The Handmaid's Tale: How women are using Margaret Atwood's novel to protest anti-abortion laws

Atwood's novel paints a future US society in which women are denigrated and exploited for their fertility, treated as nothing more than servants or breeders 

Clarisse Loughrey@clarisselou
Tuesday 21 March 2017 10:28

We've come to a moment in history in which the power of literature has never felt more palpable.

Particularly, rather terrifyingly, as we look to its dystopian futures; warnings of a world we can never allow to rise up into existence, though at times, these days, its reality seems far too close to comfort.

George Orwell's iconic novel 1984 became a bestseller anew when Donald Trump's adviser Kellyanne Conway used the term "alternative facts" during a CNN interview, a phrase which had dangerously close associations with the book's use of "newspeak" as a tool of suppression.

Women have also found new relevance in Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale, which itself returned to the bestseller list; a resurgence fuelled both by Hulu's upcoming adaptation, and its parallels to Trump's misogynistic political agenda.

The book sets itself in the fictional Republic of Gilead, an authoritarian theocracy which comes to power in the US. Women here are treated as nothing more than wives, servants, or breeders, referred to as "handmaids"; with Offred being one of these women denigrated and exploited for her fertility in ongoing efforts to repopulate the country, though she still fights for her freedom and for the husband and child snatched away from her.

A woman's fight for the ownership of her own body has obvious modern parallels, picked up by those protesting several pieces of anti-choice legislation considered by the Texas Senate on Monday; Senate Bill 415, which would ban the safe and common procedure used for second trimester abortions, and SB 25, which would essentially allow doctors to lie to pregnant women if they detected a fetal anomaly but were concerned the parents may opt for abortion.

The Huffington Post reports activists arrived to the Senate chambers to protest both bills, dressed in full red robes and white bonnets as an homage to the "handmaids" of Atwood's novel; though it's a question as to whether any of those attempting to push the anti-choice legislation would be well-read enough to understand the reference.

Regrettably, SB 415 passed and will now head to the House while SB 25 will likely head for a final vote on the floor this week, but these activists still delivered a powerful silent message on the future we must fight against.