“A Handmaid, that's how they threaten us.”— An Econowife to the fragility of their remaining human liberties.
Econowives are a class of women in the Republic of Gilead. They are married women whose husbands rank lower than Commander, such as Guardians or male Econopeople. 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, the class is expanded to include low-ranking men and is thus titled 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).
Should their husbands die and they become widows, they wear all-black mourning dresses like widowed Wives.
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. Offred mentions that, had she lived in congruence with Gilead's rules prior to its formation, she would have been made an Econowife.
Little is known about Econowives due to the fact that Offred, who serves and associates only with high-ranking families, has little interaction with them. Presumably, 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.
In addition to having to work very hard, Econowives, like every other woman in Gilead, have no power and are forced to submit to their husbands' authority. They cannot hold paid jobs or be educated. They have a somewhat hostile, envious, and resentful view of Handmaids, seemingly looking down on them for believing they "have it easy", or labeling them as "sluts".
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. Further, Econopeople are expected to make routine professions of faith under state-sanctioned armed observation. Like the rest of Gilead society, the Econopeople (both male and female) are under constant surveillance by the Guardians and The Eyes.
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.
Notable Econowives Edit
- Eden Blaine (deceased)
- Heather (now a Handmaid)
- Mrs. Spencer
- Eden's sister (possibly still an Econodaughter)
- Tessa (presumed)