problem wasn’t only with the women, he says. The main problem was
with the men. There was nothing for them anymore . . . I’m not talking
about sex, he says. That was part of it, the sex was too easy . .
. You know what they were complaining about the most? Inability
to feel. Men were turning off on sex, even. They were turning off
on marriage. Do they feel now? I say. Yes, he says, looking at me.
This quotation, from the end of Chapter 32, recounts
the Commander’s attempt to explain to Offred the reasons behind
the foundation of Gilead. His comments are ambiguous, perhaps deliberately
so, but they are the closest thing to a justification for the horror
of Gilead that any character offers. He suggests that feminism and
the sexual revolution left men without a purpose in life. With their
former roles as women’s protectors taken away, and with women suddenly
behaving as equals, men were set adrift. At the same time, changing
sexual mores meant that sex became so easy to obtain that it lost
meaning, creating what the Commander calls an “inability to feel.”
By making themselves soldiers, providers, and caretakers of society
again, men have meaning restored to their lives. This sounds almost
noble, except that in order to give meaning to men’s lives, both
men and women have lost all freedom. The benefits of the new world
are not worth the cost in human misery.