The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t big on Easter eggs on account of being an extremely intense, often depressing dystopian tale instead of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the eighth episode of Season 2 did manage to sneak a little shout-out in.
Near the end of the episode, June/Offred recites a well-known quote in her inner monologue, citing it to “someone.” She should technically know who that “someone” was because the line belongs to Margaret Atwood, the author who wrote The Handmaid’s Tale in the first place.
After a mostly healed Commander Waterford returns home and discovers that Serena Joy, with Offred’s help, has been writing legislation and going behind his back in defiance of Gilead’s laws and his authority as the man of the house, he brutally punishes his wife. It’s a violent reaction to a perceived threat of his supremacy as a man, and it gets Offred thinking as she walks through the house late at night.
“Someone once said, ‘Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them,’” she says in a voiceover. It’s an Atwood quote for sure, though the Hulu show wisely doesn’t explicitly namedrop the author because it would raise some questions.
That the quote seemingly exists in the fiction of the show makes a little bit of sense, if only because exactly where the Atwood quote first originated is a little hard to pin down. Atwood penned a version of the phrase in a 1982 essay titled Writing the Male Character:
“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.
June/Offred’s streamlined version of the quote has become part of the general lexicon (and, sadly, quite a truism).
While her first appearance as an apparent intellectual force in the dystopian universe, this isn’t the first time that Atwood has made an appearance in The Handmaid’s Tale. The author made a cameo back in the series premiere, playing an Aunt who hits June in the head when she disobeys during a Handmaid’s training session at the Red Center.
New episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale hit Hulu every Wednesday.