Hayley Matthews: Female exploitation is not confined to the human world

Elisabeth Moss plays Offred in The Handmaid's Tale
Elisabeth Moss plays Offred in The Handmaid's Tale
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I’ve been watching The Handmaid’s Tale and have found it really difficult viewing. However, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. It’s dark, thought-provoking and very emotional. Is it possibly just because I’m pregnant? I know we have the stereotypical highly emotional and erratic pregnant woman, but it’s something much more alarming than that. It was the exploitation that irked me greatly.

I won’t ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but it’s a tough watch, especially for a female, never mind a pregnant one.

The exploitation of the women in The Handmaid’s Tale is realistically haunting and a situation that I could see happening to women if we hadn’t been so adamant in getting the vote, equal pay (although there is still a long way to go with this), burning our bras and saying “stuff you” to the old-fashioned views of a woman’s “place”.

But many females are exploited the world over – and not just in the human world. Those who have been watching The Handmaid’s Tale will have surely gasped with horror at the way the women are treated, exploited and eventually broken – but let’s look at eggs and milk. There ain’t much difference and here’s why. Cows produce milk for the same reason humans do, so they can nourish their young. However, calves on dairy farms are taken away from their mothers when they are just one day old. They are fed a solution of milk replacements (including cattle blood) so their mother’s milk can be sold to humans and we can have a nice latte with extra whipped cream. That is surely female exploitation, no? You’ll see the similarity with The Handmaid’s Tale and recognise the irony.

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The egg industry follows a similar procedure. Male chicks are no use for laying eggs, so off they go to the incinerator (I’m sorry for being so harsh but there really is no way to dress this up) and the females are left to lay the eggs so we can have eggs on toast.

But what do we do in a world where eggs and milk are everywhere and we’re being forced to buy produce from our exploited fellow females? Go dairy-free? Buy free range from hens left to roam outdoors? Buy almond milk instead of cow’s milk? It’s hard, but possible to do, especially if it leaves you without that heavy feeling of guilt in your gut.

Do we tell our kids the truth and educate them so that females, regardless of species, are not facing such exploitation in the future? I believe so. Even doing a little and us women sticking together for all of our sakes, will eventually make a big enough difference that equality will genuinely do what it says on the tin.

There’s also the “pink tax” which leaves women paying a much higher price – up to 18 per cent more – for female products with exactly the same ingredients as their male equivalents. Think deodorants, shampoos, body cream, razor blades.

So not only do we get paid less than the majority of our male counterparts for doing the same job, we end up having to pay more for the small things in life that add up to thousands of extra pounds over time.

So if you haven’t yet, watch The Handmaid’s Tale and look for the comparisons and parallels in today’s society with the way we treat our fellow females in the animal kingdom. You’ll be shocked and probably give that milk a miss in your morning coffee – and be pinching your husband’s shampoo.