That evergreen feminist cautionary fable: The Handmaid's Tale
December 28, 2014 8:53 AM   Subscribe

Does The Handmaid's Tale hold up? , Adi Robertson for The Verge:
"A few weeks ago, I mentioned to a friend that I was in the middle of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. 'It’s like 1984 for feminists, right?' he asked. Sort of, I said. But it's a lot scarier. It's about how you'll lose every right you have, and none of the men you know will care. Then I said he would probably betray me if they froze all women's bank accounts. That was the peak of my paranoia, but it held on for several more days, as I read on the subway while half-consciously figuring out how I might theoretically escape to Canada. 1984 was for lightweights."
"As a warning against totalitarian government, 1984 has become so culturally ubiquitous that it can cover almost anything. According to a recent check of Google News, net neutrality, GPS locators, a new U2 album, and 'tolerance' are all Orwellian concepts. There's a comforting, almost apolitical universality to it, because we can all happily agree that the world of 1984 is evil, then blithely map our own ideology onto how we’ll get there. Big Brother is anyone who disagrees with you — impersonal, unknowable, monstrous, and diluted into meaninglessness. The Handmaid's Tale dares to name an enemy, and if you're female, the enemy could be everyone you've ever loved."
Bonus link: Rolling Stone quick summary and review of the film adaptation (spoilers). They didn't like it.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (185 comments total) 116 users marked this as a favorite


 
Via fellow Mefite, flex.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:55 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I read it for the first time a few months ago and I would say it's held up, given that it scared the crap out of me.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:05 AM on December 28, 2014 [30 favorites]


The Handmaid's Tale dares to name an enemy, and if you're female, the enemy could be everyone you've ever loved.

See also Robertson's review ofJames Tiptree, Jr.'s "The Screwfly Solution" (like Atwood's novel, also adapted for the screen).
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:07 AM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure this critique holds up. For example, the statementThe Christian fundamentalism of The Handmaid’s Tale feels dated; no one worries these days about Westboro Baptist staging a coup d’etat.
Sure, maybe not Westboro, but a glance at social media in Texas and the South makes me nervous. What with the attacks on women's choice becoming more effective and the paranoid anti- Muslim fervor that seems to be growing I can see a right wing Christian government happening.

I'd known about this book for years, but had never read it. Recently I listened to the audio book version narrated by Clare Danes. I was moved by the story, and by her reading. Well, not the epilogue, which was a bit stilted. But overall I think this book holds up perfectly, so much that I've been pushing it to my friends for the past year.

Apology: I'm a guy commenting on a feminist novel, so maybe I should just shut up. But I can't.
posted by cccorlew at 9:13 AM on December 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


One of my most cherished possessions is the hardcover first edition of The Handmaid's Tale (complete with the publisher's postcard insert) that I picked up, as a high-schooler, from Waldenbooks back in the day. It was influential on my thinking about the world.

As to the question about whether it "holds up," I had to snort when I read the bit from TFA about "no one worries these days about Westboro Baptist staging a coup d'etat." No, it's not the 1980s any more, but while the Moral Majority is no longer with us, its legacy has reshaped U.S. politics these decades later. Fundamentalism comes in many forms, and only a fool believes that it is not with us still.
posted by Mothlight at 9:17 AM on December 28, 2014 [66 favorites]


Apology: I'm a guy commenting on a feminist novel, so maybe I should just shut up.

Don't worry; men can also be feminists.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:20 AM on December 28, 2014 [33 favorites]


And yeah, considering the new crop of young reactionaries popping up, whether of the religious or areligious variety, I'd say there's still a lot of relevance to Handmaid's Tale.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:23 AM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's hard to believe it was written in 1985. It just feels like one of those books that have been with us forever, which is probably a testament to how prescient and spot-on its warnings are.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:23 AM on December 28, 2014 [9 favorites]


Take this with a grain of salt because I ain't a woman, but this is exactly the reason that The Handmaid's Tale doesn't hold up as well as Oryx and Crake for me so far as Atwood dystopias go. Oryx does a much more plausible job of showing how the classes in power, by deluding themselves that their self-enrichment is really the common good, can cause a huge amount of destruction and exploitation, while the Gileadites all but twirl their moustaces and cackle as they tie allegorical figures named Woman and Minority to the railroad tracks.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:33 AM on December 28, 2014 [16 favorites]


It’s about how you’ll lose every right you have, and none of the men you know will care.

I read this, and it makes me angry, as in, how dare you think so little of me as a person to think that I wouldn't care.

...but then I remember that good people can hold really terrible views, and can cause terrible harm with the best of intentions. And that what is acceptable in public discourse can shift dramatically over time. Nixon started the EPA for Pete's sake.

Some of the scariest photos I've seen are of progressive Kabul and Tehran in the 1970s. Sometimes things do go backwards.

But, I don't know, things do, on average, tend to get better. But they progress like science does, funeral by funeral.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:37 AM on December 28, 2014 [34 favorites]


This Handmaid's Tale is merely a piss-poor rehash of The Stepford Wives with delusions of grandeur.

Rolling Stone's take on the film got it right. I was so, so disappointed when I saw it.
posted by sfkiddo at 9:37 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Apology: I'm a guy commenting on a feminist novel, so maybe I should just shut up. But I can't.

No, you shouldn't. You should read and re-read the book and recommend it to friends and then talk to them about it. Just be sure to listen also, especially to the women with whom you discuss the book.

Rolling Stone's take on the film got it right. I was so, so disappointed when I saw it.

It's not great, but for me I have a certain respect for it, just because it had enough interesting stuff going on in it that it made me seek out the book.

I should probably read the book again soon.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:42 AM on December 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


Big Brother is anyone who disagrees with you — impersonal, unknowable, monstrous, and diluted into meaninglessness.

This is nearly the exact opposite of Big Brother in 1984. Perhaps the author hasn't read the book in some time, relying only on blog posts, or maybe The Verge is just a blog platform sometimes mistaken for journalism.

Whether this affects the author's command of The Handmaid's Tale or The Verge's gadget reviews, I don't know.
posted by four panels at 9:43 AM on December 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


half-consciously figuring out how I might theoretically escape to Canada.

Yeah... Atwood set it in the U.S., but she's from Canada, so....
posted by tzikeh at 9:44 AM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


The book isn't scary. It is an accurate symbolic reflection of what millions of women go through every day in the present -- including educated women with high powered jobs, but are not only oblivious to their oppressive situation, but express gratitude and justification for it. Denial is an ugly attribute and Atwood's work has always been a mirror of the times.

As much as I find her work engaging, the book has done an enormous disservice to women: it makes them think, oh well, at least that's not me. Aren't we lucky we live in our progressive world where women can be inspirational icons who can only get fame in their panties shaking their silicon, where superheroines who are created by a male polyamorist and are dressed in a costume similar to the Playboy Bunny costume are seen as feminist, where women who out-earn their husbands hide how much they spend from them, where sexual harassment in the workplace is still seen as the fast-track for promotion and part of doing business, and where there is gross and primitive inequality in every aspect of day to day life -- and if you to point it out, allegedly intelligent over-thinkers throw misogynistic temper tantrums because someone has the ovaries to stand up to them.

We became 1984 and Animal Farm. We always were The Handmaid's Tale. Perhaps we can take a hint and stop wallowing in dystopia and use the gift of storytelling to make a map of a better and more liberating direction...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:45 AM on December 28, 2014 [56 favorites]


Apology: I'm a guy commenting on a feminist novel, so maybe I should just shut up.

Don't worry; men can also be feminists.

Even if they're not, no one should feel obligated to apologize for commenting on any kind of novel, least of all dystopian novels set in totalitarian regimes.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:46 AM on December 28, 2014 [17 favorites]


Apology: I'm a guy commenting on a feminist novel, so maybe I should just shut up. But I can't.

It's a fantastic book and is well worth talking about no matter what gender you might be. At the same time, it's worth being aware of how one's position as a reader can change how a book might be read. I linked to it a while back, but in a discussion of an FPP about dystopian fiction NoraReed made a great comment that captures both the power of The Handmaid's Tale and why that power can be too much at times:

I prefer to read stuff that's set some distance from my world, because I have a lot of shit to deal with in my life and I prefer to read in a way that distances me from the everyday trappings of that but still reflects things I understand and identify with, because while stuff like The Handmaid's Tale is great and worth reading, it kind of fucks me up and scares the shit out of me, and not in the way that thriller-type stuff does where it's hard to put down, but in the way that sticks with me and makes me scared, and I don't want to be like that all the time.

I loved the book, and am about to reread it, but a patriarchal dystopia is also easy for me to distance myself from; a significant part of the book's power is that the dystopia she describes is taken from many people's utopia.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:47 AM on December 28, 2014 [17 favorites]


strangely stunted trees: Take this with a grain of salt because I ain't a woman, but this is exactly the reason that The Handmaid's Tale doesn't hold up as well as Oryx and Crake for me so far as Atwood dystopias go.

I am taking your advice re: grain of salt, because in Oryx and Crake the horrors happen to everyone--men and women--not just women. Much easier to relate to a dystopia when you see yourself in the position of the affected.

Oryx does a much more plausible job of showing how the classes in power, by deluding themselves that their self-enrichment is really the common good, can cause a huge amount of destruction and exploitation, while the Gileadites all but twirl their moustaces and cackle as they tie allegorical figures named Woman and Minority to the railroad tracks.

I don't know where you are from or where you live, but if you have paid any attention to Conservative politicians, radio hosts, and religious leaders in the U.S., you would not find the men in Gilead to be remotely cartoonish. They are disturbingly accurate. We're living this every single day.
posted by tzikeh at 9:52 AM on December 28, 2014 [81 favorites]


The Handmaid's Tale was required reading at school for me and I don't recall being too impressed by it. That said, high-school-aged me had some really bad taste in books, so I'll have to try it again.

Even just thinking about the book's context in today's political climate, or placing it into context based on when it was written, makes it sound more appealing (wrong word) than I remember it being.
posted by No One Ever Does at 9:52 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Does anyone else think it's a bit weird that this piece -- part of a series on "Does it hold up?" -- only read the book during W's presidency? I mean, that's only anywhere from 6 to 13 years ago, and the book was written in 198-freakin-5. Couldn't they have picked someone a bit older to read and re-read it?
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:53 AM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


Does it hold up? Hm. All I know is that one summer when I was really depressed, and finally pulled myself together enough on the self-care front to think hey, maybe I should read something. Maybe some good sci fi wil provide some lovely escapism and make me feel less shitty about the world! I've never read any Atwood, and have remained blissfully spoiler-free of anything about the plot of The Handmaid's Tale!

Reading it then was definitely not my best decision-making, but I can report the book was plenty impactful as of August 2013.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:59 AM on December 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


Perhaps a stupid question: what is the meaning of the article author's use of the word "evergreen" as in this post's pull-quote/title? As in, it's a feminist novel that is ever-green, ie. always relevant or popular or something? It just strikes me as a really weird usage of the word that I can't quite parse.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:03 AM on December 28, 2014


Saxon Kane, see wiktionary adj 2. "Continually fresh or self-renewing; often used metaphorically."
posted by TypographicalError at 10:06 AM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Riveting book, but the weak point is how Canada is magically some sort of untouched asylum; 5 minutes after right-wing theocrats take over the USA, there would be an Anschluss with Canada under duress, probably after some false flag operation.
posted by Renoroc at 10:09 AM on December 28, 2014 [15 favorites]


You there is also a superb opera. Premiered in Copenhagen in 2000, made it to Toronto in 2004. I had tickets (it sold out the first week) but couldn't attend due to medical problems.

Adapted as a ballet by the Royal Winnipeg. It will be performed in Ottowa January 22nd-23rd 2014.

The opera doesn't seem available on video; excerpts from the ballet are.
posted by Dreidl at 10:11 AM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


I am taking your advice re: grain of salt, because in Oryx and Crake the horrors happen to everyone--men and women--not just women. Much easier to relate to a dystopia when you see yourself in the position of the affected.

