“A Handmaid, that's how they threaten us.”
Econowives are a class of women in the Republic of Gilead. They are married women whose husbands rank lower than Commander or Professional, such as Guardians or Economen. Their husbands cannot be allocated a Handmaid if they prove infertile, nor can a Martha help around the house; thus Econowives must bear children and do domestic work. In the TV Series, families of Econowives are referred as Econopeople.
Econowives are usually very poor, so their clothes are threadbare and poorly made; Offred, at one point, describes them as "skimpy". Their dresses are striped with different colors: red, green and blue, to show that they represent the roles of all Gilead's women; Wife (companionship to the husband), Martha (domestic work) and Handmaid (reproduction).
In the television series, their clothing is altered so that Econopeople wear cheap, grey-colored clothing and are expected to cover their heads in some way, independent of age and gender.
Econowives, like every married woman in Gilead, are supposed to submit to their husbands' authority, they cannot own property or hold paid jobs and are banned from literacy and any form of higher education. Yet unlike most unmarried women (namely Marthas and Handmaids), they have a "due process" privilege to speak out on a charge in court.
June mentions that, had she lived in congruence with Gilead's rules prior to its formation, she would have been made an Econowife.
Econowives spend their days cooking, cleaning and keeping house for their husbands. They are apparently the ones responsible for buying groceries as well. If they are fortunate enough to have children, they are likely responsible for caring for them whilst their husbands are at work. Unlike Marthas, there is no evidence for obligation to (domestic) work outside the own household, apart from some routine professions of faith.
The television series alters this somewhat, revealing in Offred's conversation with an Econowife that the prospect of becoming a Handmaid is considered an ever-present threat. The existence of a system of snitching and surveillance over Econopeople is hinted.
Young girls born to Econofamilies wear multicolored striped dresses even before marriage, as well as grey cloaks. They learn a smaller range of "domestic arts" than Daughters do. If they are attractive enough, they may be married to the Commanders or their sons when they grow older, but most simply marry other Economen. Marriages are typically arranged.
- Eden Blaine (deceased)
- Heather (now a Handmaid)
- Mrs. Spencer
- Eden's sister (possibly still an Econodaughter)
- Tessa (presumed)