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MAY/JUNE The Handmaid's Tale > Contrast of Freedoms: From Freedom To to Freedom From

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message 1: by Dena (new)

Dena Gregoire (dysprosium) | 10 comments I loved this story and was completely taken with the contrast of freedoms. The Freedom to - what we in NA enjoy today. The change from this freedom to a freedom from.

I think this is very timely as I believe with the fear that has been boiling in North America (especially in the US) over terrorism- there is a hint of sliding into the Freedom From preference.

But when going to the Freedom From- there are freedoms all people give up.


message 2: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 42 comments This is a really interesting topic to raise - thank you for doing it because it really made me think.

My gut reaction was that I don't believe in 'freedom from' - then I did a bit of googling and I can understand it more now. However I am still sceptical of it.

I guess for me freedom is about choice and possibility -where as the phrase 'freedom from' seems to be limiting and more about safety and security.

Now admittedly, 'freedom from persecution' for example is a positive thing, however like you said there are freedoms we give up, and you have to question what the cost is - ie, does freedom from persecution damage free speech? Or would prioritising free speech limit our ability to protect people from persecution.

It is massively subjective and dependent on what the 'from is'. I could imagine the Commanders and Aunts in Gilead believing in a 'freedom from sin' for example, but what some people might see as sinful, I see as perfectly normal and natural.

I believe it is not dissimilar to a debate about being locked in or locked out recently. Everyone had their own interpretations, but from my perspective being locked in is limiting, even if it might be safe. Being locked out isn't necessarily good, but I saw that there were freedoms, options. For me 'freedom from' is like being locked in, whereas the primary definition of 'freedom to' is liberating.

Of course the words you put after it are the crucial point.

At what cost does 'freedom from terrorism' come? Does that cost others the freedom to live their lives?

It is a really interesting idea to think about!


message 3: by Felicia (new)

Felicia (feliciajoe) I don't think it can be called freedom when you're giving up one kind of freedom to gain another. If you're free from something without being free to, or the other way around, you're not really free.

In The Handmaid's Tale, no-one would call women free, even if the aunts say they are "free from".

The most interesting thing, I found, is that the handmaids are not free from anything, in reality. Offred can't actually refuse her commander even if he's breaking the rules, because nobody is going to believe her over her commander. It's an unequal relationship.

At one point in the book, she's remembering a conversation with Luke after her money was transferred to him, where he said something that upset her. I don't remember what, just that she wanted to tell him off, but didn't, because "I couldn't afford to lose him". Again, when her rights are taken away, her relationship with a man whom she loves and who loves her, becomes unequal, and she has no freedom to or from.

So this "freedom from" that the aunts claim they have is doesn't actually exist in the book.


message 4: by Dena (new)

Dena Gregoire (dysprosium) | 10 comments After reading all your thoughtful comments on the freedom to and freedom from I wanted to add a bit:

'Freedom to' is a freedom given to all in the society so long as they operate within the basic framework of the laws.
'Freedom from' is a freedom that benefits only certain members of that society at the expense of others. Some pay the ultimate price so others can enjoy their 'freedom from'.


message 5: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter | 2388 comments Chiming in that very important topic, I'd like to say a few lines:

I think the differentiation between "freedom to" and "freedom from" is very important. It's also inherently feminist.

My thoughts to explain this a little further:
In a feminist society we have the freedom to bond with whomever we fall in love with, regardless of gender or sex. We also have the freedom to choose our personal pronouns, among many other issues, such as surgeries that harmonize our sex with our gender.
We have the freedom to be respected, regardless of race, sex, gender or sexual orientation.

But in a feminist society we also have the freedom from different issues. We have the freedom from derogatory remarks. We have the freedom from harmful surgeries, which originate from harmful gender expectations. In a feminist society we would also be free from hate crimes in general, such as racism.

I could go on with that list, but these are the issues that I really want to see tackled. I don't say these are the only ones, but for me they are very important.