I don't disagree with your basic point, but it's worth pointing out that women are not the only victims in The Handmaid's Tale - although it's not the focus of the narrative, we learn in passing that blacks have been sent to a Bantustan, Jews forced to convert, go into exile, or be killed, political dissidents are sent to forced-labor death camps, etc.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:11 AM on December 28, 2014 [16 favorites]


I taught this book to high school students for AP Lit, but by and large they were not into it. But, I can see how it could be hated by a teenager as assigned reading (it's longish and has some very slow, introspective parts and students don't like thick books assigned to them). The biggest issue in teaching it was that lots of students got hung up on the idea that 'OMG but this couldn't literally happen.' Especially guys but girls too. My response was always to say that it's not meant to be a literal future but a satire of the present day (with darkly ironic details thrown in at times).

Guys also got defensive because Gilead didn't seem like a place they would want to live. Which is I think part of the point. It's the logical extension of reactionary anti-feminism, where mysgonists get a lot of what they argue for and it ends up sucking for everybody even the society's fiercest advocates.

I personally wished I would have read it when I was younger and as a white dude hadn't yet grasped the kinds of patriarchy the book illustrates as institutionalized in everyday social structures.
posted by pugg at 10:13 AM on December 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


This book should not be a classic. If it could just be dismissed as irrelevant, an outdated relic (like the film adaptation), that would be fantastic. But everything it has to say about gender is still timely, 25 years on.
posted by unmake at 10:13 AM on December 28, 2014 [15 favorites]


Does It Hold Up is a chance to re-experience childhood favorites of books, movies, TV shows, video games, and other cultural phenomenon decades later. Have they gotten better like a fine wine, or are we drinking cork?

As Saxon Kane points out above, they picked the wrong person to review this novel: glancing at her bio pic, I'm not sure she was even alive in 1985.
posted by sfkiddo at 10:15 AM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Riveting book, but the weak point is how Canada is magically some sort of untouched asylum; 5 minutes after right-wing theocrats take over the USA, there would be an Anschluss with Canada under duress, probably after some false flag operation.

All of existing US-Canadian history says you are wrong on this one.
posted by srboisvert at 10:17 AM on December 28, 2014 [15 favorites]


I was in college when this came out, and unlike the author, I don't recall anyone being genuinely afraid of WBC. We were afraid of the groups that were more subtle; the ones that had the ears of those in power, and held the purse strings, too. We weren't wrong; they created a culture and atmosphere that made it possible for entire states like Texas to raise barriers to health care in the name of saving babies. You can deny your employees access to birth control even if you are factually wrong about how it works, as long as your religious beliefs are sincere.
posted by rtha at 10:18 AM on December 28, 2014 [62 favorites]


As I have to do with a horror movie, I could not read this book directly, but had to go read plot summaries for the spoilers. This is not an ideal way to approach a piece of literature, but the bare premise itself is so scary (and far too close) to me that I am completely unable to deal with it as a reading experience.

There are people trying to control my reproductive choices right now, trying to make it impossible for me to get a divorce, or have the same rights as men, and lots and lots of them are in political positions of power. People who have said, within the last year, that maybe women's suffrage was a mistake. And of course my fragile rights are still much greater than those of millions of girls sold into marriages, kidnapped, and otherwise victimized every day in this world. My continued access to those rights is not nearly as secure as I would like. Reading about a plausible (or even-semi-plausible) world where they do get completely taken away is more than I can handle.

Tiptree/Sheldon's stuff doesn't have quite the same effect on me, maybe she puts just enough unreality into her stories that I can keep that necessary distance. Or maybe it's just that they are not novel-length.
posted by emjaybee at 10:18 AM on December 28, 2014 [42 favorites]


Just as 1984 is all too prescient about our surveillance society, The Handmaid's Tale is a warning about Dominionism. Which is a real political force in the US today; there are currently 19 states with "Religious Freedom Restoration" statutes, with Indiana's legislature about to consider another one.
posted by Dreidl at 10:20 AM on December 28, 2014 [33 favorites]


The thing that always struck me about this book was how sad and feeble the patriarchs were revealed to be. They had everything they wanted; power, control, harems of sex slaves, destruction of all unpersons, but they were beyond love, beyond friendship. Everything they had was a sham, and they knew it. That was the real epiphany for me, in terms of patriarchal criticism, the people in charge are all just selfish lonely boys trying to hoard all the toys for themselves.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 10:20 AM on December 28, 2014 [29 favorites]


As Saxon Kane points out above, they picked the wrong person to review this novel: glancing at her bio pic, I'm not sure she was even alive in 1985.

On the other hand, it's good to have fresh eyes: Are a book's politics still relevant to someone removed from the topical questions of the day it was published, and politics aside, is the prose really any good? Someone who read and enjoyed a book when it was first published isn't necessarily its best judge today.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:21 AM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


We became 1984

No, 1984 just got thrown around so much it lost all meaning, as you (and the original article) just showed us - if we had become 1984, you wouldn't be able to sit at home and post on the Internet about us being 1984 without being arrested for thought crimes. The fact that we can use "Orwellian" as an adjective at all means that Orwell's future didn't come to pass, and the people who say that it has rob the book of any power it has left.

This has not happened to The Handmaid's Tale, and I think that's a big part of why it's still such an important (and powerful) book today.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:24 AM on December 28, 2014 [11 favorites]


The book is much strong, I think, if you read it as a metaphor for current conditions instead of a dire warning for the future. Women are already valued by, and subservient to, their fertility and their husbands. In many places, they are not allowed to control their own lives, whether financially, sexually, or physically. They are murdered for suspected infidelity, jailed for suspected abortion, and divided into neat wife/whore categories. And the fact that these conditions exist in many places means that they could become more pervasive, more widespread, especially once we stop believing in the inevitability of moral and social progress. Calling the book a dystopian fiction, and wondering how well it still applies, is a somewhat privileged perception.
posted by bibliowench at 10:24 AM on December 28, 2014 [74 favorites]


and now that I'm actually reading everyone's comments and the article again, I realize my comment isn't really responding to anything anyone actually said, please ignore

anyway, thanks for posting this, joseph conrad is fully awesome
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:24 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm male and this particular dystopia still holds up for me. I grew up in a fundamentalist church and went to a very fundamentalist Christian school. Thanks to the latter, I received a very close look at what a "Christian" led government would mean. Both in theory, thanks to the very slanted history and government classes, and in practice, due to the complex and arbitrary set of rules governing every aspect of the student's behavior.

The school was horrendous for the girls, but wasn't much better for the boys. The Handmaid's Tale was particularly frightening to me because I knew what the average male, even the relatively privileged average white male, would be going through in this system.
posted by honestcoyote at 10:28 AM on December 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


cccorlew: Well, not the epilogue, which was a bit stilted.

I re-read Handmaids Tale for the first time in about ten years and didn't recall the epilogue from my first reading. Was that added in later editions or was that always a part of the book?
posted by dr_dank at 10:29 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Calling the book a dystopian fiction, and wondering how well it still applies, is a somewhat privileged perception.

Flagged as fantastic.
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:29 AM on December 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


Mrs. HeroZero is an academic, and has commented that she finds the oafish lecture epilogue to be the least convincing part of the book.
posted by HeroZero at 10:30 AM on December 28, 2014


And one more Handmaid's Tale adaptation: Graphic Novel! No details yet, though. B^[
posted by Dreidl at 10:37 AM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


But Rustic, that's not "re-experience[ing] childhood favorites of books, movies, TV shows, video games, and other cultural phenomenon decades later." Having "fresh eyes" is simply someone read an old book for the first time.
posted by sfkiddo at 10:41 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Handmaid's Tale is one of the most misrepresented books I've read. Whenever it comes up in conversation, the takeaway for most people seems to be, "America becomes a theocracy." But that's a really truncated summary. Parts of what used to be the US react to environmental and economic decline by locking down into Jesusist/misogynist mass hysteria for about two centuries. The book is so much more nuanced than it's often given credit for. When I finally did get around to reading it last year, it put me in a weeklong panic attack. It probably is the most plausible, raw novel in the dystopian genre. One thing that struck me as an especially great detail was how Gilead used radical feminists as one of their prongs (they get betrayed after Gilead comes into power, but so do everyone else).

It seems a common attitude that Atwood is good at writing literature, but bad at writing science fiction, which I find pretty baffling and chalk up to boyzone+established literary writer transitioning to sci-fi lateish in career. Familiarity with Atwood's sci-fi has made that weirder and weirder for me: she's fantastic at both components. She's a great writer--one sentence in particular from Handmaid's is remarkably, beautifully sad--and her worldbuilding is scary and believable and more pessimistic than Peter Watts. Having just finished Oryx & Crake, I have this impression of her right now as an angrier, more nihilistic, eco-feminist Vonnegut.

I really could have used a trigger warning for Handmaid's, though. And The Year of the Flood. And Oryx & Crake. There is a shit ton of violent rape in these books, and even knowing they're dystopian and patriarchal, I was not adequately prepared for that. At least I've finally learned not to read them after sunset.
posted by byanyothername at 10:44 AM on December 28, 2014 [33 favorites]


cccorlew: Well, not the epilogue, which was a bit stilted.

So, so wrong. The epilogue is what made the book.

Every other dystopian future (We, 1984, Brave New World undsoweiter) shares the same flaw as their utopian coutnerparts, imagining their future as one in stasis, where nothing can change and hence they're outside history. The Handmaid's Tale isn't. The epilogue made clear that the Dominion of the US came to an end, that it was part of a late 20th century trend along with countries e.g. Iran (irl of course the example Atwood also had in mind when writing her novel. In the main story there are also the Japanese tourists visiting the States just like you had tourists in South Africa during Apartheid.

That makes The Handmaid's Tale so much more chilling than the perfect dystopia of 1984, because it could be part of history just like Iran is part of our history, something for the future to not care overtly much about.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:44 AM on December 28, 2014 [40 favorites]


pugg's experience teaching the book echoes many of my experiences teaching anything with a feminist slant -- and again, the young women in my classes are often just as antagonistic to feminism as are the young men. I think for something like The Handmaid's Tale, you'd need to pair it not only with historical texts that demonstrate that pretty much everything Atwood writes about re: the patriarchal oppression of women (and non-patriarch men, and minorities) has actually happened in (often very recent) history, but also with contemporary articles with prominent political and religious figures espousing Gileadian views -- and hell, maybe even just direct students to a few MRA sites, youtube comments, subreddits, etc. to show that, hey, this shit is now.

Small derail on the 1984 diss in the article and subsequent disses in the thread: the author is right that the language of 1984 has become so universal and watered-down that just about anything can be described by anyone as "Big Brother" or "Orwellian," but I think the most important concept that Orwell introduces, and one that is all-too-prevalent in our lives, is that of doublethink. I mean, just in this thread there's mention of the pernicious "Religious Freedom Restoration" bills, which is just dominionist doublespeak for Christian Theocratic creep. See also No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act, Clean Air/Water Acts under W. Bush, "intelligent design" and "Teach the controversy!", etc. etc. To return to my comments about teaching, the hardest thing to get students to realize is that just because the name of some bill may be the "We love Women so much and totally value and equality and stuff," if its actual provisions require all women to have rfid chips attached to their wombs and display their bedsheets out the window after the wedding night to prove that they were virgins, then hey, maybe the name IS A LIE. It is always mind-boggling to me how one can demonstrate a radical disjunction between a thing's name and its reality, yet people can still ignore it...
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:45 AM on December 28, 2014 [41 favorites]


PS 100% agree with what MartinWisse just said. Knowing that Gilead was a state/mass panic that collapsed incredibly rapidly from a historical perspective is one of the things that really elevates the book over its peers and establishes it as a believable dystopia. 1984 is weirdly comforting in much the same way that Tolkien is, because it's an elaborate, eternally changeless fictional world that exists outside of history and time. Gilead is much uglier. That it doesn't even last long in its fictional universe paradoxically highlights its ugliness.
posted by byanyothername at 10:50 AM on December 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


The scariest part of the book to me, in 1985, was the description of how easy it would be for the government, or the banks, or whoever, to completely strip me of any power, control of my life and independence, just by freezing all my bank accounts and credit cards. And that's every bit as - if not more - scary now than it was then.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 10:52 AM on December 28, 2014 [48 favorites]


I graduated from high school (in East Texas) the year the film came out, and it may not have been good in the cinematic sense but it was great at scaring the fuck out of me and my girlfriends. I think several of us left sooner than we'd originally planned, transferring to universities in larger cities, because of it.

