I read The Handmaid's Tale for my independent study. Here's a quick synopsis:
The Handmaid's Tale is the story of a dystopian society, The Republic of Gilead. The Republic of Gilead replaced America when a group of religious extremists took over. In the Republic of Gilead, those in charge (all men) use the Bible/Christianity to justify situations that are blatantly wrong. Those in charge often twist Bible verses to be able to use them for their own purposes; this works because the women, who are the ones being controlled, are not allowed to read, so they have no way of interpreting the Bible for themselves. In Gilead, everyone is divided into categories of people.
Commanders = The highest rank of men. The rule Gilead. They're really powerful, so they are allowed to have a Wife, a Handmaid (if their Wife is incapable of bearing children), Marthas, and Guardians. They are in charge of all of these people.
Eyes = Spies that watch for heretics or people who commit treason. They report anyone who doesn't follow Gilead's rules.
Angels = They fight Gilead's wars against people of different religions.
Guardians = They are the police men in Gilead. They aren't as high up as Angels.
Wives = The highest rank a female can be. They are inferior to their husbands. If they are infertile, their husband is assigned a Handmaid.
Aunts = The women who are assigned with educating the Handmaids about being Handmaids. They preach Gilead's party line.
Handmaids = A woman who is of fertile age. They are assigned to commanders with infertile wives. The Handmaids are forced to have sex with the Commander they are assigned to while the Wife is present, bear the child, and then immediately give up the child to the wife when it is born. Handmaids are dressed in red dresses that completely cover their shape and white hat-things that keep them from seeing very well. They are not allowed to read or really even talk.
Marthas = Female servants.
Econowives = The wives of the lower class men.
Unwomen = Women who cannot bear children or who defy Gilead's strict gender divisions. (Ex: feminists, lesbians.) They are sent to a place called the colonies. The colonies is basically a place that is filled with radiation and has no food. Everyone in the colonies dies.
Jezebels = Prostitutes.
A satire is a work of literature that is defined by Google as a work that "uses humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues." A satire that we are very familiar with is Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, in which Swift suggests the Irish eat their own children because they are a burden to an already failing economy. Obviously, Swift is suggesting a ridiculous solution in order to critique Ireland and it's problems.
The Handmaid's Tale could be, and in fact, often is, considered a satire. It seems to use exaggeration to develop a hypothetical society in which men hold all of the power and women are only valued for their ability to bear children. Unfortunately, the seemingly impossible world of the Handmaid's Tale may be closer to coming true in real life than we think.
This link is to an article that was recently published about Purvi Patel, a woman who was sentenced to 41 years in jail for "feticide" and "neglect of a dependent.
Patel went to the hospital in July 2013 because she was suffering from "heavy vaginal bleeding". She originally denied being pregnant, but then told the doctors that she had miscarried her baby, put the fetus in a bag, and put it in the dumpster. The police questioned Patel while she was still in the hospital without a lawyer present, and also searched through her phone. They claimed they found messages in which she told a friend that she had purchased pills that would terminate her pregnancy.
Throughout her trial, the prosecution failed to introduce any evidence that Patel actually took the drugs that they claimed she ordered. They also failed to introduce evidence to support the felony neglect charge. Despite the prosecution's failure to actually prove the claims, Patel was sentenced to 41 years in jail. So basically, since the prosecution did not prove that she had lost her baby due to taking abortion pills or to felony neglect of a dependent, she was put into jail FOR 41 YEARS for having a miscarriage. (Innocent until proven guilty.) (Personally, I do not feel that she should be put in jail for having an abortion because I'm obviously a right-to-choose-er, but no one could disagree that she should not be put in jail for having a miscarriage.)
I couldn't put this better myself, so here's a direct quote from the article: