Gendered Messages In The Handmaid’s Tale

Kayan Khraisheh



Kayan Khraisheh is a Palestinian-American senior at Northwestern University in Qatar, majoring in Media Industries and Technology and pursuing a certificate in Strategic Communication. She loves to tell both journalistic and narrative stories through different media, including writing, filmmaking, and social media. Her research interests include environmental sustainability, human rights, the Palestinian issue, and gender representations in the media.


In this paper, I analyze the differences in the gendered messages conveyed in the three versions of The Handmaid’s Tale

to date: the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, the 1990 film adaptation directed by Volker Schlöndorff, and the 2017 TV

series by executive producer Bruce Miller. I highlight the changes in feminist narratives with an awareness of the

different contexts at the time of each artifact’s release, and also examine the historical reception of these media texts.

This paper was written for my Feminist Media Historiography class. I noted that while The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the key

texts that has been analyzed by scholars in the fields of gender and media, its adaptations differ significantly and have been

received very differently by critics and audiences. There is an abundance of discourse regarding whether these different media

texts are pro-feminist and empower women, or anti-feminist and promote sexist narratives. During preliminary research I

realized that while several scholarly articles analyze the individual media artifacts from a feminist perspective, few studies, if

any, compare the three versions in terms of gender representations. This led me to my research topic.

Although decades have passed since the release of the original novel, The Handmaid’s Tale continues to be a story that

resonates strongly with audiences, regardless of the context or the time period. In my paper, I noted how this particular

subtopic (differences across the three media texts) could be expanded. Asides from gender representations, The

Handmaid’s Tale comments on religion, race, and sexuality, meaning that there are plenty of opportunities for further

research and analysis. As the TV show creators continue to produce highly-rated seasons – 4 seasons have been released

so far – there will undoubtedly be more room for exploration and comparison.

After graduating this April, I plan to pursue a Master’s degree – I am currently in the process of applying to graduate schools.