I didn't actually read it until after college, and I was certainly already of a lefty mindset as a teenager, but the horrible creeping-in of understanding watching the movie was where the first seed of adult feminism was planted.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:54 AM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


I recall the epilogue being there when I read the book in what must have been the late 80's, so I think it's always been in it.

I found it utterly chilling. The book seemed to me to be about how horrible our society could become if certain elements start having their way again. The epilogue, although theoretically set even further in the future, seemed to me to be pointing out how callous and dismissive of our own flaws we already are.
posted by kyrademon at 10:56 AM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


PS 100% agree with what MartinWisse just said. Knowing that Gilead was a state/mass panic that collapsed incredibly rapidly from a historical perspective is one of the things that really elevates the book over its peers and establishes it as a believable dystopia.

Alan Moore shows the same insight in his reinterpretation of 1984 in the League of Extraordinary Gentleman; it's a period of temporary insanity through 1948 that quickly collapses, contemporary claims of perpetuity notwithstanding.

Of course most dystopias will collapse quickly; that doesn't mean they can't cause immense harm in the interim.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:00 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I second ~MartinWisse on the epilogue, and would add that it's a nice satire of the tendency to excuse the behavior of terrible regimes by arguing that they were the product of their times, much like some today excuse the Founders of the US for owning slaves for the same reason.
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:01 AM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Incidentally, if someone asked me some stupid question like, "it's 1984 for feminists?" I'd be tempted to punch them in the face.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:02 AM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


For all of its flaws, and it had a buncha lotta them, I think the movie did a great job at capturing the look-and-feel of Gilead, even when it deviated from a being a literal representation of the novel.
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:03 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Orwell almost predicted that, Saxon Kane.
posted by squinty at 11:03 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


In terms of its "predictions," I think the book is a lot more relevant today than I did when I first read it as a teenager in the late 1990s. But the book is also misread as being a pure dystopia when it has a lot of unexpected and parodic elements as well. The epilogue (set in Denay, Nunavet / "deny none of it") is actually pretty key for the way I teach the book when I teach it: it's both "optimistic" and yet another replication of the worst blindnesses of academic liberals.
posted by gerryblog at 11:04 AM on December 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


I second ~MartinWisse on the epilogue, and would add that it's a nice satire of the tendency to excuse the behavior of terrible regimes by arguing that they were the product of their times, much like some today excuse the Founders of the US for owning slaves for the same reason.

It's that, plus the academics are only interested in (1) figuring out who the Great Men involved were, to the exclusion of any interest in Offred's story or what happened to her (2) when lunch is going to be served.
posted by gerryblog at 11:05 AM on December 28, 2014 [14 favorites]


Regarding the epilogue, I have the copy in front of me that I bought when it first came out in 1985 and it's there.

I haven't read it in a long time but I can't see it not holding up. I've found that with most Atwood and like a lot of other literature, I understand a lot more as I get older.

I was looking for something to read this afternoon anyway.
posted by TORunner at 11:09 AM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


One more thing and then I will shush, promise!

Women are not the only primary victims in The Handmaid's Tale: racial and ethnic minorities, non-Christians and gay men all suffer persecution for being. This is euphamized as "exiled" in places, but strongly implied to be genocide. IIRC, there is an aside about Jewish people being deported, then Gilead sinking their ship midocean because they never had any intention of allowing them survival. Even white straight cis men largely suffer; even the highest ranking men in Gilead are routinely purged. The protagonist's "commander" is killed shortly after her narration ends. This is not in any way a functional society. It is more like a transient social madness.

But also: while true that everyone suffers in Flood and Oryx, it's still disproportionately worse for women. The absence of police or social services mean that no one cares if you are raped or murdered unless you're from a Compound. Sex work (most of which is degrading and dangerous in this world) is the only real option for many women not from a corporation or subculture like the God's Gardeners. There are asides in both books mentioning underage and/or foreign women who appear in brothels for a short period and are never seen again. It is strongly implied that they're killed and "recycled" as food or fuel, and that sex slavery and human trafficking are huge parts of this economy.
posted by byanyothername at 11:13 AM on December 28, 2014 [17 favorites]


"The Christian fundamentalism of The Handmaid’s Tale feels dated; no one worries these days about Westboro Baptist staging a coup d’etat." No one worried about it in the time that Adi Robertson refers to, either. Because Westboro Baptist Church was not a national thing in 1985 (and really isn't now, either, despite all the media catnip that it provides; WBC are essentially a roadside clown show); the Traditional Values Coalition and similar groups were a national thing then (started their gears rolling around the same time Atwood's book was published) and are now. And fundamentalists haven't had to stage a "coup d'etat" to get much of what they want either passed into law or irrevocably part of the national discussion, which is almost as good. They have enough people in the US Congress who either were funded by them, agree with them, or are fundamentalists themselves that a coup d'etat would be redundant -- not that they don't still talk endlessly about needing to have one to rid the White House of Obama and his administration/appointees, or unseating the reps now in Congress who are insufficiently purist to replace them with the newer models. Most of all, fundamentalists have very sympathetic listeners on the majority of the Supreme Court, which is even more important than Congress for most of their needs.

A look at the actual list of what the TVC wanted as policy in 1985 -- prayer in schools, restrictions on pornography, increases in defense spending, an end to the state's regulatory hand in Christian schools and organizations, a pro-life constitutional amendment and/or an overturn of Roe v. Wade, a halt or rollback of feminist and gay rights legislation -- looks almost identical to the to-do social issues list of the 114th Congress. In that sense, Atwood's been much more than prescient.
posted by blucevalo at 11:16 AM on December 28, 2014 [44 favorites]


The book is much strong, I think, if you read it as a metaphor for current conditions instead of a dire warning for the future.

Absolutely. I guess it's easy to get distracted by the science-fiction-y details and give into a superficial reading, but it's important not to let them detract from the structure she describes, which is absolutely one that very powerful groups in the U.S. are pushing toward, and have been pushing toward for decades. I don't read it at get scared about the future; I read it and get depressed about the present.
posted by jaguar at 11:28 AM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


It is always mind-boggling to me how one can demonstrate a radical disjunction between a thing's name and its reality, yet people can still ignore it...

I have long considered the disconnect between what "Born in the USA" says to how it is treated by the people who use it as an anthem to be a particularly embarrassing/hilarious example of this.

I read A Handmaid's Tale as a teenager (on my own) and found it chilling and terrifying. It seemed all too plausible - and when you think of how young "woman's rights" are in the US... lets just say it haunted me. I found the epilogue useful in its very boriness - it reminded me of High School History, which tended to be stultifying and boring, and the whole sideline on who Offred could have been, and that there was no one powerful named "Fred" now reminds me of the endless derails on minutia that occur in discussions of horrible experiences women have.

There was something terrifying about the story having happened in the past, even though - lets be honest - that story essentially happened in the past to many different classes of women. In fact, if I had any critique it would be about how white it was in terms of scope - there is no actual reason to believe that powerful Christian men wouldn't want to own women of other races as well, as they have a history of both doing so and of selling their own children so long as the children could be justified as not being white.

Ugh, just remembering it gives me shivers. The reminder that for women the most dangerous people to us can be those we love.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:29 AM on December 28, 2014 [11 favorites]


It seems a common attitude that Atwood is good at writing literature, but bad at writing science fiction, which I find pretty baffling and chalk up to boyzone+established literary writer transitioning to sci-fi lateish in career.

I thought it was because Atwood herself said she didn't write science fiction, because science fiction was all about squids in space? I mean, she may have changed her mind later, but she was the one putting herself on the "literature" side of the lit/sci-fi divide. It gave me a terrible prejudice against her, which I have been trying to get over because it's a bit petty.
posted by insufficient data at 11:35 AM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


I was raised fundamentalist, and read this book at the end of high school.

The moment it clicked that Offred's name was Of Fred, my journey to feminism started. Maybe not the least subtle aspect of the book, but something I still think about every time I hear or read about an argument between couples concerning their last name.
posted by rebooter at 11:39 AM on December 28, 2014 [37 favorites]


I'm in the possibly tiny minority that thinks the book is just a meandering and largely empty dirge, caught up forever imagining that what the foot soldiers of the Reagan/Moral Majority "revolution" thought of itself in a context that just makes no sense.

The Christian Right lost the culture war on same sex marriage in less than a generation, and they're going to lose it on healthcare and on gender and race, too. Lose the children and you're just a sterile, staggering old man bewailing the world, getting louder and louder the more you realize that no one hears, believes, or cares. All the noise we get is the shrieking death rattle of an ugly, awful dying time in history. Nothing was new about what right wing idiots believed in 1985 (see Phyllis Schlafly or The John Birch Society), and nothing's really changed. Some of the fringier bullshit is louder because of the internet, but it's not actually more common.

Can they catch up? Maybe, if we lose the free access that the internet gave us, which is why rules for net neutrality and an open net are more important than antidiscrimination or hate crime laws, but I wouldn't count on it.

I reread The Handmaid's Tale a couple years ago to reconsider if my overwhelming dislike of Atwood was a kneejerk reaction to her unbearably precious sense of portentousness, but nope—still reads like political porn designed to titillate nervous masochists. It seemed frightening to me as a seventeen year-old angry young man in the midst of the Reagan Memorial AIDS Epidemic™, but digging deeper shreds the fabric on those wobbly stage sets awfully quickly.

If, for nothing else, it came down to the demeaning proposition in the work that, in the face of a revolution, women could or would be so easily quashed, I'd call bullshit.

Of course, I've watched the world become immeasurably better for people like me over the span of my life, so I'm inclined to be a little more optimistic.
posted by sonascope at 11:42 AM on December 28, 2014 [14 favorites]


Of course, I've watched the world become immeasurably better for people like me over the span of my life, so I'm inclined to be a little more optimistic.

And people like you is what? Oh, men.
posted by moody cow at 11:47 AM on December 28, 2014 [18 favorites]


Ugh, I meant to type "much stronger." Never comment in the am after drinking wine the night before.

About the movie: I love Atwood's stories and most of her prose, but I've never been a fan of her future neologisms and brand names (CorpSeCorp, AnooYou, Happicuppa), which always sound too cutesy and go-home-grandma-you're-drunk in my head. So when a movie character has to yell something clunky like "The Birthmobile is coming!," I have a harder time appreciating the story. The idea of a birthmobile is horrifying, but it still sounds silly as hell.
posted by bibliowench at 11:48 AM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


And people like you is what? Oh, men.

Yep, because no lesbians benefitted at all from same sex marriage. Try harder, please.
posted by sonascope at 11:48 AM on December 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


As Saxon Kane points out above, they picked the wrong person to review this novel: glancing at her bio pic, I'm not sure she was even alive in 1985.

Her first listed job on LinkedIn is help desk at Cornell in 2007. Even if we assume that was her freshman year, that would likely put her birth in 1988 or 1989, so no, probably not.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:51 AM on December 28, 2014


Yep, because no lesbians benefitted at all from same sex marriage. Try harder, please.

Depends on which parts of the world you're talking about, no?
posted by moody cow at 11:51 AM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


The Christian Right lost the culture war on same sex marriage in less than a generation, and they're going to lose it on healthcare and on gender and race, too.

We're losing ground on abortion and contraception and have been for the last decade. Same sex marriage went down fast and hard because the face of the movement was overwhelmingly white men, and secondarily white women, and even given that they almost threw trans gendered people under the bus because they were too outside of the mainstream (something which is blessedly shifting, this time in the hands of women of color - which makes me really happy).

Healthcare is an open question right now because people are able to deny their employees basic healthcare based on their religious beliefs, and hospitals are able to deny medical care based on their religious beliefs, and not enough women have died yet to make that headline news. The "pro-life" movement has long been making headway to make getting a third trimester abortion impossible, which is ironic because those are the ones guaranteed to be the unwanted and life-threatening one. I think there's a single person in the US who does it, and she got the job when her predecessor was killed?

