Jazzy red cloak. Wacky white bonnet. The perfect outfit for women in jeopardy. As political climate heats up, The Handmaids Tale is becoming a little too close for comfort. Thought Margaret Atwood’s book was dystopian fiction, real life is often much, much stranger. Inspired by the sociopolitical issues of the early ‘80’s, I’m sure Atwood never imagined it could become a playbook for current events. But for years, politically and religiously radical movements have been brewing a perfect storm.
The surreal fiction of The Handmaids Tale depicted women in reproductive slavery. They were forced to bear the children of the elite, where their scarlet cloaks and crisp bonnets underlined their subservience. Most of the unlucky women had become infertile due to environmental toxins (yikes) except for a few like the iconic protagonist, Offred.
Atwood wrote that “the heavy-handed theocracy of 17th century Puritan New England, with its marked bias against women, would need only a period of social chaos to reassert itself”. Chilling? Well, put on a sweater because politics has woven its way to the bedroom. Once again, legislating womens’ rights has become more than rhetoric and waving a righteous flag. It’s gotten teeth and bitten into state rulings, deciding by male jury what is best for womens’ bodies.
Newsflash. Getting pregnant is generally not a solo activity. Even if you hail from Gilead, it still takes two. Perhaps men need to be reminded, before they rule on what a woman can do with her own body, how procreation works in the first place. Unfortunately, like in Gilead, women are considered responsible for whatever happens to them and men are free – to judge.
“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance; you have to work at it.” The Handmaid’s Tale
Would smirking male politicians be as enthusiastic to ‘punish’ dudes for abandoning or not supporting a child they gave life to? I think not. #metoo and #timesup have made inroads into women taking back their power, but not enough. We are still judged by what we wore to invite a rape, and by not using protection to avoid pregnancy as if one hand clapping was a thing. A patriarchal society that occasionally gives merely a nod to women’s rights, also can reverse those decisions in a change of political temperature.
The Handmaid’s Tale represents not just reproductive rights but the constant inequality of pay, and simple rights in all things men, at least white men, have always taken for granted. Unless, women uphold each other, stand together, and consistently speak their truth, we might someday be residents of Gilead. Across the world, in every society, as we saw from the International Women’s Marches, we are more alike than different. And the cost of silence is sewn painfully in a Handmaid’s scarlet cape.
One character in Atwood’s tale quipped “Back then, did you ever imagine a society like this?” As a 60’s kid, I could not have imagined women being stripped of rights yet again. To be fair, before the current occupant of the Oval, there were many who either turned a blind eye or outright piloted extreme regulations. But a POTUS who stated that he believed women who get abortions should be punished, not only foretold what we are seeing today, but laid out the blueprint of how NOT to be ‘great’ again.
While Roe v Wade hasn’t been overturned (yet), the intent is clear. The possibility of its demise might have even been foretold in 2017, “If we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that’s really what’s going to be.” With more than 150 pro-life justices neatly put in place while we were distracted with other shiny things allows the possibility that ‘happen automatically’ can happen in real time.
Defunding Planned Parenthood? Check. Stacking the courts with judges vetted by those intent on overturning abortion mandates? Check. And p.s., we never did remember to sign the Equal Rights Amendment.
Gilead was born of a fear of ‘others’. Though it prided itself on its pro-women rhetoric, it forgot to mention that when it came to your ovaries, the state owned them. In Atwood’s society, abortion providers were hanged. Today, in 75% state legislatures, bills calling for life imprisonment or death penalties for abortion doctors are being passed around like M&M’s. Oklahoma even advanced a bill that requires a woman to get written consent from the man who impregnated her! Especially considering the US has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world, that seems not only ironic and vindictive, but dangerous.
“Whatever is silenced will clamor to be heard, though silently.” The Handmaid’s Tale
A sea of red robed, white hatted women, cowed under submissive laws, is a pretty ominous thought. Any religious and totalitarian ideologies that restrict freedoms and infringes on human rights have no place in a country that was founded on the premise that all people have certain inalienable rights that can’t be taken away. It seems we either didn’t get the memo or are rewriting the playbook.
If you think I’m pro abortion, you would be wrong. To quote someone who dodged the Vietnam War, saying he wasn’t a ‘fan’ of the place, I know of no one who is a ‘fan’ of abortion either. But unlike a manufactured medical issue to skip the draft, women’s choices are not so neat or easy. Like life, decisions are often extremely painful and the decision to abort is the most painful of all. I’ve never had one but I support, with everything I am, another’s right to choose for themselves. Maybe if we focused not just on pro-birth but pro-life for the entirety of a human’s life, things would be very different in our world.
Whoopie Goldberg once quipped about gay marriage: “I don’t care who you want to marry. If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t marry a gay person.” My thoughts exactly. Whether it’s weighing in on a woman’s choice to work outside the home or being a stay at home mom, date again after widowhood or choose what is right for her body – only those in the situation get a vote.
“Never mistake a woman’s meekness for weakness.” The Handmaid’s Tale.