Gender Hegemony and Dual Consciousness
Gender hegemony is a gender order that favors one gender group; for instance, hegemonic masculinity over the other gender, mainly hegemonic femininities. The gender of a person had less to do with the physical characteristics of a person and was mainly learned after birth. The role of a specific gender is made up of different behavioral signs and other subconscious indicators, which enabled one to be associated with a particular gender group (Repo 233). Gender imprinting in humans occurs during the first 36 months after birth, where specific behaviors that are gender-specific are induced through hairstyles, personal pronouns, and clothing (Repo 234). Also, in a family setting, parents are required to practice their gender roles daily for their child to establish his/her respective gender (Repo 236). All these practices by individuals and society are meant to enable children to fit in their respective genders irrespective of their current sex.
Double consciousness is a sensation that one’s identity is divided, making it complex to establish true identity. In the article, double consciousness arises when people’s behavior does not go according to their sex. Gender is an imprinted cognitive state and has less to do with the physical characteristic of an individual (Repo 233). However, society defines one as male or female, depending on their sex. This case means that there is a possibility that one’s behavior can contradict his/her sex, bringing about double consciousness.
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“But that’s where I am, there’s no escaping it. Time’s a trap, I’m caught in it. I must forget about my secret name and all ways back. My name is Offred now, and here is where I live. Live in the present, make the most of it, it’s all you’ve got. Time to take stock. I am thirty-three years old. I have brown hair. I stand five seven without shoes. I have trouble remembering what I used to look like. I have viable ovaries. I have one more chance. But something has changed, now, tonight. Circumstances have altered. I can ask for something. Possibly not much; but something. Men are sex machines, said Aunt Lydia, and not much more. They only want one thing. You must learn to manipulate them, for your own good. Lead them around by the nose; that is a metaphor. It’s nature’s way. It’s God’s device. It’s the way things are” (Atwood 24).
The passage allows us to understand Offred’s double consciousness and the two identities that she possessed. One identity is revealed when she said that she had to forget her way back and her real name. This identity shows that Offred had a past which kept hunting her in her present life. It is not her wish but the new circumstances have made her change her character and even her true identity (Atwood 24). The second identity is her current life as a handmaid, where she served the rulers of Gilead society. According to Aunt Lydia’s sentiments, Offred was now a concubine to the rulers of Gilead society and for her to succeed in her new identity, she must manipulate men to get whatever she wants.
From the extract, there is a struggle between the two identities of Offred. The first identity shows honesty and happiness from her previous community, family, and friends. In the second identity, there is sexual harassment by the leaders of her new community (Atwood 24). However, even though the treatment by the leaders of Gilead was harsh and were only viewed as sex slaves, Offred and the other handmaids formed a strong bond and friendship and always assisted each other as portrayed by Aunt Lydia’s statements.
Atwood, Margaret. The handmaid’s tale. Vol. 301. Everyman’s Library Classics &, 2006.
Repo, Jemima. “The biopolitical birth of gender: Social control, Hermaphroditism, and the New Sexual Apparatus.” Alternatives 38.3 (2013): 228-244.