Women in general still make significantly less for men, and women of color are even worse off. Now the issue is framed individually, which means claims of systemic discrimination - even in the face of evidence like the difference in percentages Sony was paying it's male versus female actors - fall on uncaring ears.

Feminazi is still a thing. More than a thing it's applied even more widely. Women are getting rape threats, death threats, and bomb threats for becoming prominent - and the only reason that is addressed at all is because several women decided to keep on going despite getting deluged daily with threats to themselves, their families, and their livelihoods. In addition to the pain they suffer, the chilling effect on other women is enormous; I know I've felt it. Meanwhile, a large number of people are calling these women "professional victims", weak, and evidence that women shouldn't be listened too.

Forgive me if I'm not as sure of our victory as you are.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:51 AM on December 28, 2014 [110 favorites]


Depends on which parts of the world you're talking about, no?

What part of the world was Atwood describing, again?

Ah, yeah—it was this one.
posted by sonascope at 11:52 AM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


And people like you is what? Oh, men.

Yep, because no lesbians benefitted at all from same sex marriage. Try harder, please.


I'm a lesbian whose reproductive rights have been measurably eroded since I was in high school even as I am now allowed to get married. I'm sorry that I can't agree that one is an adequate trade off for the other.
posted by rtha at 11:53 AM on December 28, 2014 [61 favorites]


By which I mean the US, in which I'm writing.
posted by sonascope at 11:53 AM on December 28, 2014


If you're a fan of Margaret Atwood and have a Reddit account, you might want to come to /r/books tomorrow at 2PM Eastern Time. She's doing an AMA (on-line interview open to all participants), and if I know that subreddit it'll be filled with "Dear Ms. Atwood, we are supposed to read Handmaid's Tale for class, could you please tell me three major themes of your novel?" so she'll welcome good questions.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:53 AM on December 28, 2014 [20 favorites]


Can they catch up? Maybe, if we lose the free access that the internet gave us, which is why rules for net neutrality and an open net are more important than antidiscrimination or hate crime laws, but I wouldn't count on it.

I'm not writing this as a gotcha and I hope it doesn't come off that way, but this sentiment bothers me because it feels like we (men) are always coming up with reasons for why fighting for the remaining rights or privileges we're concerned about securing are more important than equal access to all the rights and privileges we have that women, people of color and other oppressed groups lack.
posted by mph at 11:54 AM on December 28, 2014 [18 favorites]


I'm sorry that I can't agree that one is an adequate trade off for the other.

I'd disagree that one is a trade-off for the other. Wars are only won in one shot in the movies. There's tons of work to do, but we're still ahead of where we were.
posted by sonascope at 11:54 AM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


but we're still ahead of where we were.

Speak for yourself, please.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:59 AM on December 28, 2014 [27 favorites]


I'd disagree that one is a trade-off for the other.

I'm gonna say that rtha probably has a closer insight on this than you, and you might want to chill for a bit.
posted by smasuch at 11:59 AM on December 28, 2014 [12 favorites]


Of course, I've watched the world become immeasurably better for people like me over the span of my life, so I'm inclined to be a little more optimistic.

And people like you is what? Oh, men.


Is it really that unreasonable to say 'the advances in queer rights give me optimism for advances in women's equality'?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:02 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]




? for the Canadian mefites: Was Nunavut confirmed as the name of the future province when Atwood was writing the book?
posted by brujita at 12:06 PM on December 28, 2014


To continue this particular discussion, I have personally heard suggested, with my own ears - not via media - in the last two years, almost every type of Gileadian (Gileadite?) violent oppression. Against women, gay men, POCs, Jews, the infertile (women), anti-violence protesters, academics, the disabled, christians different than the speaker... and I am unhappy to point towards US enacted legislation intended to harm each or most of these groups, plus others. Explain to me why Atwood's satire is NOT looking more like a future history?
posted by Dreidl at 12:11 PM on December 28, 2014 [9 favorites]


brujita, IIRC it was not confirmed but the name was known. Boundaries for the new province were first drawn in 1993, eight years after publication of the novel.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:14 PM on December 28, 2014


Also, if you want to watch a functioning secular democracy slide towards militaristic theocracy, and the US seems too large or close, watch Israel.
posted by Dreidl at 12:19 PM on December 28, 2014 [26 favorites]


Usually I don't bother to step in to defend the author/article, but . . .

>>Big Brother is anyone who disagrees with you — impersonal, unknowable, monstrous, and diluted into meaninglessness.

>This is nearly the exact opposite of Big Brother in 1984. Perhaps the author hasn't read the book in some time, relying only on blog posts, or maybe The Verge is just a blog platform sometimes mistaken for journalism.


And, this is pretty precisely the point she is making. She's not talking about what Big Brother was in the book 1984, but what it has come to mean in our popular culture. Her source for this idea isn't a series of quotes from the book itself, but "a recent check of Google News" - ie, references to recent mentions of 1984's key concepts as they have been adopted by and watered-down by popular media.

>Does anyone else think it's a bit weird that this piece -- part of a series on "Does it hold up?" -- only read the book during W's presidency? I mean, that's only anywhere from 6 to 13 years ago, and the book was written in 198-freakin-5.

The point of this series isn't to compare the impact of books comparing when they were written to today, but rather to compare reading of books from when you were younger (specifically, as seen and loved by the childhood or teenage you) to today (specifically, as seen by the more adult/mature you).

For that purpose, even a six-year gap suffices and thirteen years is more than plenty. How does something you read in High School or Junior High hold up later in life? That's what the series is about--nothing more.
posted by flug at 12:19 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Is it really that unreasonable to say 'the advances in queer rights give me optimism for advances in women's equality'?

The thing is, and I know it starts to sound like a broken record, but yes. It's unreasonable. Here's why.

The queer rights movement includes (and is most often represented in the public eye by) men. The most powerful voices in the queer rights movement (not necessarily the most important historically, but the loudest and the listened-to) have been men. Men are always going to gain the first foothold in whatever the battle may be, and if the battle includes both men and women, then the women are going to benefit from that fact.

No one in America would argue that white people's rights are "less advanced" than black people's, or that white men and black men are anywhere near level when it comes to power/influence/etc., and there is no thinking person who could argue that black people have more privilege (or even equal privilege) to white people, or are seen as more capable, or any other myriad of comparisons to be made. And yet: while it is incontrovertible fact that white *people* are more respected, trusted, etc., by other white people than black people are, given a choice between a white woman and a black man to run for President, we went with the black man. And it was exactly zero amount of surprising to anyone--especially women.
posted by tzikeh at 12:21 PM on December 28, 2014 [32 favorites]


flug: I guess, but ... Does It Hold Up is a chance to re-experience childhood favorites of books, movies, TV shows, video games, and other cultural phenomenon decades later.
Not quite decades later in this case.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:23 PM on December 28, 2014


The most powerful voices in the queer rights movement (not necessarily the most important historically, but the loudest and the listened-to) have been men.

I find this so weirdly demeaning of womens' voices and influence that I can't even—do you really believe that?
posted by sonascope at 12:24 PM on December 28, 2014


Is it really that unreasonable to say 'the advances in queer rights give me optimism for advances in women's equality'?

It looks silly in light of recent major steps backwards for women's equality.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:28 PM on December 28, 2014 [32 favorites]


Is it really that unreasonable to say 'the advances in queer rights give me optimism for advances in women's equality'?

That a viewpoint might be considered reasonable isn't any kind of guarantee that it's well-informed or correct. Women's equality has been steadily eroded in my adult lifetime and I'm only 32 years old. I feel it every day, I'm never unaware of it, I don't feel like I have the luxury of optimism anymore and that's a feeling I was able to bask in as few as a dozen years ago. But 205 abortion restrictions were enacted from 2011–2013 (~68/year), compared to 189 enacted during the entire previous decade (~19/year). Girls are still kidnapped, sold into slavery, and targeted for assassination for daring to become literate or try to help other girls go to school. The specter of "legitimate rape" should ring a bell, not to mention the reminder that "women should avoid dressing like sluts" in order to avoid being raped.

These facts and many, many more do not especially leave me feeling hopeful for my future as a woman -- yes, even in light of marriage equality -- so whenever a person without a uterus outs with something to the effect of, "Chin up, you'll be considered a full human being any day now!" I get real twitchy.

To that end, I will link to this comment forever: Choice is the Camelot for women.
posted by divined by radio at 12:28 PM on December 28, 2014 [66 favorites]


sonascope, I don't know how to put this more clearly: my rights as a queer are greater than they were in 1984. My rights as a woman of reproductive age are definitely not. So saying "we are ahead..." Is going to be very dependent on who "we" are and ahead of what.
posted by rtha at 12:30 PM on December 28, 2014 [58 favorites]


It is always mind-boggling to me how one can demonstrate a radical disjunction between a thing's name and its reality, yet people can still ignore it...

Department of Defense, formerly the Department of War
posted by XMLicious at 12:32 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I find this so weirdly demeaning of womens' voices and influence that I can't even—do you really believe that?

I do not mean it as demeaning; it is my experience and observation of the history of the movement. As I tried to make clear and maybe did a poor job of it, there are lots of women (both cis- and trans*-)who have been influential in the progress of queer rights, but men control the world, and when it comes to the power to spearhead a movement and change the status quo, men are going to be listened to, taken seriously, and successfully persuade other men (i.e. people in power) an order of magnitude more often than women.
posted by tzikeh at 12:35 PM on December 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


tangent: Atwood's brand names work much better on hearing than reading, when you aren't distracted by the silly spellings. CorpSeCorp (core, corps, corpse, secours) and HelthWyzer (health, wise, Wyeth, Pfizer) are actually pretty clever sound/idea mashups.
posted by Flannery Culp at 12:40 PM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


so whenever a person without a uterus outs with something to the effect of, "Chin up, you'll be considered a full human being any day now!" I get real twitchy

I guess what I took from sonascope's comment was not that at all. What I took was "Look at the progression of queer rights. From near-universally vilified to just the people who live next door, and improved equality. That change gives me hope that this dark and regressive time for women can and will change." It's not to say that anyone should wait or that any of us should stop fighting tooth and nail, it's comparing one struggle for equality with another and finding hope.

That's what I took away from it, in any case. Nothing more than drawing parallels between two (often overlapping) equality movements. Yes, men are at the forefront of queer rights in terms of who gets airtime, and yes that is a problem. No question. But I think all that sonascope was saying--or at least what I read--was "Things have improved for one minority group! This suggests things can improve for another minority group!"

Maybe they can't, maybe there's no reason to have any hope--and were I a woman, I'd find it difficult if not impossible to hope things can get better given how much worse they've gotten in recent years. So please understand I'm not discounting what you and tzikeh are saying.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:45 PM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


from the Verge article: it was written in 1985 — when the Moral Majority was going strong — and I read it during the George W. Bush administration, when abstinence-only education, purity balls, and the Westboro Baptist Church were all part of the national conversation.


But the Westboro Baptist Church, while founded in 1955, didn't start their picketing/public protest activities until 1991.
In addition, WBC has never been a mainstream or rightwing mainstream phenomenon on the right. It is a small family cult with outsize media / First Amendment savvy.
posted by Bwithh at 12:45 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


And yet: while it is incontrovertible fact that white *people* are more respected, trusted, etc., by other white people than black people are, given a choice between a white woman and a black man to run for President, we went with the black man. And it was exactly zero amount of surprising to anyone--especially women.

There were lots of good reasons for rational, sane human beings to vote for anyone but Sarah Palin. (She may have been a VP candidate, but a vote for McCain was a vote for an old man near enough to death that it was effectively a choice between Obama and Palin.) Her being a woman had virtually nothing to do with the reasons a slim majority chose to pick anyone else but her. And she very nearly did get a popular vote on the basis of her gender — which is, let's face it, one of the main reasons (if a cynical one) that the GOP picked her to run with McCain in the first place.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:46 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


OK, my bad with the timeframe miscorrection above - I misread the sentence. the rest of my comment still stands though
posted by Bwithh at 12:47 PM on December 28, 2014


a lungful of dragon: There were lots of good reasons for rational, sane human beings to vote for anyone but Sarah Palin.

me: given a choice between a white woman and a black man to RUN for President, we went with the black man.

