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Thu Apr 27, 2017, 02:22 PM

We Live in the Reproductive Dystopia of The Handmaids Tale



Atwood began writing “The Handmaid’s Tale” shortly after the election of Ronald Reagan, and she drew inspiration from political stories of the day. “Clip, clippety, clip, out of the newspaper, I clipped things,” she told Rebecca Mead, in a recent New Yorker Profile. Atwood recounted saving articles about falling birth rates, repressive policies on contraception and abortion, as well as more mundane-seeming phenomena like the rise of plastic credit cards. Liberals have often viewed the alliance of the religious right and Republican big business that empowered Reagan as a matter of misunderstanding, or a cynical manipulation of poor and middle-class whites by wealthy élites. Yet the Reagan years made clear that traditional gender roles are not just some arbitrary cultural preference. They are a means of insuring that the necessary work that capitalist power does not want the state to pay for continues to get done. Reagan Republicans called for a restoration of “family values” while also seeking to dismantle public programs—from health care and child care to good public schools and universities—that support childbearing and child-rearing; in the absence of such policies, families, and women in particular, are left to pick up the slack. “The Handmaid’s Tale” emphasizes the dangers of religious fundamentalism and draws upon the imagery of Communist authoritarianism, alluding to under-stocked grocery stores and ubiquitous spies. But the cultural forces that Atwood was responding to included a neoliberal revolution that colluded in oppressing women.

This idea has become more, not less, relevant in the three decades since the novel was published. The TV adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale” was green-lighted well before Donald Trump seemed like a viable candidate for President, and the producers must have imagined that a story of strong women under assault would appeal to supporters of a President Hillary Clinton. Instead, now that there are men in power who speak the language of overt misogyny, and use religious concerns to justify restrictions on the lives of women, fans are invoking the story as a symbol of protest. Republicans, meanwhile, continue to take an increasingly avid interest in controlling reproductive rights. “I understand that they feel like that is their body,” the Oklahoma politician Justin Humphrey recently said, by way of explaining legislation that would require women to obtain written permission from their male partners when seeking abortions. “What I call them is, you’re a ‘host.’ ”

“The Handmaid’s Tale” ’s most chilling resonance, though, comes from its vision of a society that compels women to keep reproducing even when it’s become increasingly difficult for them to do so. In the America of 2017, as in Gilead, birth rates are falling, not because of mysterious toxins in the air but because many Americans cannot imagine being able to afford children. Instead of Handmaids, the women most likely to be capable of becoming pregnant are twentysomethings trying to pay off student loans with wages from precarious jobs. (I recently heard one young woman say that she felt “sterilized by student debt.”) Others are barren not because of an ecological disaster but because they have worked straight through their childbearing years. Meanwhile, Republicans of today, like those of the Reagan era, continue to push to further privatize the resources that might support childbearing and child-rearing. Consider the remarkable question, posed recently by the Illinois congressman John Shimkus, of why men should subsidize prenatal care.


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Reply We Live in the Reproductive Dystopia of The Handmaids Tale (Original post)
Starry Messenger Apr 2017 OP
Solly Mack Jun 2017 #1
Starry Messenger Jun 2017 #2

Response to Starry Messenger (Original post)

Sun Jun 4, 2017, 12:57 PM

1. I finally - finally - allowed myself to start watching the series.

I read the book when it came out and I saw the 1990 movie.

I felt a lot of anger while reading the book. That's why I was reluctant to watch.

I'm not without anger now but I knew even then how fast it could all change for women. I still know it. I see the attacks on women and feel it in my gut.

Whenever I see a group of smiling white men around a bill meant to diminish women, the book is all I see before me.

When some man gets up to talk about my body as if he knows better than I do how best to care for it, I see the book.

When I hear a man tell me not to worry - I see red. Offred.

I see/hear women auditioning for their future role as a Serena Joy and I wonder why they hate themselves so much.

I won't type what I'd like to do to the men who are already acting as if they are Commanders. I will say this - I have a far better imagination than Kathy Griffin and I like to play with my food.

See? Anger. Vicious cold anger.

I may have to stop watching.

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Response to Solly Mack (Reply #1)

Mon Jun 5, 2017, 02:54 PM

2. I hear you sister.


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