BreakPoint: “The Handmaid’s Tale” Come True?

Just not in the Way Feminists Think

We’re being told that the new adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale” is “prophetic” and “timely.” And I agree, but just not in the way that feminists and leftists mean.

One of the most talked-about shows on television is “The Handmaid’s Tale.” This Hulu series, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name, has been called “timely” and “essential viewing for our fractured culture.”

Perhaps, but definitely not in the way that critics suppose.

The context of Atwood’s dystopian novel is the theocratic successor to the United States called the “Republic of Gilead.” Gilead is a kind of evangelical Saudi Arabia, where women are forbidden to read, and select women, the “handmaids” of the title, are given as concubines to high-ranking officials for purposes of breeding.

Now, when Atwood’s novel was published three decades ago, its conjuring of a theocratic United States was, to put it charitably, overwrought. And today, that idea is, to put it charitably once more, absurd.

The countries closest to this sort of treatment to women are clearly Islamic countries. American women today are in absolutely no danger of losing their freedoms, especially so-called “reproductive freedom.” Abortion may be, in some places, a bit inconvenient, but it’s still legal and widely available. Contraceptives have never been easier to obtain, and you can even get the so-called “morning after pill” without a prescription.

So to call “The Handmaid’s Tale” “essential viewing for our fractured culture,” only illustrates just how out of touch with reality a certain class of Americans has become.

Not to mention blind. In addition to the barbaric treatment of women in many Islamic countries, there’s another way that this series and the novel it’s based on are “timely,” but it’s the result of increased “reproductive freedom,” not its curtailment.

In fact, that timeliness was explained in an article in Britain’s left-wing magazine written by a feminist who goes by the pen name of “Glosswitch.”

The author, after taking note of all the invocations of Atwood’s novel following last November’s elections, writes, “There’s something about the current wallowing in Atwood’s vision that strikes me as, if not self-indulgent, then at the very least naive.”

She then cites a book published the same year as “The Handmaid’s Tale” which predicted that “Once embryo transfer technology is developed, the surrogate industry could look for breeders—not only in poverty-stricken parts of the United States, but in the Third World as well. There, perhaps, one tenth of the current fee could be paid to women.”

Unlike Atwood’s so-called “prophecy,” Glosswitch’s prophecy was the one that came to pass. “Today there are parts of the world in which renting the womb of a poor woman is indeed ten times cheaper than in the US. The choice of wealthy white couples to implant embryos in the bodies of brown women is seen . . . as a neutral consumer choice.”

Another name for this “consumer choice” is “surrogacy tourism.” In India, the number of women renting their wombs for affluent white foreigners was so high that the government enacted a law limiting the practice to Indian couples. All that did was open the “market” to other desperate Third World women.

“Glosswitch” wonders “why, if the fate of the fictional [handmaid] is so horrifying to western feminists today, the fate of real-life women in surrogacy hostels is causing so little outrage?”

The most likely reason, apart from self-centeredness, is that, in the West, freedom and “reproductive freedom,” which means complete control over one’s sexual choices and its consequences, are synonymous. To question any practice or technology, such as surrogacy or the in-vitro fertilization that facilitates this control, is to call our ideas about freedom and autonomy into question.

And protecting those ideas requires a willful blindness to the fact that, as the New Statesmen put it, parts of Atwood’s tale “have already come true—just not for white Western women.”

 

Further Reading and Information

“The Handmaid’s Tale” Come True?: Just not in the Way Feminists Think

For more information on the exploding surrogacy issues, in India and elsewhere, check out the resources linked below.

 

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Resources

Outsourcing pregnancy: a visit to India's surrogacy clinics
  • Julie Bindel | The Guardian | April 1, 2016
Can I Hire a Caucasian Egg Donor?
  • Sensible Surrogacy | July 3, 2014
Wombs on rent: Inside a surrogacy hostel in India
  • Seemi Pasha | Dailyo.in | September 22, 2016

Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • Robbert Yoshimaru

    Have already had online discussions over this. Ones that I’ve engaged tried to dismiss the economic situation of women who are forced to resort to renting out their wombs as, Still Doing it out of Choice. Therefore different from the novel. Totally stretching it.

  • Wm Dykhuizen

    Abortion is NOT a reproductive freedom and should not be included in that category.

  • gladys1071

    never say never. I have not watched the show, and I am sure it is over the top, but never underestimate the lengths fundamentalist Christians would go if they could have such power. Our reproductive freedoms should not be taken for granted and yes can be infringed or lost in the future if we are not vigilant to be aware of those that do want to take them away.

    I agree as American women we have reproductive freedom, but many pro-lifers out there even want to ban certain contraception, so yes the possibility of our freedoms being chipped away is there and is happening right now with trying to de-fund Planned parenthood.