You missed that I was talking about the choice between who would run for President for the Dems - i.e. the choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Sarah Palin was running for Vice-President.
posted by tzikeh at 12:51 PM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Marriage equality (which is certainly not anywhere close to the full fight for equality for GLBTQ people, anyway) and women's reproductive & sexual rights (including freedom from sexual assault) are really such different movements that it's pointless to compare them.

People are very happy in general to be all "Yay, marriage!" and put money and marketing to that. "Yay, abortion!" and even "Boo, rape!" are much harder sells, on the movement-requiring-money part (I worked for a rape crisis center, and corporate funding was ridiculously difficult to obtain, even compared to the local women's shelter), and require a fundamental shift in the way heterosexual relationships function -- in the way that same-sex marriage was bogeymanned to do, but obviously does not.

I'm a huge supporter of marriage equality, but it doesn't really have much place in this discussion.
posted by jaguar at 1:02 PM on December 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


Marriage equality is a very small part of queer rights and social equality, though.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:04 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I am looking forward to Aronofsky's MaddAddam Trilogy for HBO deal.
The film of Handmaid's was a bit of a mess. The book is losing some of its potency as the years go by, but history does have its mood swings. I still like The Blind Assassin the best. It may not have the most to say, but I do dig its style and its substance.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 1:10 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


And yet: while it is incontrovertible fact that white *people* are more respected, trusted, etc., by other white people than black people are, given a choice between a white woman and a black man to run for President, we went with the black man. And it was exactly zero amount of surprising to anyone--especially women.

This is one of those things -- what's more of a handicap, race or gender -- that's only gives aggravation if you start arguing about it, but from where I'm standing, the nomination fight between Clinton and Obama was far from a foregone conclusion and ultimately the latter didn't won for his gender or race but because he offered change and hope and Clinton was too much the Washington insider.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:15 PM on December 28, 2014 [10 favorites]


I read your comment a second time and saw no mention of Ms. Clinton. In any case, in the popular view, for the general election, Obama was effectively running against Palin, not McCain or Clinton. A vote for McCain was a vote for Palin. She garnered a very sizable piece of the popular vote — not enough to get elected, obviously, but certainly enough that it should raise legitimate questions about claims of sexism in Obama's ascension. It wasn't like he showed up and suddenly no one wanted to vote for a woman — or at least that is not what the numbers indicate.

We might be able to start looking at an objective measure of how close we are to Atwood's dystopia by examining the historical trend for censorship of her excellent book, in which there is a pretty steep drop off between the decades of the 1990s and 2000s.

That isn't to say there aren't numerous ongoing attacks on women's rights, a reactionary process that will keep chugging along, but are things trending to be as bad as the fictional scenario described in her alternate history? Industrialized societies progressing towards fewer rights for women would likely ban feminist literature — including, and perhaps especially that of Margaret Atwood — with measurably greater frequency, not less.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:15 PM on December 28, 2014


Byanothername wrote: It seems a common attitude that Atwood is good at writing literature, but bad at writing science fiction [...]

That's hardly surprising, considering that Margaret Atwood herself denied that she was writing science fiction. She characterised SF as being about monsters and spaceships, rockets and chemicals, and talking squids in outer space.

I like her category of speculative fiction, but I'd define it as stories in which the consequences of future change are integral to the story. Within that category I would say that science fiction stories are those in which the causes of the change are either technological or external to society, such as climate change. The Handmaid's Tale would be SF, if only because mass infertility is an integral part of the plot.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:16 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Of course, I've watched the world become immeasurably better for people like me over the span of my life, so I'm inclined to be a little more optimistic.

The real lesson of the Reagan years has always stuck with me: the way the pendulum works is that it always swings back, and there's always revanchism resurgent. We are way overdue for a backlash. You underestimate or ignore the pendulum at your own peril. It's not to say that we'll go back to the days when queers were loaded into paddywagons by the cops, but then again, I never thought I'd see the day of mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds, fetal personhood, and "legitimate rape," either.

Marriage equality is a very small part of queer rights and social equality, though.

Not so you would think if you relied only on mainstream media coverage.
posted by blucevalo at 1:16 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


given a choice between a white woman and a black man to run for President, we went with the black man.

It's hard to say anything about this that's not snarky, but I'll try: this is incredibly tone-deaf about white supremacy. Feminism isn't the only social movement around and male privilege isn't the only kind of privilege.
posted by zompist at 1:18 PM on December 28, 2014 [9 favorites]


In regards to Clinton/Obama, a lot of folk went Obama because it wasn't connected to a dynasty/legacy/political workforce. I reckon a lot of the same folk won't choose Clinton, if Warren runs, for the very same reason.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 1:26 PM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


this is incredibly tone-deaf about white supremacy.

That may be, but it is spot-on accurate when it comes to just how much people would rather put a man in a job than a woman. It's accepted, even among the most liberal, that "now that we've had a black (male) president, we can have a woman." It isn't that black trumped white; it's that male trumped female. Men get to go first.

And I'm out, because I know any further comments made are just going to inspire responses that continue to miss the basic point. Not everything is complex.
posted by tzikeh at 1:27 PM on December 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


It's not to say that we'll go back to the days when queers were loaded into paddywagons by the cops, but then again, I never thought I'd see the day of mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds, fetal personhood, and "legitimate rape," either.

I hadn't heard about this before, so I did a quick search and came up with this. [MotherJones]

Just astounding.
posted by michswiss at 1:28 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Comparing the book to the movie, the movie usually loses. But 1984 worked in both venues. Atwood's book didn't.

Orwell's vision (in the 1940's) reflected the communist/capitalist struggle. Atwood's is more fundamental than who gets to hold the money. She gets to the dynamics of bigotry, though she comes in through the side door.

From the critique: "'Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.' But killing, in The Handmaid’s Tale, is indirect. Unlike in any number of other gender dystopias, most men don’t oppress women because they hate or fear them, but because they can’t empathize enough to love them when it becomes inconvenient. 'Better never means better for everyone,' the head of Offred’s household reminds her, as he’s attempting to win her friendship. It always means worse for some.'"

Orwell still holds up. But Atwood's offering wasn't fictional, except in the sense that the characters were fictitious. The quoted paragraph, above, is chilling. It describes a sick society--an animal chewing off its own toes. It's easy enough to look around and see various degrees of Gilead. Orwell depressed me, beyond fear, because complicity was part of how the system worked. Atwood's Gilead seems to have the prospect of upheaval in its mix, because glimmers and remembrances still exist. For Orwell, they are us. For Atwood, they are still them.

I don't believe in relief by the swing of the Pendulum any more than I believe in redemption by the Cosmic Muffin. As far as I can tell, we're still headed to Hell in a Hand-basket, but, for what it's worth, we will go kicking and screaming.
posted by mule98J at 1:29 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


> "I thought it was because Atwood herself said she didn't write science fiction, because science fiction was all about squids in space?"

Atwood was making a minor point about her personal definition of terms which was overblown into a pointless controversy by some members of the science fiction fan community. She has clarified that she meant that for herself, she thinks that the "science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can't yet do.... [while] speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand". She has also said that science fiction narratives give a writer the ability to explore themes in ways that realistic fiction cannot, that most others use the terms interchangeably, and that both The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake could be designated science fiction.

Margaret Atwood doesn't dislike science fiction, doesn't consider "literary" fiction to be superior to science fiction, wasn't trying to be dismissive of science fiction, and doesn't deny that she has written science fiction. I really hope that the myth that she does dies and dies soon.
posted by kyrademon at 1:31 PM on December 28, 2014 [30 favorites]


It seems a common attitude that Atwood is good at writing literature, but bad at writing science fiction, which I find pretty baffling and chalk up to boyzone+established literary writer transitioning to sci-fi lateish in career.

The way Iain Banks put it in an essay several years back was that her work wasn't great as science fiction because she keeps re-creating what's old hat but acting like she's inventing something new. His example was something to the effect of writing a detective novel with the clever new developments of setting it at an English country house and having the butler do it. There was a metafilter thread that I can't be bothered to find now.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:35 PM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Industrialized societies progressing towards fewer rights for women would likely ban feminist literature — including, and perhaps especially that of Margaret Atwood — with measurably greater frequency, not less.

The fact is that The Handmaid's Tale was #37 on the 100 most frequently challenged books between 1990 and 2000 and #88 for 2000-2010. The most frequent challenges are that it is age-inappropriate (in school banning challenges), pornographic, and anti-Christian.
posted by blucevalo at 1:43 PM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm suspecting that a lot of people here may not have been following the completely insidious and very successful campaigns against reproductive rights and contraception happening over the last couple decades. "Overturn Roe v. Wade" is no longer the main goal, it's "Chip away at access until abortion is no longer available, even if it's still legal," which means it seems to garner less attention and outrage because the steps are so small. But as divined by radio pointed out, access to abortion is very definitely eroding in much of the U.S.

I remember several years ago that liberals were claiming that the religious right would never go after contraception, because contraception was such a widely-used mainstream thing that arguments against it would never gain traction. And yet the Supreme Court just said that companies can go after contraception. Such a shift backwards was said to be unthinkable just a few years ago. And now rightwing legislation is basically just making it too expensive and too complicated for clinics to stay open -- cloaked in concern-troll language about women's health -- and "conscience clauses" are allowing hospitals to refuse to perform abortions and pharmacies to refuse to fill prescriptions for abortion medication -- cloaked in concern-troll language about religious freedom. Consolidation of hospitals has created many areas of the country where the only local options are Catholic hospitals, and I would not want to be stuck in one if I were pregnant and an abortion was the only way to save my life.

Reproductive justice has very definitely been moving backward in my lifetime. I grew up confident that if I needed or wanted an abortion, I could get one. I no longer believe that will remain true through my lifetime.
posted by jaguar at 1:44 PM on December 28, 2014 [39 favorites]


Yes, that was in the links I posted.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:45 PM on December 28, 2014


Sorry if this is a derail but since we're talking about dystopias and Orwellianosity anyways: the thing that would make me pessimistic about the future, apart from what's already been mentioned concerning the apparent failure to "stick" of women's rights and other forms of progress, is that a faction of the government—specifically the part of the government we've been unrestrainedly employing to fuck around with the democracies of other countries in pursuit of American Interests—has been revealed to be conducting pervasive dragnet surveillance on everyone, everywhere, and unsurprisingly a faction of that faction despite being part of the Executive Branch has hacked into the computers of Senate staffers to obstruct the Senate committee investigating them, and overall there's been effectively no response to all of this from the rest of society.

I don't think we can trust the processes that have made progress on the civil rights front and elsewhere to continue pushing us down the same trajectories much longer. Fucking around with American democracy for American Interests and self-interests will continue to sound like a great idea to those with the power, which I'd think is a bit of a slippery slope and a self-reinforcing trend.

Who knows where the hell it will lead us in the end since American Interests will continue having little to do with the interests or welfare of the average American. I'd probably be even less optimistic if I were a member of one of the groups which has already gotten the short end of the stick throughout the country's history.
posted by XMLicious at 1:45 PM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Thanks for the book suggestions.

Hopefully I can figure out how to view the AMA when I get home.
posted by halifix at 1:47 PM on December 28, 2014


Yes, that was in the links I posted.

Whoops. Sorry. Yes, you're absolutely right. My bad.
posted by blucevalo at 1:47 PM on December 28, 2014


Also noted in an old thread about Robert Heinlein is that 'The Handmaid's Tale' has reworked some ideas from Heinlein's 1940 novella If This Goes On-.
posted by ovvl at 1:47 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


her future neologisms and brand names (CorpSeCorp, AnooYou, Happicuppa), which always sound too cutesy and go-home-grandma-you're-drunk in my head

Dunno -- in the days of Lyft and Tumblr and OKCupid they sound downright plausible to me.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:49 PM on December 28, 2014 [10 favorites]


HelthWyzer is not too far off from HealthWyse and Wyeth.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:59 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


> "Boo, rape!" are much harder sells

...The fact that this is pretty true is so damn depressing.
posted by qcubed at 2:30 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


One thing that struck me as an especially great detail was how Gilead used radical feminists as one of their prongs (they get betrayed after Gilead comes into power, but so do everyone else).

