From Fiction to Fact: The Handmaid’s Tale Is Becoming a How-to Manual

by | Jun 24, 2022 | Human Rights & Justice, Opinions

Activists in the US wearing the red cloaks imagined by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale. Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/AAP

From Fiction to Fact: The Handmaid’s Tale Is Becoming a How-to Manual

by | Jun 24, 2022 | Human Rights & Justice, Opinions

Activists in the US wearing the red cloaks imagined by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale. Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/AAP
Now that we have witnessed the demise of Roe v. Wade at the hands of a Trump-stacked Supreme Court, the story of The Handmaid's Tale begins to loom large again.

This article has been updated to reflect today’s destruction of women’s rights at the hands of an ultra conservative Supreme Court majority.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood describes a future United States as a country renamed Gilead. Gilead is a highly militarized and crushingly regulated society where the rights of women no longer exist. On the pretext of “falling birthrates” a series of laws are passed stripping women of their jobs, their bank accounts and their rights to any choices in their lives.

In Atwood’s disturbing future women are basically classified by their ability to give birth or not. Those that are “fertile” are made into handmaids. They exist to be assigned to a man as a forced surrogate for him and his infertile wife. And with great ceremony and religious claptrap, the handmaid is repeatedly raped until pregnant. Once the child is born it belongs to the wife and the handmaid is reassigned to another “family.”

If this sounds utterly insane that is because it is. It is also fiction. But apparently in the minds of some elements in right wing politics and ultra conservative factions it comes under the heading of, “You know, this sounds like a really good plan.”

Now that we have witnessed the demise of Roe v. Wade at the hands of a Trump-stacked Supreme Court, the story of The Handmaid’s Tale begins to loom large again.

The fantastically contradictory view of ultra conservative factions that all life is sacred and must be protected from the time of conception is belied by the fact that these same people oppose any exemptions to their opposition to abortion for rape or incest.

The most extreme example of this to date is the case all over the news right now from Ponchatoula, Louisiana. Back in 2005 a man named John Barnes offered a ride home to a teenage girl but instead took her to his home and raped her, and impregnated her. Five years later he managed to be granted joint custody of the child. But the case got weirder and more insane from there.

More recently when the child was a teenager and was given a cell phone by her mother, the rapist again returned to court and this time was awarded not only full custody but child support payments from the woman he raped. Coverage of this case is now going viral.

Government sanctioned rape and slavery are not the only parts of The Handmaid’s Tale that right wingers find attractive. The pesky problem of the religious hypocrisy currently in vogue is done away with completely with a government issued scripture. Congressman Ted Lieu’s twenty seconds of silence to describe everything Jesus had to say about homosexuality is a great example of right wing religious hypocrisy.

Reading books, including the Bible, is illegal in Atwood’s story of Gilead, taking a nod from Heinlein’s Fahrenheit 451. And in both these dystopian forays into the future undesirable books are burned—another practice favored today by the MAGA right.

Works of fiction are sometimes predictions or the kernels of future ideas and realities. They spur the imagination. That’s their job. Science fiction writers from the 30s and 40s were often scientists and physicists that were unemployed and found fiction writing as a way to put food on the table. Fast forward to now and we see some of their ideas as current reality in such things as SpaceX reusing rocket boosters.

But it is not only the creative imagination that can be spurred, but the imaginations of an insane minority. These are people who see all others around them as enemies to be conquered or oppressed. These nutcases ingratiate themselves into government circles. They seek to strike fear and hatred into the society to their own ends of control and oppression. For these people to win in their minds, everyone else has to lose.

A future as predicted by Margaret Atwood would be bleak indeed. And it is up to all of us to prevent it and call out and oppose all efforts to bring it about. We’ve got a lot of tools. Primaries are coming. But a big win for Republicans on November 8th moves the United States one step closer to Gilead. So vote accordingly.


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