With disturbing prescience Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid’s Tale in 1986, a novel of speculative fiction of an authoritarian reproductive dystopia. The story closely follows the current enslavement of a young woman of requisite reproductive capacity with flashbacks to a not distant free past. Contemporary themes of repression, objectification and control resonate throughout.
Krysia cited this research:
Most people don’t want to read about a book before they actually read it, but with this one, I wish I had. It was an uncomfortable and disturbing read.
Margaret Atwood had a fascination with dictatorships and how they functioned as well as an interest in dystopian literature.
The defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, the rise of the religious right, the election of Ronald Reagan, and many sorts of backlash (mostly hugely misinformed) against the women’s movement led writers like Atwood to fear that the antifeminist tide could not only prevent further gains for women, but turn back the clock.
Feminists took many different lines on pornography and advertising demeaning women. Some said that the portrayal of women sexually and erotically should be completely censored, and at the other end of the spectrum that censorship resulted in loss of freedom and therefore dangerous.
The sub-theme of this tangled debate which seems to have particularly interested and alarmed Atwood is the tendency of some feminist anti-porn groups to ally themselves with religious anti-porn zealots who opposed the feminists on almost every other issue. The language of “protection of women” could slip from a demand for more freedom into a retreat from freedom, to a kind of neo-Victorianism.
Contemporary Islamic women sometimes argue that assuming the veil and all-enveloping clothing protects them from sexual harassment and sexual objectification.
In the Old Testament, Hebrew, it was considered legal for a husband to procreate with his servant, if his wife was infertile, and during the birth the wife would embrace the servant to show that she had a right to the child.
Margaret added these insights:
The Secret Services took the eye from the one dollar bill as their logo and then Homeland Security used it.
Between 76-83 in Argentina the generals took the children from dissidents. 3000 people disappeared
In Basra 45% of pregnancies end in miscarriages and 50% of children are born with birth defects due to the lead, mercury and white phosphorous shells.
Liz added that on second reading many ideas came to the fore.
Anne, who also brought wonderful fresh milled olive oil, mentioned closed societies and children with genetic defects and an overall mistrust of governing bodies.
The next meeting will be held on December 12, graciously hosted by Liz at Palazzo Salvi. We will be discussing Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World.
The title chosen for the January meeting is The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, date and venue to follow.
Thank you to everyone who participated and we look very forward to seeing you in December. – more from the Barga Book Club here