“The club,” as the elite-boiz so fondly refer to it, represents a location of deeply embedded irony (237). For Offred, this former hotel is a familiar space. This is not the first time she has been here with a married man, and with this Commander, it may not be the last. As pointed out in Michael Paul’s blog post last week, her affair with Luke and the Commander were internalized in very different ways. Though Offred possesses far less (/little to no) agency and autonomy in her “affair” with the Commander, it is this relationship that she considers to be perverse and dirty (even in the absence of non-Ceremony-related sex). However, this is not unexpected, given that Offred had chastity and purity drilled into her by the Aunts as a handmaid. She is expected to value her purity above all else, and use her body only as a tool for carrying and delivering babies for wealthy families.
But while the women of Gilead are expected to act chaste in this traditional godly society, wealthy men can be held accountable to no such oaths in return. The Commander uses the same arguments of gender essentialism that condemn women to lives as objects of their husbands to justify the need for a brothel for married men, commenting that “nature demands variety, for men” (237). He blames the need for variety on the lack of variety in clothing, while failing to acknowledge that the society banned variety in clothing to avoid vanity and persuasions to stray based on desire for variety in the first place.
It’s worth noting the different lenses through which Offred and the Commander view the world. The Commander justifies “the club” (a shining symbol of the double standards that exist in Gilead that exist to benefit men solely on the basis of gender and class) by acknowledging that “everyone’s human, after all” (237). Of course, in his use of everyone, he describes men–since they represent the only gender worthy of moral status and personhood. Similarly, when Offred asks about the people there, the Commander assumes she is speaking of the men and talks about them, until she corrects him to ask instead about the women. This again demonstrates how women lack personhood to the Commander.
Recognizing these different lenses is critical to the way we evaluate this book in class. From the perspective of the Commander, his “relationship” with Offred, is the romantic story of a well-to-do man wooing the heart of a poor girl whose life he continues to flood with intrigue and meaning. From the perspective of Offred or (more astutely) any of the other handmaids/jezebels in this book, this is the story of a man amusing himself with the sex slave that he repeatedly rapes in an oppressive fascist regime that he supports and facilitates. I hope that we can all cut off the first narrative/fantasy before it runs away with us, as though it is a prettier story that pretends to restore agency to Offred, it is not the reality and horrifically depicts the Commander as some kind of romantic hero rather than the complicit monster and *active* agent that he is in this society and in taking advantage of his handmaid by way of Gilead’s regime.