While the freedom to is a choice, the freedom from is a granted right in my opinion. But I don't think that the freedom from group is always larger than the freedom to group, although this might hold true in many cases.


message 6: by Robert (new)

Robert Smart | 343 comments MeerderWörter wrote: "Chiming in that very important topic, I'd like to say a few lines:

I think the differentiation between "freedom to" and "freedom from" is very important. It's also inherently feminist.

My thought..."



I agree!
The freedom to; be the person you want to be in your life in all aspects.
The freedom from; being persecuted or shamed into being something you are not or what certain aspects of society want you to be.


message 7: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter | 2388 comments Robert wrote: "MeerderWörter wrote: "Chiming in that very important topic, I'd like to say a few lines:

I think the differentiation between "freedom to" and "freedom from" is very important. It's also inherently..."


Thank you for summing up in short what took me much more space to explain:)


message 8: by Robert (new)

Robert Smart | 343 comments MeerderWörter wrote: "Robert wrote: "MeerderWörter wrote: "Chiming in that very important topic, I'd like to say a few lines:

I think the differentiation between "freedom to" and "freedom from" is very important. It's ..."


Your post was much more eloquent than mine! :))


message 9: by Steph (new)

Steph | 1 comments I think this book allows for a great analysis on this idea. The flashbacks to Aunt Lydia really present a strong case of the idea of the "freedom from," as does much of the rest of the book. In Aunt Lydia's case, the girls should feel blessed and saved and happy because now they are free from all the dangerous and shameful parts of the world. Women no longer have to fear men attacking them because of the strict rules; they no longer fear pregnancy (and thus chose abortion) because now getting pregnant is a badge of honor; and they no longer have to fear poverty because everything they could ever ask for has been provided (except, of course, an luxuries, but who needs those anyways). Many of the antagonists in this book (both named and general) strive to praise the new way of life because of this immense "freedom from."

"Freedom to," however, is presented much differently. The instance of the man caught in a compromising position with a woman (the book's antagonists say it was rape but considering their skewed definition of what it is, some could argue perhaps it was more of a premarital relationship), that man does not have freedom to sleep with a woman outside of marriage. The handmaids do not have freedom to travel freely, enter into their own relationships, chose their employment, etc. They have sacrificed their freedom to in order to have their freedom from. An interesting paradox to be sure.


message 10: by Anna (new)

Anna | 4 comments There's also Positive Liberty, what you have a right to do, and Negative Liberty, what others don't have a right to do to you that would restrict you. The second one is a "freedom from" but defined very differently from the book. The emphasis is on giving as much freedom to and freedom from, instead of just replacing freedom to with freedom from.


message 11: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 82 comments Aunt Lydia is talking about "freedom from" mainly things like street harassment, violence and sexual assault, but the irony is that they are not actually free from literal objectification, violence and mandatory sex. Freedom from is only freedom from the perceived "bad" kinds of rape and violence, not the state-approved good and helpful rape and violence.


message 12: by Samantha (new)

Samantha (cajunliterarybelle) This thread and the events within The Handmaid's Tale remind me of all the liberty citizens of many countries have given up since 9/11 to feel a bit safer in a world of terrorists. I present a quote by the USA founding father Benjamin Franklin & ask - how much freedom are we willing to give up for security? How far will we allow the terrorists to go before we refuse to bend our freedoms for security against their tactics? There is no easy answer, but Mr. Franklin drives a scary point about the very topic in that "freedom from"s tend to cost "freedom to"s.

"Any society that will give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." -- Benjamin Franklin.

Where do we draw the line in protecting freedoms but keeping security? Do you think the people of Gilead could have done anything to fight back in the beginning or do you think it was more like this terrifying idea?: "The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible reductions. In this way, the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed." -- Adolf Hitler.


message 13: by Dena (new)

Dena Gregoire (dysprosium) | 10 comments Samantha,

Thank you for making those important points. I agree with you. Many countries are walking that fine line. The actions taken to increase security, and other measures focused on marginalizing certain groups of people is exactly the reaction that was the goal of the terrorists.


message 14: by Ines (new)

Ines (booksandliquids) What an interesting discussion, thanks for sharing your ideas everybody. While reading your posts one thought came to my mind:

Is "freedom from" always a freedom from thinking, too?