Yeah, this is a piece of the book that gets overlooked a lot - one of the especially insidious things the theocrats do is that part of laying the groundwork for their eventual takeover involves make common cause with anti-pornography feminists. I remember finding this pretty thought-provoking when I first read the book (in the mid-90s, I was 13 or 14); today it feels (to me, anyway) like one of the least relevant/likely elements.
posted by naoko at 2:35 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oops, I missed the part where that did actually get mentioned in the piece!

Another thing that I really appreciate about The Handmaid's Tale is the bits of wordplay and humor and cleverness - it makes the overall darkness of the book bearable.
posted by naoko at 2:45 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also noted in an old thread about Robert Heinlein is that 'The Handmaid's Tale' has reworked some ideas from Heinlein's 1940 novella If This Goes On-.

That's something I go into in my still incomplete review of The Handmaid's Tale because it so clearly shows the differences between genre science fiction and Atwood's take on it. Heinlein's story is routed in his own observations of the religious right in the 1940ties and 30ties, but is loaded with all sort of neat but unnecessary sfnal touches: Ford flying cars and laser guns and such and it's an inherently optimistic story about freedom winning out over religious oppression, while the oppression itself is fairly generic.

Atwood's story on the other hand is also routed in her observations of the eighties religious right, but much more routed in real world politics, extrapolating from what was actually happening in the eighties. It also concerns itself with a much smaller and much more realistic struggle for freedom, that for Offred to have some sense of self, rather than saving America from itself.

Therefore while If This Goes On... is an interesting but ultimately minor Heinlein story, Atwood's novel has a much bigger impact.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:45 PM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Regarding the epilogue, (and I, too, recently listened to the Claire Danes-narrated audiobook):

At first it fell flat to me also, but as I reflected on it, I think it functions in at least two ways. The first was explained well above. Gilead didn't last; the world went on. Things got better and those dark times are now a matter for historical study. So: hope! But to me the louder message was created by all the little moments of dry humor and awkward laughter. After we've spent all this time with Offred, sympathizing with her, tensing up when she is in jeopardy, hoping she escapes, we are quickly shifted into a setting where people study her, but oh so coldly. No really cares what happened. She holds no interest except academic interest. Offred's story is now a publication credit in someone's tenure portfolio. And that, really, is when my blood ran a bit cold, thinking of all the tragedies, all the heartbreak, all the suffering going on right now that is conversation fodder for me, or maybe the catalyst for a really good article I hope to publish, or an illustration in a speech. Someone else's horror serves me for a moment, and then I move on to the next blog to read.

That's what the epilogue means to me. It's an indictment of the purely academic, dispassionate frame of mine that is my default mode if I'm not careful.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:53 PM on December 28, 2014 [60 favorites]


Considering there are alliances now between radical feminists and right wing hate groups to deny trans people whatever meagre rights (and/or just stalk and harass individuals), that detail still feels insightful and important to me.

So, I wasn't aware of any controversy over something Atwood had said about science fiction, but that does help make sense of the attitude. I have the impression that she rather likes sci-fi a lot, though. Banks' argument is the one I've seen a lot of, and yet The Year of the Flood and Oryx & Crake are two of the three novels I have ever read that I felt justified the "post-cyberpunk" sub...subgenre.

I don't know how to respond to the optimistic outlook that the book--or whatever specific aspect of it--is hopelessly dated except bitter laughter. It's either that or crying.

"CorpSeCorps" is especially clever. Corporate Security Corporations: their job is to make corpses for corps.
posted by byanyothername at 3:01 PM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


I read this book when I was in 12th grade and saw the movie that year too. It was required reading. I remember discussing bodily autonomy, how Guiding in some ways fostered cult-like ideas that encouraged girls to smile and sing even under difficulty and was sometimes oppressive, and the representation of women in politics. I studied it again and again in university lit classes, gave a presentation on bodily autonomy, gay rights and more.

I only recently realized that I had never considered that Offred and the other handmaids were being raped.

I know they were being oppressed. I knew their choices had been taken away from them. I knew that they were threatened with death, torture and more. But I never realized till the past couple of years that it was rape. (I hadn't thought about it in 20-odd years, mind you.) My teenage mind put it into the category of things women do because they must, because the system says they must.

It is rape and I hope they openly discuss that in schools now. It would have helped me.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:22 PM on December 28, 2014 [20 favorites]


Of course, I've watched the world become immeasurably better for people like me over the span of my life, so I'm inclined to be a little more optimistic.

Of course. For people like you.

Me, I know a bunch of women in tech and gaming. Women who can't even speak their mind in public without getting a swarm of rape and death threats, can't speak without getting their home addresses and numbers revealed. Can't talk without the police shrugging and saying "nothing we can do."

Yeah, go ahead and tell me how fucking wonderful things are, while my wife has to keep all of her conversations private for fear of what the men will do to her. I will laugh in your highly privileged face.
posted by happyroach at 3:28 PM on December 28, 2014 [21 favorites]


I don't think "having things get better for people like you" and thus being "inclined to be a little more optimistic" is the same as "claiming things are fucking wonderful". But maybe if we keep at each others' throats a little longer, things will improve?
posted by uosuaq at 3:59 PM on December 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


Yeah, go ahead and tell me how fucking wonderful things are, while my wife has to keep all of her conversations private for fear of what the men will do to her. I will laugh in your highly privileged face.

Are you saying that queer people haven't had to--and don't in many cases continue to have to--keep conversations private for sake of what others will do?

There is a whole lot of hatred being misdirected at a comment that shows solidarity and hope for a better future, recognizing that now is terrible.

More to the point, like I said above, I don't think sonascope was saying that things are wonderful for anyone. He was saying, I think, that things have gotten better for queer people (one minority) which inspires hope for women (another, often overlapping, minority).
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:01 PM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


> "The way Iain Banks put it in an essay several years back was that her work wasn't great as science fiction because she keeps re-creating what's old hat but acting like she's inventing something new ..."

I was a bit surprised to read this, so I looked it up. Banks never mentioned Atwood at all in it.

Some people have speculated that he *might* have been talking about Atwood ... or Kazuo Ishiguro ... or Cormac McCarthy ... or Martin Amis ... or Doris Lessing ... or Jeanette Winterson ... or other people entirely. So it's a frankly a little weird to declare it was Totally About Atwood.
posted by kyrademon at 4:02 PM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


More to the point, like I said above, I don't think sonascope was saying that things are wonderful for anyone. He was saying, I think, that things have gotten better for queer people (one minority) which inspires hope for women (another, often overlapping, minority).

...and ignores the ways in which things have gotten worse for women, in a way that was very dismissive. Which is why comparing oppressions is not generally helpful.
posted by jaguar at 4:13 PM on December 28, 2014 [14 favorites]


sonascope didn't strike me as ignoring anything. Hope isn't necessary when things are already getting better; hope is engendered when things are bad. Nor do I think he was comparing oppressions, he was comparing the lessening of them.

Seriously... things have gotten better for an oppressed group. The lessening of that oppression is what gives hope that other oppressions will also be lessened. I have great difficulty understanding why this is a problematic sentiment. Should we not be hoping for things to get better for women? Is it somehow totally untrue that lessening one kind of oppression adds to the momentum of lessening other oppression?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:20 PM on December 28, 2014


I mean, I'm with you inasmuch as "we suffer more" "no we suffer more" is a useless comparison.

But the comparison being made here isn't that. It's "some oppression has lessened so I have hope that this will continue." Objecting to that is just bizarre, unless one is reading in a whole raft of meanings that just don't seem to be there.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:23 PM on December 28, 2014


And yet they haven't entirely got better. I read The Handmaid's Tale just after a man gunned down women at Ecole Polytechnique. The Lady Godiva ride was still going on at UBC. I was a highly gifted programmer and student. I declined all the scholarships I could get for going into science and engineering because I was terrified. 25 years later, all but 3 of the women I knew who went into engineering - and I am talking about an enormous group of women friends - have left for other disciplines, because the workplace is so sexist and oppressive. I ended up working in technology in another field and also recoiled against the sexism. There are fewer women in Canadian engineering schools than just a few years after the Montreal Massacre. Childcare is still a crisis in Canada. Child support is used in calculating eligibility for daycare subsidies and social assistance and housing, even though it is meant for the child and not the parent. Most of my friends have been sexually assaulted or abused - often by their own partners. There is still so far to go.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:27 PM on December 28, 2014 [24 favorites]


There is still so far to go.

Yeah, I hope nobody thinks I disagree with that point.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:30 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I remember several years ago that liberals were claiming that the religious right would never go after contraception, because contraception was such a widely-used mainstream thing that arguments against it would never gain traction. And yet the Supreme Court just said that companies can go after contraception. Such a shift backwards was said to be unthinkable just a few years ago.

I remember when I was in undergrad (late nineties) people thought I was crazy because I was certain the goal wasn't to roll back Roe - it was to roll back Griswold.

It sucks to be Cassandra.

Also it would be super if we could stop the derail about how great marriage equality is when it has literally nothing to do with the actual subject of this post.
posted by winna at 4:50 PM on December 28, 2014 [26 favorites]


It's "some oppression has lessened so I have hope that this will continue." Objecting to that is just bizarre, unless one is reading in a whole raft of meanings that just don't seem to be there.

That sentiment is fine, if banal. The way it was originally presented was dismissive in a way that often gets trotted out when talking about women's oppression, where someone tries to shift the focus to the "real" problem, which is not-at-all-coincidentally never women's oppression but "actually" some other problem that affects men more (in this case, net neutrality), and said that all this worry about women's oppression was needless.

When talking about women's oppression, sentiments along the lines of "Don't worry your pretty little heads about it" are not going to go over well. The follow up of "we're better off than we were," without thinking about who was included in that "we," didn't help. As others have said, many women are NOT better off than we were a few decades ago, and it's ridiculous to pretend that none of that backsliding happened.

Additionally, the first major recognized feminist movement happened in this country during abolition, so the idea that women are somehow a chronologically trailing social-justice movement, without acknowledging the continual erosion of progress that has been made, is annoying.
posted by jaguar at 4:51 PM on December 28, 2014 [23 favorites]


Seriously... things have gotten better for an oppressed group. The lessening of that oppression is what gives hope that other oppressions will also be lessened. I have great difficulty understanding why this is a problematic sentiment.

It's a total non-sequitur. And if it isn't, if it's totally relevant, I guess I find it somewhat strange that similar comments aren't made in, say, discussions about the grievously disproportionate amount of violence and incarceration meted out to black citizens courtesy of the various and sundry arms of the racist American criminal justice system.

Like, OK, things got better for an oppressed group. That's really good! I'm so glad, that betterment is something I've wished and hoped for all my life! But a rising tide does not necessarily lift all boats, and bringing up your good fortune as a touchstone in a conversation about a group of people who are actually getting less lucky strikes me as tone-deaf at best.

For real, half of the planet and I are neck-deep in a whole bunch of patriarchal bullshit these days, and it's getting deeper, which means my patience is very limited when it comes to dudes who want to talk about how hopeful they are on women's collective behalf for any reason at all. We don't need your hope or wishes for good tidings for the future, we need you to pick up a shovel and start chipping away at all the shit we're buried in right now.
posted by divined by radio at 4:51 PM on December 28, 2014 [36 favorites]


Nothing that sonascope said indicated at all that men don't need to pick up shovels, and that interpretation is the definition of uncharitable.

Sometimes people do just say what they mean. In this case, it's sucked for one group and is getting better, which means that the majority has been persuaded to make things better, which is another chip in the edifice of white heteronormative privilege.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:55 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is there a reason you're so invested in defending sonascope's comments? The argument by proxy is turning a derail into a double-derail.
posted by jaguar at 4:57 PM on December 28, 2014 [11 favorites]


Yes, because the backlash was uncharitable in the extreme, and relied on a deep misreading and/or a serious reading-into of his comments that is fundamentally unfair. Blind rage doesn't help anyone, least of all when the sentiment expressed was "it looks like the majority can be persuaded and I hope that continues happening."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:00 PM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


I was a bit surprised to read this, so I looked it up. Banks never mentioned Atwood at all in it.

