‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: Every Social Class for Women, Explained

The Handmaid’s Tale returns for season 5 this month. June is finally free in Canada, but viewers will still get a glimpse inside Gilead through Aunt Lydia, Janine, and Esther. Understanding each The Handmaid’s Tale social class that women are classified into is an integral part of the series. Here’s a refresher before the new season premieres.

Amanda Brugel as Rita in 'The 'Handmaid's Tale'. Rita wears the grey Marthas uniform from her social class.
Amanda Brugel as Rita in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

Aunts hold power in Gilead

Aunts are some of the highest ranking women in Gilead. They are in charge of indoctrinating and keeping watch over the Handmaids, as well as overseeing births. Aunts may hold executions, work as prison guards in the Colonies, or serve as school teachers for female children. The Aunts also have certain privileges in Gilead. They learn to read and write and carry cattle prods as weapons. Aunts, however, do not marry.

Handmaids bear children for Commanders

Handmaids are fertile women who somehow broke the laws of Gilead. For example, June became a Handmaid because she married Luke, a divorced man, making her an “adulterer.” Handmaids are assigned to Commanders’ homes to bear children for them and their Wives. Handmaids have three two-year assignments at different Commanders’ homes. After this, they are sent to the Colonies if they do not produce healthy babies.

Jezebels work in secret sex clubs in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

In Gilead, there are secret sex clubs that exist within Gilead. The clubs are called Jezebels, and the women who work there as prostitutes are also referred to as Jezebels. They are generally rebellious women who couldn’t assimilate to the ways of Gilead. In the series, Moira chose to be a Jezebel instead of being sent to the Colonies after her attempted escape. Jezebels can access forbidden items such as alcohol, drugs, and makeup.

Marthas work as domestic servants

Marthas are essentially domestic workers for Commanders and their Wives. Members of this social class in The Handmaid’s Tale are infertile and spend their time cooking, cleaning, and helping raise the Wives’ children. The Marthas also have their network to communicate and spread gossip, with some being active members of the resistance.

Unwomen are the lowest class of women in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Unwomen are the lowest social class of women in Gilead. They consist of women unable to assimilate. These women are either executed or sent to the Colonies to work until death. Even Wives can be classified as Unwomen. For example, after committing adultery, a high-ranking Wife named Mrs. O’Conner appears in the Colonies.

Wives and Econowives have little power

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Wives are married to Commanders and other high-ranking men in Gilead. They have Marthas and Handmaids if they are infertile. Econowives marry husbands of lower rank. They can bear and raise their own children if possible, but they never have Handmaids or Marthas.

Gilead covets children most of all

In Gilead, Wives and Econowives raise children. The children of Commanders, called Daughters, receive education from Aunts to prepare them for marriage. They wear pink until the age of around 14 or 15. Children from Econofamilies likely undergo a similar process but aren’t educated as broadly as Daughters.

All episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale are currently streaming on Hulu.

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