As in, by choosing freedom from something I also choose to accept someone else's definition of what is good or bad, what is wrong or right. Because "freedom from" seems to me a passive act of giving away the responsibility, while "freedom to" is much more active, relying more on the individual's (moral) responsibility and decision making. If I have freedom to do something, I have to think about what I am going to do and how and when I am going to do it.

This also fits the pattern of people voting leaders with extremist tendencies into power because they tend to explain the world in simpler, more black-and-white terms, and there are people who like simple explanations for their (or the world's) problems, either because they don't want to or cannot preoccupy themselves with the more nuanced ones.

Coming back to my initial question, I haven't found an answer to it myself yet, but I'd like to sleep on it and then read your opinions.


message 15: by Baheya (new)

Baheya Zeitoun (baheyazeitoun) | 16 comments First, thank you Dena for bringing up this topic, because it is a crucial if not driving point in the story.

I will have to agree with many of the points already mentioned about the danger of "Freedom From."

While people generally expect their governments to keep them safe and secure, after all it's a definitive part of their jobs, using this rhetoric to strike fear in people and ultimately control them goes against the very definition of freedom.

However, it is the Freedom To, that people seek from a young age. Ask any child why they look forward to growing up, and they will tell you that they are waiting for the day they wouldn't need an adult to tell them what to do. This kind of freedom is what people aspire to, because it is what is associated with being free. As Ines explained, it is active.

But in societies like that of The Republic of Gilead, and others both real and fictional, they require utter passiveness otherwise they will lose control over the people. Because these governments know that this style of leadership is unsustainable, therefore they need the people not to think in order for them not come to the same conclusion.


message 16: by Edoga (new)

Edoga | 2 comments Freedom is difficult to define and measure i guess. When I read the earlier posts i started thinking about a text I read in university called "Pippi Longstocking: The Autonomous Child and the Moral Logic of the Swedish Welfare State" (Im swedish). I belive freedom from and to always exist togheter and are related to the culture were in. The text describe it as a relationship between the individual, the family and the state. The author writes that in the US, the indivudual obtains independency from the state through the family. In Sweden/nordic countries the indivudual obtain independency from the family through the state. This is why family related subjects like the right to have an abortion isnt even discussed in Sweden, the autonomy of the individual comes first.
In Handmaids tale, this relation seem more like the state is number one and that its freedom is obtained through the upkeep of "traditional" family values. The indivudual is left "powerless".


message 17: by Felicia (new)

Felicia (feliciajoe) I actually really think its important to realise that there is no freedom for the handmaids, not even freedom from. Their commanders have power over them, because they can't complain.


message 18: by Samantha (new)

Samantha (cajunliterarybelle) Baheya - I think you make an excellent point about in societies such as Gilead, the goal is to not allow the general populace, or at least the portion intended to be controlled, to have intelligence or even the means to gain intelligence to avoid any resistance.

I want to add to what I commented earlier. I believe some have pointed out(in various ways) that freedom from and freedom to come together. In all honesty, no society can really have one without the other unless anyone is okay with total anarchy. Any government will always have at least a little control over its people to curb the negative freedom to's and to protect the negative freedom from's. The only society where I could see we could have complete freedom and be safe from the negative side of it would be an utopian society where every always does the "right" thing. The problem therein lies that the "right" thing is not always clear to everyone or even not always one "right" thing solution to every situation. Alas, we are stuck with both freedoms from and freedoms to, positive and negative, because, simply, life. We just always hope our governments keep a steady balance of the two types of freedoms.


message 19: by nil (new)

nil (nilnil) Edoga wrote: "Freedom is difficult to define and measure I guess. When I read the earlier posts I started thinking about a text I read in university called "Pippi Longstocking: The Autonomous Child and the Moral..."

