In 2023, it can be difficult for the majority of Americans to relate to the totalitarian practices and theocratic society seen in Hulu’s original series, The Handmaid’s Tale. This fifteen-time Emmy award-winning television series takes place in a near-future dystopia where the US government has been overthrown by a fundamentalist religious group that calls itself Gilead. While the nation state’s despicable acts of violence and misogynistic beliefs seem like a thing of the past, the unimaginable horror that takes place throughout The Handmaid’s Tale is actually the disturbing reality for most women living in traditional Amish communities.

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Similarity #1

In the Hulu series, it is against the law for women to receive any form of education. They are not allowed to read anything, including the Bible and other religious texts, because reading would allow the women to learn and possibly rise up against the patriarchal system implemented by the white-male elites. Although the wives of Gilead’s Commanders are placed higher than all other women on the social hierarchy, they are still no exception to the education ban for women. Similarly, the Amish religion prohibits women and children from learning or educating themselves on various topics including world history, economics, politics, different religions, and the list goes on. Controlling the information exposed to Amish women and children allows the white Amish patriarchy to establish societal norms and ultimately, control their thoughts, beliefs, and actions. 

Similarity #2

If you have not watched this revelational television series yet, you have still most likely seen pictures of the iconic blood red dresses and . . .

. . . white bonnets worn by the handmaids, who are women forced to reproduce in the name of repopulation. Gilead, like most fundamentalist societies, requires a strict uniform for all citizens according to their societal role. Each faction is assigned a different ensemble, a visual representation of their division. All women are prohibited from wearing pants and must dress modestly, so as not to tempt their male superiors. In direct correlation with The Handmaid’s Tale, Amish culture has instilled a strict dress code for both men and women. The Amish wear Puritan-style clothing, without any kind of decoration, because they are taught to believe that wearing anything else is “worldly”. Similar to the handmaid’s uniform, Amish women are required to wear long, often dark-colored, dresses with white caps to cover their hair. Like in Gilead, Amish women are taught that they are responsible for tempting the males if they show too much skin or body shape.

Similarity #3

It should come as no surprise that a patriarchal theocracy like Gilead would prohibit women from owning their own property. In The Handmaid’s Tale, women are the property of their male superiors and cannot make any financial decisions on their own. Women who cannot find husbands are labeled “unwomen”, meaning they are dispensable to society and no longer possess any human rights. Unfortunately, women and children of traditional Amish culture suffer this same kind of financial abuse. While the young Amish boys will grow up and eventually make a living wage, the little girls will rarely earn a single dollar for themselves throughout their entire lifetime. In general, an unmarried girl or married woman is forced to turn over her earnings to her father or husband. Amish women are subjected to a life of financial dependency, keeping them attached to their husbands or other male authority figures despite the circumstances.  

Similarity #4

One of the most powerful methods for acquiring power throughout history is the abuse of religious beliefs. The Handmaid’s Tale tells a story centered around the corruption of religion. It reveals how spiritual beliefs can be used by political leaders for manipulation and demonstrates the need for a separation between the church and state. The leaders of Gilead use the Bible to justify sexual servitude, misogynistic laws, rape, and the list goes on. The Amish Church, along with countless other fundamentalist religions, have learned to weaponize God and prey on the spiritual vulnerability of its members. Because Amish women and children understandably do not want to burn for eternity in hell (which is what they are threatened with if they speak out), the vast majority stay quiet instead of questioning or challenging the patriarchal systems or reporting any kind of abuse. 

Although the totalitarian religious practices depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale seem impossible in today’s society, fundamentalist institutions are getting away with this kind of abuse every day in countries all over the world, including the USA.

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