Sorry for the error. I just haven't been able to make myself read anything of his since his death.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:01 PM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


fffm, you are completely ignoring the way in which the sentiment was expressed -- your paraphrases are completely unoffensive and I doubt anyone would have jumped on them if the original statement had been expressed that way -- but you've had a bunch of people saying why the original presentation was offensive and your continuing to argue what someone else actually meant is confusing (and at this point probably belongs in MetaTalk, not here).
posted by jaguar at 5:09 PM on December 28, 2014 [17 favorites]


...and ignores the ways in which things have gotten worse for women, in a way that was very dismissive. Which is why comparing oppressions is not generally helpful.

Yeah, and pretty much all the entirely personal invective directed at me, from the initial volley that responded to the things I discussed with "And people like you is what? Oh, men," has been about whether I deserve to have an opinion on a subject. Given the way our culture has imposed centuries of ass-backwards ideology on what women are supposed to do and think and feel, you'd think there'd be a glimmer of understanding that that's straight-up bullshit all around, but nope.

That's not a generalized thing—it's a ridiculous silencing maneuver making the point that only the most symbolically pure are allowed to participate in this discussion, and it's personal, just like the more recent "Yeah, go ahead and tell me how fucking wonderful things are, while my wife has to keep all of her conversations private for fear of what the men will do to her. I will laugh in your highly privileged face."

Feel free to laugh in my "highly privileged face" while you're worrying about your spouse—I've had the privilege that you have for almost exactly two years. Takes longer than that to set up my slave plantation, y'all, but hey, don't let your bizarre reductive presumptions get hung up on any actual information.

Call me whatever you like. I grew up in a family of strong, resourceful women and you know what? Things are better. You think the example of women being harassed for standing up is something new? C'mon. Here's what's different—air and light. Women have always been harassed and assaulted, because we are at heart a culture built on misogynist assumptions, but here's what wasn't in The Handmaid's Tale—the internet, and by extension, a greater conversation that very rarely existed in the past, and almost certainly didn't in 1985.

These things happen, and people call it out. Most of the time, it descends into chaos, but its a debate that didn't exist before. I can watch the way my extended family calls out my nieces on their body issues and respond, and I can give neighbors an earful when they want to tell my nephew what being a boy means. That's a good bit of why I'm an optimist, but of course few ever bothered to get past the wholesale diminishment by class and category. I find that irritating, because the position of women in my life is a cherished thing for me. I am the end result of one grandmother single-handedly raising my father in the forties, by hook or crook and with ingenuity passed to me through my father, and one grandmother raising a family on a third-grade education and doing it with an emphasis on education and curiosity and wonder.

I have rights I have today because of people like the woman whose photo was pinned up in my high school locker in 1985, Barbara Gittings, and of you think that women weren't right in the forefront of getting me those rights, you know nothing about the movement. When I sat at a table in a little radio station in Rockville, Maryland in 1986, between the amazing Paulette Goodman and a hectoring right-wing asshole who I won't dignify with a name, I was absolutely awed by the presence of so much good and so much hard work. The stacks of books about being gay that kept me afloat in a hard time? All penned by women. Anyone who thinks the progress made by gay people is a man's game really just hasn't read their history. Do you honestly don't think Roseanne Barr didn't make the whole world better by sticking her neck out? Sitting in a gay bar in Atlanta, watching Ellen Degeneres come out—that wasn't progress?

Yeah, I know where my privilege lies. I made approximately six thousand dollars last year and the picture of my sponsored penpal in Nepal on my refrigerator reminds me that, even as I'm struggling to keep my head above water, I live at a level she may never know. I know that women deal with stuff every day that I don't, and I know this because the absurd notion that we supposedly can only understand what happens directly to us is bullshit. My nieces live in the apartment next door, along with my sister. I may be privileged as a blue collar white male, but I can see, and I can remember, and I've seen things get better. Some things have gotten worse, too, but they're not invisible. Things get called out. We don't respond well, yet, but the internet, for most people, is fifteen years old. Give it a minute, for fuck's sake—we've barely figured out telephones and we've had them for a century.

I was bullied every single day of my education until I finally got kicked out of school because of a dust-up with a gym teacher that happened because I was taking another boy to prom, or at least attempting to, and if you want to tell me I can't understand the corrosive power of fear and manipulation and cultural bullshit around gender, I must beg to differ. I'm not “comparing oppressions,” but I've been there, and having been there gave me the gift of being able to see shit that people in the mainstream rarely notice. You can challenge that if you like, though I find the level of sheer nastiness unworthy of metafilter, but this is obviously one of those subjects that just can't be discussed.

It's a shame, too, because these things should be discussed, and my continuing contention is that Atwood just fails to address real-world culture in a meaningful way. It all sounded scary and ominous when Falwell was blowharding his way around Reagan's cocktail parties, but sorry, I don't find it plausible today, which was the original question posed by the FPP. I posed my take on it, which I would think would offend only Atwood, and the very next response was personal and intended to silence.

So enjoy. I would have enjoyed actually answering some questions and posing some of my own, but hey, I have no right to an opinion, so here we are. It's disappointing to find more of these regions of metafilter that are essentially so charged with outrage that all we can do is go personal as fast as we can.

That said, I challenge any of the skeptics of my optimism to revisit this conversation via internetarchive.org on 28 December 2034, because my bet is that we're headed up, not down.
posted by sonascope at 5:39 PM on December 28, 2014 [18 favorites]


The response was personal because your comment was dismissive and trivializing.
posted by winna at 6:01 PM on December 28, 2014 [15 favorites]


I'm less outraged and more bored. I'm tired of having discussions about women's issues dismissed by men. It's boring and predictable.
posted by jaguar at 6:06 PM on December 28, 2014 [37 favorites]


No men in this thread have dismissed women's issues.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:07 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


And yet here we are, discussing men's opinions rather than women's.
posted by jaguar at 6:12 PM on December 28, 2014 [29 favorites]


[Maybe more with discussing the link/subject and less hashing out previous comments at this point, or go to metatalk if you really need to pursue any of that for some reason.]
posted by cortex at 6:16 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


No men have dismissed women's issues. Instead there's been a lot of men mansplaining them.
posted by blucevalo at 6:17 PM on December 28, 2014 [18 favorites]


I feel like for poor women having our children taken and sold to rich people, being asked to carry and birth the children of the wealthy for them and then never seeing the child again, doing the servant work of family life but without pay...

I mean, I'm not seeing the Handmaids tale as that far away from the reality for many women, but then I've lived through being forcibly impregnated and having my community recommend my child be raised by nice financially stable married people and then kicked to the curb like dirt once they obtain what they want out of my womb. I've actually lived through that and listened to the rest of my community talk about how nice that sounds! Dystopian reality of my life!

Women are still sold as sex slaves, many women ARE still forbidden to read in many parts of the world, even in the progressive countries, the poor are still trapped in servitude if they want to eat or have housing, and they have not gotten to drink from this overflowing empowerment that has been achieved by wealthier women (who currently DO have much more equality than ever before).

I have only read synopsis of the Handmaids Tale though, I can't handle getting any closer to the subject matter.
The current religious right really does want to see this happen though in a slightly different way in that they only want it to happen to poor and slutty women who deserve to become the birth servants of the wealthy and morally good married christian couples. Or at least the morally good wealthy people who have never failed to use birth control (or had birth control fail.. or been raped) and therefore deserve the children of the other bad unworthy people. I've even heard those who ARE pro-choice, add in that because abortion is an available option, it therefore means women who are poor and carrying a child deserve their poverty for not choosing abortion and are therefore definitely want to be birth servants for the wealthy.

Honestly the theme of this novel has felt like the attitude of my entire community. We try to find the vulnerable pregnant women who need help first, when they ask questions and about help in a crisis online before the vultures come swooping- 36 adoptive couples to each baby available for adoption! They circle and then they swoop. "You know there's so many nice people in a good situation who want your baby! If you're vulnerable and hurting and need help, you know your baby would be better off if we just took your baby away and gave them to wealthy people! Those people have been waiting and probably want your baby more, it's almost like it's already their baby because they hope so much! You want to do the right thing!"

They turn up out of no where if we can't get to them first.

And I shit you not, if they can stop abortion rights the next step is to force all the poor single, struggling women to hand over the cute babies to the nice Christian couples, it's literally, what they want to see. And the baby scoop era when forced adoptions were very common would be more and more promoted by these people.
In their opinion they deal with the fact a large portion of placing women react like this " Although a birth mother may not be hit with financial costs surrounding her unplanned pregnancy if she chooses adoption, there is a generally a profound emotional toll. … [M]ost birth mothers [sic] profoundly affected by the loss of their children[.] … Most birth mothers mourn the loss of their children throughout their lives and none forget their children and move on effortlessly as they may have been assured that they would."

By saying:

This explanation is made reasonable only by avoiding consideration of the lethal act and actual “profound loss” it seeks to justify.

"If an effective ad campaign can dramatically reduce the incidence of smoking, drunk driving, the failure to use seat belts, or obesity, then surely there is an answer that softens the hearts and minds of pregnant women when it comes to adoption.

The good news is that the cure for our abortion epidemic already exists, and it is adoption."

Indeed- entire lobbying groups who do extensive research on how to change the minds of women who want an abortion or to keep their children already exist to pressure women into an excruciating decision to lose their children to adoption and see that as a "positive" even if they initially want nothing at all of the sort.

"Growing out of legislation by the U.S. Congress in 2000, the primary purpose of the program was to train pregnancy and health counselors in federally funded clinics to present adoption as an option to women with unplanned pregnancies. It has since expanded to target and include anyone who might ever come in contact with anyone experiencing an unplanned pregnancy in order to present adoption as a positive option. Parenting is not on their agenda."
posted by xarnop at 6:45 PM on December 28, 2014 [15 favorites]


Anyone who thinks this book does not describe a plausible scenario is not paying attention. We like to think we're so very different in the 21st century U.S., that we're extremely well-insulated from the type of social breakdown that could lead to religious fundamentalists taking over, that could lead to women who yesterday were independent citizen being captured and sold to men as property.

Are we?

And even if we are, maybe Atwood set the story here for a good reason.
posted by BlueJae at 6:46 PM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


And if you want to find out how horrifying the coercion gets, try reading part 2 of the above article, about how they blindfolded mothers who had lost children to pick their minds and try to figure out how to convince other women who don't want to lose their children to be convinced to give them up anyway.

"Back in 2000, the Missing Piece found that adoption was associated as a painful sacrifice that no mother should be asked to make. Adoption was thought to be “a lie, abandonment, harmful, deceptive, and painful.” They then put their heads together to try to figure out how to make mothers view adoption differently so they would look into the “loving option” and the IAATP was born...

Using Mothers who had previously surrendered as guinea pigs, the Right Brain folks advertised for mothers to come forth for this research from Texas and Chicago areas. They paid fifty-one mothers $100 each. Mothers did not know what they were being question for or who the final “client” was. They report being blindfolded the whole time, making them relive the trauma of their experiences so that the researchers could “take an inside look at the psychological pressures that come to bear when a women decides how to address the painful question of abortion, adoption or motherhood…. and understand more about how the counseling process can affect women’s choices as they decide their futures."

So many vulnerable women who wanted their children. They didn't stand a chance.
posted by xarnop at 6:51 PM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think it's incredibly naive to think that because one group benefits that others necessarily will, or that hard-won gains can't be quickly lost. Atwood was of course aware of places like Iran, where decades of movement towards equality for women was undone almost overnight, and using the same language of protecting and honoring women that the 1980s religious right in the US was using.

