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In episode s04e09 we see Aunt Lydia looking for a new position for Janine, going over profiles of commanders with clear words written.

On the other hand in the same episode when Naomi visits Sarina Joy she clearly disapproves seeing that Sarina was writing.

And obviously, we saw in previous seasons Sarina was given a drawn itinerary on their official visit to Canada, and she lost a finger as punishment for reading the Bible.

Did the rules regarding women reading change over the course of the series? and if not, how come Aunt Lydia is allowed to read?

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Aunt Lydia is in an exceptionally high position of authority, especially for a woman in Gilead. It's not hard to imagine that either:

  • There is a specific exception for Aunts to the ban on women reading or
  • Nobody cares that she reads, because totalitarian governments often look the other way when some important/high-ranking people break the rules. The rules are for the masses, not the people in charge.

Looks like it's the former. From https://the-handmaids-tale.fandom.com/wiki/Aunt:

Due to their positions, they are the only women in Gilead permitted to read and write and have near-absolute power over the Handmaids, making them freer than most women under the regime. Though they are the only literate women, they are not permitted to be married.

Upon acceptance, they go through a six-month probationary period, after which they become Supplicants and officially take on an Aunt name. During this probationary period, they start learning to read and write, and prove their worth through taking on domestic duties such as washing dishes and cleaning bathrooms. Over time, they are allowed certain privileges such as access to the Hildegard Library and the Bible.

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