When I was in college, I read Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” If you haven’t heard of it, you’ve surely seen the posters and the Super Bowl trailer for the Hulu series starring Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men.” If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s set in a dystopian future where most women have become infertile. A religious group has taken over the government of the United States and keep the peace with the strictest of control. Women who are still fertile are given as handmaidens to wealthy men to bear children for them. Even creepier is that they conceive these children while lying on the laps of the wives, a la a certain passage in the Bible.
It happens because of a coup in the government by an extreme religious group who suspends the Constitution and start a theocracy. They take away the rights of women because their records are stored electronically. Freaked out yet? This book was written in 1985, and I read it in the ’90s. Even back then, when our government wasn’t banning immigrants and states weren’t trying to limit access to women’s health services, it was scary.
The thing that upset me the most was the description of how these women’s lives changed. How one day our heroine Offred is no longer allowed to have a credit card in her name and can only get things done with the help of her husband. Does this sound familiar as we watch our rights and access to health care being taken away? Doing things for women’s “own good” and to “protect them”? Does the fact that now Viagra will be covered by health insurance but birth control won’t seem like it fits right in here? What about a certain discussion by the woman likely to take over our country’s schools about how religion should play a part in the curriculum?
In the book, we also find a character called Serena Joy, the wife of a religious leader. Before the takeover, Serena preached about the “proper” place for women and how they should stay home and let men take care of them. She learns a bitter truth about what her actions have wrought. I imagine there are some voters who might be feeling something similar right now.
Today I read that “The Handmaid’s Tale” is on the bestseller list along with George Orwell’s equally dystopian novel “1984.” I encourage you to read these books. Sometimes seeing things in the guise of a story makes them hit home more than what’s happening in our real lives. We can scroll by that on Facebook or turn off the news. In a story, it’s all right there.
Takeovers always start with the loss of a few rights. Sometimes people don’t fight because whatever is being taken away seems like a small thing, but small things have a habit of getting bigger. So, pick up a copy and realize how easily we could be living in our own Brave New World.