When you become a parent, something seems to be immediately stamped on your DNA that makes you sensitive to the plight of other parents and makes you want to protect your own kid at all costs. Just like June on The Handmaid’s Tale, who has moved Heaven and Earth for her two daughters, whether that's spiriting Holly out of the country or risking her life just to watch Hannah sleep. People have died in order to fulfill June’s mission and as a mom, I can't say I wouldn't do the same thing. But watching The Handmaid’s Tale as a mom is not easy. Add to that watching the show as the mother of a daughter and it is suddenly exponentially harder.
I already had a toddler son when The Handmaid’s Tale premiered in 2017 and back then, I had to either fast forward or cover my eyes and ears through the most difficult moments of the show. I couldn’t help placing myself in June’s shoes when Hannah was ripped from her arms — and every flashback to that scene is still just as difficult to watch. So when I found out that I was pregnant with a daughter this time around, it changed things a little bit.
At first, I was overjoyed that I get to see how my husband’s genes and mine will come together to create a daughter this time. Then, I worried for her future in the real world, where girls and women still struggle to be seen and heard as actual people. I began to see The Handmaid’s Tale through the eyes of the mother of a daughter and it became that much more of a horror show.
Some fans have called The Handmaid’s Tale torture porn or shunned the Hulu drama for its continual bleakness. At its core, however, all of that is necessary to tell June’s story. In the show's universe, young girls are raised to believe they can do no better than to marry a high-ranking official and eventually bear his children or participate in ceremonial rape to have a child. They aren't allowed to read or make important decisions that affect their individual futures. June sees the future her daughters might have if they grow up in Gilead and it's a mother's worst nightmare.
Then when I see June struggling to survive without her daughter, I think about how I would feel if my son was also ripped from my arms and sent to live with another family. Now, when I imagine trying to get my daughter out of the oppressive new world depicted on the show, it’s terrifying in another way.
This season has been especially hard to watch because I can’t help seeing through June's eyes as she gets more and more desperate to be close to her daughter, Hannah. In the Season 3 premiere, she snuck into her daughter's new house to watch her sleep, then asked her Gilead mother — a woman she must hate — about the mundane details of her day-to-day.
I get it.
As a mom, I would be thirsting for any information about my child's life and hopeful that they had a good home, despite being without me.
June risks everything for mere information about her daughter and I relate to that. I am the mom who texts babysitters to check in with them while I'm at the movie theater, and I am the mom anxiously worrying that my son is comfortable and happy at school, at a relative's house, or even with my husband when I'm not home. Those are typical concerns, but in June's world they are amplified ten-fold and I feel that.
Later in the season, when June was literally feet away from Hannah on the other side of the tall stone wall at Hannah’s school, I thought about how I would feel if I was so close to my children that I could hear them playing, but they couldn't come to me.
I don't think I would be any less desperate to get my son out of Gilead than my daughter, but it's obvious that they would lead two very different lives if, like in June and Hannah’s case, they were taken from me. My son would be brought up to be a soldier who would hopefully rise up through the ranks and stay alive to make it to the title of commander.
That’s not ideal, but my daughter would be forced into a kind of slavery, even if she wasn't a handmaid, which is horrific in a different way. Honestly, I would probably get more Marthas killed than June has already if I had more than one child to work on getting out of Gilead. But as a parent who will soon have a daughter, the desperation now feels a little stronger inside of me.
Unlike my 5-year-old son, I don't know my daughter yet. I haven’t built up years of memories, routines, and inside jokes with her, as I have with my son. But like June's innate need to get Holly out of Gilead, I already feel protective of my daughter before she's even born.
June admits in Season 3 that she had thoughts about harming herself or Holly before she was born in Gilead. She has done everything in her power (or lack thereof) to try and get Hannah out and to safety in Canada. It's all because she will stop at nothing to keep her daughters from growing up in a country that oppresses women from the time they are born. Like June, I would do anything save my children in a similar circumstance, but with my daughter, it's a bigger deal.
In real life, the United States is not quite on the brink of collapse in true Gilead fashion. It is, however, a country where women and young girls still struggle to be taken seriously. I can't help but wonder about the future my own daughter will be born into if the United States is already a place where women still are not seen as equals. This year, four states signed "heartbeat" bills, banning abortion as early as six weeks, before many women even know they're pregnant — a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and women's reproductive rights.
Our own president has shown time and again how seriously he doesn't take women. In 2016, President Donald Trump famously called then-presidential candidate Hilary Clinton a "nasty woman" during their final debate — loaded language that dismisses women's real anger and power as unimportant. More recently, he used the same word, "nasty," to describe House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Fox News. Trump has also been accused of sexual assault by over a dozen women, and most recently accused of rape by writer E. Jean Carroll. (Trump has denied these allegations, saying of Carroll, "She's not my type.") He has faced no repercussions for any of this, leading women to wonder when, exactly, they'll be treated as human.
It's only natural for my concerns to translate to a show that is designed to take place in a near future America, where the country really does fall and is reborn as a place where misogyny is not just rampant, it's the law.
When I watch The Handmaid’s Tale now, I don't fear that the exact world of Gilead will be here in the next five years to oppress my daughter and me in real life. But as a mother who just wants a better world for my daughter, I can't help but worry.