I thought this comment was really great because it really does illustrate the relationship between equity and liberty. To ensure equity, there usually has to be a trade-off in liberty (as Samantha mentioned above). The thing that really struck me abut Edoga's response is that it illustrates how that trade-off can be structured in different ways to give individual autonomy importance (which, in my opinion, would be ideal as family structures and state structures can be bad for the individual).

The characters in the book have no power and no freedoms (either "from" or "to") as has been mentioned, and the state is in the position of supreme power and autonomy. That can be really terrifying, though I feel like it is not a direct corollary to what has been happening in the United States up until recently. I think the biggest examples of a threat to individual autonomy have been a result of corporate oligarchy as opposed to direct authoritarianism. But now, for many of us, it does appear as though that set the groundwork for authoritarianism to rear its head.

I think examples like the setting of this book are especially terrifying because we have to acknowledge that governmental structures have historically created much more equity and higher quality of life--on vast and massive scales (The Better Angels of Our Nature by Pinker is a good read on that). So how to we ensure that we are not complicit in our own subjugation through bad negotiations of these freedoms to and freedoms from?


message 20: by Cassandra (new)

Cassandra (cassandrat) Anna wrote: "There's also Positive Liberty, what you have a right to do, and Negative Liberty, what others don't have a right to do to you that would restrict you. The second one is a "freedom from" but defined..."

I hadn't heard of these. Thanks!


message 21: by Ines (new)

Ines (booksandliquids) I think examples like the setting of this book are especially terrifying because we have to acknowledge that governmental structures have historically created much more equity and higher quality of life--on vast and massive scales (The Better Angels of Our Nature by Pinker is a good read on that). So how to we ensure that we are not complicit in our own subjugation through bad negotiations of these freedoms to and freedoms from?

I strongly believe education is an important key to that, especially on topics such as history, encouraging discussion about morals, human rights, knowledge about democracy, education on one's own constitution, how the government works, for example legislation, how people can participate in politics etc.
For example, here in Germany, we generally are well educated on history (or at least have the chance to be) through our formal education, but how much the other topics are touched is very dependent on your state, your school, your teacher - basically a lot of factors. Many people leave school without knowing how exactly our government is built, how laws are made etc. which leads to them not knowing what possibilities they have to participate.
Since school is, most of the time, not able to cover all of that and can be subjected to chances based on state policies, the protection and defense of a free press and NGOs is also a vital aspect.

To wrap it up: Give people the right and the possibility to gather their own information and the knowledge to critically review the information they get based on a strong understanding of democratic principles and human rights.
And wow, that sentence is about as campaign-speech-y as it can get... sorry. :D


message 22: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter | 2388 comments Ines wrote: "I think examples like the setting of this book are especially terrifying because we have to acknowledge that governmental structures have historically created much more equity and higher quality of..."

YES, that is where we need to go! A democracy is only as strong as the participation of the people.


message 23: by Ross (new)

Ross | 1444 comments Freedom is an illusion until someone takes it away from abstract concept to stark reality.


message 24: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter | 2388 comments Ross wrote: "Freedom is an illusion until someone takes it away from abstract concept to stark reality."

We only know our freedoms when they are being taken away. Or at least that's how we discover most of them. Only when they are taken away we begin to cherish most of them.


message 25: by Ines (new)

Ines (booksandliquids) Emma wrote: "I loved that last sentence you said (even if you think it is campaign speech-y lol). So true!"

MeerderWörter wrote: "YES, that is where we need to go! A democracy is only as strong as the participation of the people."

Thank you both. :)
I actually think the ideal of a majority of informed, responsible citizens (liberal in the best sense of the word) is an unrealistic utopia. You will always have people who are able to be just that and chose not to, because it's easier. And then there's the whole topic of making sure everybody is actually able to participate - time-wise, money-wise etc. If you have people working 50 hours or more a week just to make ends meet it's hard for them to find the time and energy, and maybe the motivation. But as I said, that's a whole other topic.


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