Or, from the review in the FPP:

"Better never means better for everyone," the head of Offred’s household reminds her, as he’s attempting to win her friendship. "It always means worse for some."
posted by Dip Flash at 6:51 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think it's incredibly naive to think that because one group benefits that others necessarily will

Agreed, and sonascope should never have made that crazy assertion. He should have limited himself to expressing some hope based on demographic trends, the ability to highlight and organize around issues that the internet gives us, and the notion that women are not about to give up the fight. At the very least he could have acknowledged that he might be in the minority for disliking the book, and credited his optimism to his own personal experience.

Calling the book "gimmicky literary science fiction" about a "somewhat shallowly drawn dystopian future" that uses "intentionally derivative ideas" was a bit much.

Better to just acknowledge that "equality probably isn't even possible".

(Quotes are from the linked article.)
posted by uosuaq at 7:53 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


I stumbled across the book in middle school, at just about the same time I noticed some of my girl friends starting to reject anything that seemed overtly feminist, start to defer to boys in order to be liked, start to act dumber than I knew they were... I had seen enough of that at home, and it was an incredibly powerful text for me at that time. I'm thinking it may be time for a re-read all these years later, now that I've seen how eerily prescient it's turned out to be.

In a way, I'm kind of bummed that it's become a text that's taught in schools. But most schools are probably better than the ones I went to.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:19 PM on December 28, 2014


Near as I can tell the "reject feminism because boys don't like it" thing continues. I've been listening recently to a lot of women talk about their coming to feminism not as a raised truth like I had, but once they started actually encountering undeniable sexism as young adults. Luckily (?) there's plenty of sexism to go around, so we'll always end up with more feminists!

The scene in A Handmaids Tale where the women are all set upon the single woman, and in their rage they beat and harm her (and a member of the resistance kills her to end her suffering), reminds me a lot of what tends to happen in a lot of groups in general. One of the things I like about the book is how layered it is - how it was a critique of society in general, but also a critique of women and how we isolate from each other and harm each other. I've seen that discussion beginning to show up in media and I've been really happy about that. We have a long way to go - racism, homophobia, ableism, etc.. are rampant in feminism - but I have more hope about intra-feminist movement in general.
posted by Deoridhe at 8:36 PM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


One of the things I like about the book is how layered it is - how it was a critique of society in general, but also a critique of women and how we isolate from each other and harm each other.

I always think of Atwood as being the absolute master of depicting how the patriarchy destroys (or at least really complicates) women's relationships with each other, especially among young women. Cat's Eye is a remarkable book.
posted by jaguar at 8:41 PM on December 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


I stumbled across the book in middle school, at just about the same time I noticed some of my girl friends starting to reject anything that seemed overtly feminist, start to defer to boys in order to be liked, start to act dumber than I knew they were...

I stumbled on it at age 14 or 15 because I was captivated by the cover. I had no idea who Margaret Atwood was. I'm glad it's taught in schools now but I think part of the power of it for me when I read it in used paperback in 1990 or so was finding it blind. I was a Southern Baptist kid, going to church three times a week. I had a Precious Moments bible! I sang in the choir! The youth minister would say demeaning things about girls and women and we would laugh!

So finding this book at that age changed my whole trajectory. It was a perfect age to begin to think critically, to realize there was lots in the book that I didn't yet understand but plenty that I could. I began to question, think, watch -- consider everything more closely than I did before. It was a gift.

And I think it's timeless because the main character is so, so human. So marvelously observant and curious and flawed. And Moira! I can't put on a pair of tights without repeating Moira: "Pantyhouse causes crotch rot." I loved Moira. I would have done anything to have a friend like her at 15, 25, 35.

I need to read it again, but yeah, it still holds for me. It's entirely possible to celebrate how far we've come while knowing how precarious we continue to be.
posted by mochapickle at 8:58 PM on December 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


I have only read synopsis of the Handmaids Tale though, I can't handle getting any closer to the subject matter.

The whole point of the book IMHO, completely ignored in the thread so far, is that any attempt to form strict theological societies will merely give rise to their apparent opposite, that is (hidden) scenes of excess and debauchery. I am unsure of how successfully her premise plays out in real life. Depends who you know, I suppose.
posted by telstar at 9:29 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Considering there are alliances now between radical feminists and right wing hate groups to deny trans people whatever meagre rights (and/or just stalk and harass individuals), that detail still feels insightful and important to me.

I hadn't thought of that; great point.
posted by naoko at 9:48 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


The scene in A Handmaids Tale where the women are all set upon the single woman, and in their rage they beat and harm her (and a member of the resistance kills her to end her suffering),

Wait, what? I thought it was a(n actually in the resistance) guy who was alleged to be a rapist and that's how the women were incited to tear him to pieces, and in the melee the resistance lady kills him.

it's been like 10 years since i read it admittedly
posted by poffin boffin at 12:30 AM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


poffin boffin: just checked and you're correct. Particicution, the epilogue goes on to look at it anthropologically as a steam-valve for the women of Gilead's frustration and a way of getting rid of subversives.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 3:37 AM on December 29, 2014


That the whole thing is organised on the ground by 'Aunts' who were childless, infertile, older or otherwise considered redundant under Gilead's patriarchal system and would in other circumstances be shipped to the colonies is still exactly what Deoridhe and jaguar have said.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 3:46 AM on December 29, 2014


i saw the movie in the 90s and was horrified by it, but missed the book somehow despite having heard the name for years. I am following this thread and thinking how I want to read it, and at the same time am not sure I can stomach it. Or that it won't turn me into a surly beast of anger and disgust.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 6:55 AM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: a surly beast of anger and disgust.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:06 AM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


That the whole thing is organised on the ground by 'Aunts' who were childless, infertile, older or otherwise considered redundant under Gilead's patriarchal system and would in other circumstances be shipped to the colonies is still exactly what Deoridhe and jaguar have said.

A major part of what makes the book so good is her depiction of the interplay between women, and the ways that women enforce and help run the system. In large part, what makes the book either scary or not is which social group a reader of either gender imagines they would be categorized into (which as noted is where class, race, and education come into play).
posted by Dip Flash at 7:09 AM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


I finished my reread last night and I'd say it holds up pretty well. A couple of practical things seem a bit far fetched - Massachusetts isn't where I would imagine an American based Theocracy developing and the camera toting tourists aren't as likely to be Japanese these days, but the themes of women sometimes being our own worst enemies is relevant. Encouraging infighting among disadvantaged groups is a useful tool for retaining power. Also, eliminating the use of cash turning off my debit card is the way "they" will take control.

The epilogue allows for historically disadvantaged groups to be sucessful, but with the detachment that other groups have generally shown in that situation.
posted by TORunner at 8:34 AM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Encouraging infighting among disadvantaged groups is a useful tool for retaining power.

Amen to that.
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:46 AM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Here's the r/books AMA with Atwood.
posted by halifix at 11:10 AM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm torn between wanting to reread The Handmaid's Tale and memories of the incredibly grim, painful depression from the last time I read it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:23 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


As the thread goes back and forth regarding (essentially) a rising tide raises all boats (in regards to human rights/gay rights/women's rights) I think it's worth noting that plenty of women have pointed to examples (especially in the civil rights struggles) that women have often been told wait your turn, support us, and wait your turn. Civil rights are (of course) very very important, as are gay rights, absolutely. The level of support women have given to civil rights and gay rights movements has been significant, and while I would not dream of saying that leaders of those movements have ignored women's rights issues, there definitely is an imbalance(in my opinion) of support. Civil rights, gays rights... right now you are in a majority and it is pretty safe to be a supporter of those issues in many parts of the US(which is fantastic), calling yourself a feminist almost anywhere though is opening yourself up to some pretty direct and nasty attacks. If you are a man your masculinity is questioned, if you are a woman you are often threatened with some of the most vile and heinous crimes, stuff that could get you arrested if you said them in person. So, where is the massive support, or at least concurrent support, from the gay community? From the civil rights leaders? I know it is there, i have heard it. It seems like it is pretty muted and often secondary to many though.
So, I don't know if saying that gains in one area must invariable led to gains in the other area is necessarily true. All gains in these areas are important and we must support each other, because fundamentally it leads to a much better society for all members. But, we must be mindful of not falling into the 'wait your turn'/'not right now' or 'it's not as important' mentality. Because, damnit we've put it off long enough.

I think some of the vitriol that was abundant during the Clinton/Obama primary came from exactly this. And I say it as someone who concurrently identifies himself as a feminist, who supported Obama during the primary, and who has some ambivalence about Clinton. I can understand the frustration of women, like my mother, who was excited about the prospect of a viable woman candidate in her lifetime who was overshadowed by a black man. Setting aside politics, the fact we elected a black man president of the US is great. Full stop. We need similar wins for women as well though, and that might mean unless there is a spectacular opponent, a vote for Clinton next time.
posted by edgeways at 11:40 AM on December 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


I reread The Handmaid's Tale earlier this year, and developed sort of a pet theory around it being a reaction to Reagan-era America. Like, if you'd been a progressive woman in the 60s and 70s, and then saw the nation take such a huge step back in the 80s, you may think the future would look very much like the one described in The Handmaid's Tale.

Every time Margaret Atwood does an AMA on Reddit, I keep meaning to ask her about this, but I always get to the thread too late. Maybe someday...
posted by evil otto at 3:27 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


So it seems Margaret Atwood got something like 900 questions during her AMA, most of them pretty good, and most of which she ran out of time to answer.

The best way to see the ones she actually answered is to read her activity overview. That page only shows her responses, so click on the CONTEXT button below each answer to see the question and follow-ups too.

One comment Atwood wrote which seems relevant to this thread:
The HM Tale was practically a meme during the last presidential election, due to the Four Unwise Republicans who opened their mouths and said what was on their minds in relation to Unreal Rape and the ability of a raped woman's body to somehow Just Not Get Pregnant. (Tell that to the all the raped Bangladeshi women who hanged themselves at the Rape Camp where they were kept.) At this time, several states have enacted laws that make it quite dangerous for women to be pregnant in them, because if they lose the baby, or are even suspected of ThoughtCrime -- being maybe about to lose the baby -- they can be tried for some form of murder or attempted murder. That is, if the New York Times is to be believed. There will be ongoing contention in this area, because people hate to be forced to choose between two things, both of which they consider bad. Stay tuned. If motherhood really were respected, of course, mothers-to-be would be offered free housing, proper nutrition, and ongoing care and support once the baby was born. But I don't see any states standing ready to put that in place. With the poverty rates what they are, there would be a lineup for miles.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:50 PM on December 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


One thing I've never seen anybody mention : Offred's name breaks down to "of Fred", but it's also very similar to "offered", as in she is being "offered" by society to this man. Which makes her an "offering" of sorts, since her individuality, agency, and sense of self is being sacrificed to the god of this totalitarian/patriarchal society.
posted by evil otto at 4:41 PM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Women (poor, usually of color women) are currently being thrown in jail for drug use while pregnant, even if they were unaware they were pregnant at the time of the drug use.

And yes, I misremembered who was attacked during that scene. Somehow it seemed very... all women in my memory.
posted by Deoridhe at 8:17 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


"If motherhood really were respected, of course, mothers-to-be would be offered free housing, proper nutrition, and ongoing care and support once the baby was born."

Fuck yeah.
posted by xarnop at 9:10 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's been a while since I read it, but one thing that really stuck with me is that women who'd had abortions were publicly executed. I can see some anti-choicers promoting that.
posted by theora55 at 12:07 AM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


theora55: It's the logical extension of the "abortion is killing a person" line of thought if you believe in capital punishment I guess.

I doubt you'll have to go very far in internal anti-abortion texts to find that viewpoint being promoted, probably as a "thought experiment", which as we all know is a hop, step and a jump from real policy if the opportunity ever arose to actually implement it.
posted by pharm at 7:15 AM on January 1, 2015


It's not such a hypothetical. We've had more than one FPP here reporting on the difficulties experienced by women seeking abortions in the USA, and there are undoubtedly women who cannot practically obtain an abortion at any authorised medical clinic. The old offence of "procuring an abortion" seems to be making a comeback in the USA under different names, e.g., by prosecuting women who take drugs during pregnancy. So the line between our present and Atwood's future is as thin as the line between a regular felony and one that receives the death penalty.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:02 AM on January 1, 2015


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