The Nuanced Psychology of The Handmaid’s Tale: Commentary on Power, Feminism, and the Patriarchy From Four Feminist Evolutionary Psychologists

Jessica L. Calvi, Ashley M. Rankin, Nikki Clauss, Jennifer Byrd-Craven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Dystopian novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood, 1985) illuminate real-world human sociopolitical dynamics that underscore the processes of sexual and reproductive control at both the systemic and individual levels. Here we utilize this novel as a unique and abundant case study to generate a broader theoretical discussion of feminism and evolutionary psychology. Integrating the function of fiction (Carroll, 2018), we highlight examples in the novel which illustrate the overt and covert attempts by both sexes to control female sexuality and reproductive potential. Examples from the novel are utilized to discuss myriad behaviors underlying the divergent reproductive interest of men and women, and female-female competition that occurs under patriarchal control. Implicit and explicit tactics women use to resist control over their sexuality are outlined, and we argue that the sensitivity to the structure of a society such as (the fictionalized) Republic of Gilead is only possible via evolved cognitive mechanisms that allow humans to detect attempts to exercise power and control over reproductive choices. We present evidence that evolved emotional and motivational systems incentivize feminists today to prevent such a society, and that feminism itself is only possible as a social, political, and intellectual movement based on those evolved cognitive mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-78
Number of pages16
JournalEvolutionary Behavioral Sciences
Volume14
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2020

Keywords

  • alloparenting
  • feminism
  • fertility
  • intrasexual competition
  • power structures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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