Commander talks about a woman who recently escaped the U.S. and crossed the border, telling foreign media all about the reality of life under Gilead. Considering this recent scandal, it's no wonder they would be so invested in maintaining the illusion of peaceful complicity amongst their citizens. And unfortunately, it's so easy to deny the story of one person.
Why Won't The Mexican Ambassador Do Anything?
Toward the end of the episode, it's revealed that while Gilead's efforts to leave a positive impression worked (thanks to the "Children of Gilead"), it's essentially irrelevant. There's been no children born in the Mexican ambassador's hometown for six years. Their population is in dire straits, and they want to use Gilead's "Red Tags" — Handmaids — to repopulate their country. Even learning the truth about the Handmaids doesn't change the ambassador's mind.
Mexico's infertility problems aside, it's just not in their interest to intervene and cause further problems for their own country. As awful as this seems, author of the original Handmaid's Tale novel Margaret Atwood pulled much of the inspiration for the story from real-life events not too different from what is now being shown on Hulu.
We've Allowed These Things To Happen Before
It's all too easy to rationalize how the atrocities of The Handmaid's Tale can't and won't happen in real life, with the main argument being that other countries would surely intervene. Would the rest of the world really stand idly by while the rights of an entire nation's women were abruptly taken away?
Shockingly, the answer is yes — and it's already happened.
Let's look at Afghanistan as an example. Women's rights in Afghanistan experienced a drastic change in the 20th Century. Despite Western beliefs about Afghan's human rights issues, Afghan women were actually permitted to vote before American women. They could wear short skirts, get college educations, and enjoyed much of the same liberties that the modern American woman might.
Much like in The Handmaid's Tale, an extremist religious group changed all of that when they took control of the country. The Taliban forbade women from attending school, driving, showing skin, partaking in politics, walking unaccompanied by a man, working and more. If women disobeyed these laws, they were beaten, mutilated, raped and murdered.
This was the life of all women in Afghanistan, from the mid-nineties until 2001, when the US intervened following 9/11. That's almost a decade of human rights abuses — not to mention certain areas in Afghanistan are still operating this way.
This isn't the only case of this happening, either. There's been similar cases in countries like Iran, Iraq and Mali. In modern day Chechyna, Russia, being gay — or "gender treason," as it's called in The Handmaid's Tale — is a legitimate crime, with activists claiming those caught are often sent to "torture camps" to die.
Just like The Handmaid's Tale, governments are often reluctant to intervene in the problems of their foreign neighbors. While it's easy to question the apathy of other countries in The Handmaid's Tale, the question people should really be asking is: Why aren't we doing more to help countries with human rights issues right now?