If you’re a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu (season three streaming now!), then you’ve probably heard of the Econowives. Season two is the first real exploration of these women and their role in Gilead. The series doesn’t explore the Econopeople in-depth because the show follows Handmaids, who work for families of a higher class. However, season two provides viewers with the opportunity to see some of the world through the lens of an Econowife and understand this significant class of women in Gilead. If you’re still confused about their role in Gilead and the series as a whole, we’re here to help. Below you’ll find an explanation of Econowives and everything you should know about them.
Be warned, if you haven’t seen season two, you might find the information in the article to be a spoiler.
What are Econowives and What do They Do?
As we said before, this is a specific class of Gilead women. They are one of the lowest classes, just above Unwomen and Jezebel’s prostitutes. They are married to poor or low-ranking men, including the Guardians. Because their husbands are lower-class, the women are meant to fulfill the three major roles that women above them fill: Martha, Wife, and Handmaid. They must obey their husbands in all things and take care of their children if they have any. Unlike other women in Gilead, Econowives birth their own children like Handmaids do, but keep them like Wives do.
Are All Econowives Fertile?
Econowives can be fertile or infertile. This position has less to do with the ability to bear children, and more to do with status within Gilead. Econowives have limited individual rights unlike Handmaids. However, they are married to men that have lower standing than Commanders. They are expected to have children if possible, and they also perform the same duties for their husbands as Marthas.
Why are the Econowives not Handmaids?
Econowives are not forced to serve as handmaid because they committed no religious crimes pre-Gilead. Some of the grounds that lead to women becoming handmaid include same-sex relationships and infidelity. In June’s case, her relationship with Luke while he was still married is the likely cause of her being forced to become a handmaid.
Why isn’t June an Econowife?
It seems like the position of Econowife would be a good one to have, especially if you’re married to a loving husband. Fans might wonder why June has to be a Handmaid instead of an Econowife because in the latter case, she would be able to live with her husband and raise her daughter.
However, Econowife would have been an impossible role for June to obtain. Gilead chose fertile women to bear children as Handmaids if they violated the religious values of Gilead before the takeover. Audiences remember the shaming that took place at the Red Center. Janine, for example, had to confess to being gang-raped and was blamed for it. That means that she was a “sinner.” Emily is a lesbian, and her homosexuality was a “sin” that meant she had to be a Handmaid; there was no way that she would be married to a man. In June’s case, she had an affair with Luke before he was divorced from his first wife. That “sin” on June’s part keeps her from the position of Econowife.
When does June first meet an Econowife?
In season two, June tries to escape. She hides out at the Boston Globe headquarters. Then, when she is transported to her next location, it’s revealed that an emergency will prevent her from going any further at the moment. She doesn’t want to be stuck in a freezing cold barn while pregnant with baby Nichole. Instead, she begs her transporter to take her home with him.
After much resistance, he finally gives in and brings her to his house. June sees for the first time what her life would’ve been like if she hadn’t committed adultery, if she had attended church regularly. The Econowife she meets, Heather, is uncomfortable around June. She lives in fear of Handmaids because there is constantly the threat that she could become one. The Econopeople have to regularly profess their faith and do all the work, otherwise they could be punished.
When the driver who helps her, Omar, is caught for his act, he and his family are punished. Omar is hanged and put up on the Wall, where June sees him during a walk with Aunt Lydia. Her escape attempt is to blame, so Aunt Lydia says it’s June’s fault. His Econowife, Heather, is punished the way she feared: she becomes a Handmaid. Their son, Adam, had to be placed with a new family.
Are there other notable Econowives?
There is one Econowife in the series with which the audience is most familiar: Eden. When she is married off to Nick Blaine at the Prayvaganza, Eden Spencer becomes Eden Blaine, Nick’s Econowife. This is perhaps the audience’s best opportunity to understand the life of an Econowife.
Eden spends her time trying to serve Nick and the Commander Waterford household as best as possible. She tries to help Rita with the cooking and cleaning, though Rita dislikes her because she is essentially a child bride and shouldn’t be in the household at all. Eden and June go shopping together. June, of course, doesn’t have any interest in talking to her because she loves Nick and doesn’t like that he’s married to Eden.
It is Mrs. Waterford who takes Eden under her wing, teaching her how to run a household. Eden is a true believer in Gilead and Christianity, so she pays close attention. Serena seems to know how much it hurts June to see Nick married to Eden. As a result, she takes some pleasure in encouraging Eden to have sex with Nick. Eden tries to decorate the home to make it a happy place, but when Nick is uncomfortable around her, she is driven to seek joy elsewhere.
She finds it in Isaac, the Guardian assigned to June and the house. They begin an affair, but are caught by her parents running away. The pair is executed, despite Eden’s strong faith. June confirms how devout Eden is when she finds an annotated Bible among her things.