If you have seen women walking around in red robes and strange headgear that looks like an IKEA lamp shade inspired by a Puritan bonnet, don’t panic, it’s just the feminist left going bonkers over the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 SF novel “Handmaid’s Tale”. They even made an appearance protesting Donald Trump’s visit to Poland – I apologise for the Slavic cultural appropriation of American literature.
Like the proverbial fascism that always descends on America but always lands in Europe, Atwood’s patriarchal dystopia remains constantly relevant to Western progressives, except in the countries where actually it’s close to reality.
A society where women have to wear distinctive robes, can’t read, can’t control money, can’t work outside the house, and are effectively considered breeding machines? You are likely a leftie if you answered “modern America” instead of “Saudi Arabia”.
But everything is always about us. “Handmaid’s Tale” was after all published during the Dark Ages known as the Reagan Presidency. As Atwood later commented, “I didn’t put in anything that we haven’t already done, we’re not already doing, we’re seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress… So all of those things are real, and therefore the amount of pure invention is close to nil.” This must have come as a surprise to all those hundreds of millions of women throughout the Western world, who somehow survived the 1980s without wearing too much red and being enslaved by a militarised patriarchy.
Fear not though, if you somehow blinked and missed suffering through a Christian theocracy around the time that Chris de Burgh was crooning (unrelatedly) “Lady in Red”; now’s your chance to be a part of the Mayday resistance:
When asked directly how it feels ‘knowing America is basically on the road to becoming Gilead’, [Atwood] didn’t parse words.
‘I cannot tell you how strange this feels,’ she said. ‘I wrote the book hoping to fend it off, and I believe it will be fended off: America is very diverse, a lot of people have been jolted out of political slumber and are paying attention, and the Constitution still stands.’
She then added a piece of personal advice, saying: ‘Support your leaders who are standing against unconstitutional laws; keep informed, as best as possible. Everything is “as best as possible” right now.’
Atwood also noted that the world in her books ‘is closer now’ than it was when the first on-screen adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale was made in 1990.
‘Then, many people were saying “It can’t happen here.” Now, not so much…’ the author said.
This is even better than spitting on the graves of the hundreds of thousands of brave people who fought Hitler, by calling yourself “Resistance” and rallying against imaginary fascists, because it gives your otherwise pampered First World life some frisson and greater meaning, even if that meaning is fake. Now you can actually dress up as a fictional character from a TV series based on a science-fiction novel, and pretending the struggle is real – it’s like “Star Trek” for radical feminists. All the while marching shoulder to shoulder with Linda Sarsour, who actually advocates Saudi-style Sharia, which makes for the closest thing to a real-life “Handmaid’s Tale” society anywhere in the world today. Except they all dress in black.
To be fair to Atwood, as the creator of the story, she knows there is more to it than thinly-fictionalised Reagan or Trump presidency. As she wrote earlier this year, “So many different strands fed into “The Handmaid’s Tale” — group executions, sumptuary laws, book burnings, the Lebensborn program of the SS and the child-stealing of the Argentine generals, the history of slavery, the history of American polygamy . . . the list is long.” Puritans and Mormons, Iran and Afghanistan, Nicolae Ceausescu and Pol Pot. The list is indeed long – if only the book’s and the series’ fans have not tried to so desperately narrow it down. But at least it makes a change from using “Harry Potter” to death to score political points. And it’s good news: if people are able to read two different books, maybe one day they will read three or four.