The Handmaild’s Tale

By Margaret Atwood

Book cover: The Handmaid's TaleWarning: this is going to be a blatantly and quite politically biased post. As everyone, left- and right-leaning, has been saying, Tuesday is going to be quite a deciding factor for our country, and will take us in one of two very different directions. (I’m feeling a bit guilty myself for having moved my vote away from a key swing state this year.)

Early on in the campaigns, I was so taken aback by the backlash against Sandra Fluke and the willingness of conservative women to outrageously slut-shame other women with no awareness of how such language could eventually come back to bite them as well. In discussing this very fact, I read the below comment on Videogum, one of the blogs I read daily:

Has everyone read “The Handmaid’s Tale”? It’s a. GREAT, and b. set in a future America where a very repressive regime that is pretty shitty to women has taken over. There is a passing moment where the narrator talks about how a woman she knows used to be a great big televangelist who would always talk about how a woman’s place should be at home is turned into a chattel slave like every other lady once the new regime takes over, and how she seems mad that someone “took her at her word”.

After reading this comment, I thought perhaps The Handmaiden’s Tale could give me more insight into this kind of mindset.

This book is terrifying, far scarier than any horror story I could have picked for Halloween. My only comfort was that it seems unrealistic that such a drastic change could happen all within one generation. In the novel, the narrator went to college, got married, and had a daughter, all before she was restricted to being a “handmaiden,” a fertile woman supplied to couples unable to have children in order to surrogate for them by government orders, in her mid-30s. Although maybe Atwood’s point is that if you aren’t paying attention or participating in politics, it could run right over you before you even notice.

In addition to terrifying, though, the book is enthralling; I couldn’t put it down. I’d worried that it would be painful to read, but the narrator takes such a matter-of-fact tone that even the most stressful scenes had a comfortably numb tone that both made them easier to read and reflected the mental state one would have to be in to survive. I’d thought about ‘live-blogging’ my progress through it, but I devoured it in a matter of days, and then spent the next couple of weeks trying to write a post that encapsulates all of my feelings about it, which turns out to be impossible. Instead I’ve compiled a little game for you – it will be fun!

Here is a list of quotes, some from The Handmaid’s Tale and some from a variety of political leaders and pundits; can you tell the difference?

  1. “If you look at the Scriptures, I believe it’s clear that God has designed men to exercise authority in the home, in the church, in society, and in government.“
  2. “Our country might have been better off if it was still just men voting. There is nothing worse than a bunch of mean, hateful women. They are diabolical in how than can skewer a person.”
  3. “Money was the only measure of worth, for everyone, they got no respect as mothers. No wonder they were giving up on the whole business. This way they’re protected, they can fulfill their biological destinies in peace. With full support and encouragement.”
  4. “Nature demands variety, for men. It stands to reason, it’s part of the procreational strategy. It’s Nature’s plan. Women know that instinctively.”
  5. “The problem with women voting is that women have no capacity to understand how money is earned. They have a lot of ideas on how to spend it. And when they take these polls, it’s always more money on education, more money on child care, more money on day care.”
  6. “What we’re aiming for is a spirit of camaraderie among women. We must all pull together.”

Answers after the break.

  1. Bryan Fischer, radio talkshow host
  2. Janis Lane, president of the Central Mississippi Tea Party
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale
  5. Anne Coulter, political commentator and columnist
  6. The Handmaid’s Tale

The fictional quotes stand out as the more reasonable ones, don’t they?

Your Vote Counts

— Anna

3 comments on “The Handmaild’s Tale

  1. Rebecca says:

    Aargh! The only thing that makes those quotes distinct from each other is that the book quotes talk about women’s enfranchisement as something from the past and the modern commentators talk about it as something that should be in the past. I can’t even… aargh.

  2. Kinsey says:

    Wait–had you never read The Handmaid’s Tale before? How did you get a degree from the college we attended without doing, like, an interpretive dance based on it?

    • Anna says:

      Haha, I know, right? No idea! Although I think I read The Edible Woman, though I also can’t remember much about it, so I’m not totally sure. I will say this, though: The Handmaid’s Tale totally deserves its position as required feminist reading. I kind of wish I’d read it earlier, but I’m afraid that if I had read it in college, I would have been even more insufferably militant than I already was.

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