Editor’s Note: SPOILER WARNING.
I was unfamiliar with The Handmaid’s Tale until the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.
Americans tend to live in separate realities these days. We don’t watch the same television shows as radical progressives. I first became aware of the show and the novel it was based on when Lacy MacAuley, a prominent DC based Antifa activist who has clashed with us for years, showed up at the Kavanaugh hearings dressed like a handmaid. I thought to myself this must be what it is like for a feminist to go to hell and made a mental note of it and didn’t think much more about it in the Trump years.
After the news broke in May that the Supreme Court was going to strike down Roe v. Wade, there was a big surge in chatter among progressives about how America was becoming Gilead. Feminists resumed LARPing as handmaids. Margaret Atwood, the author of the novel and creator of the Hulu show, wrote a big article in The Atlantic about how the Supreme Court was making Gilead a reality.
Naturally, I decided to play along with it and poke fun at the rising hysteria. The only constitutional right that was being taken away was the right of women to murder their own children. The reality of the situation was that abortion was only going to become illegal in a dozen or so states while being restricted in a dozen or so others. Abortion was probably going to become more accessible in Blue States. Most abortions don’t require surgery these days and abortion pills are already available and the supply of them would likely find some way to meet demand. The likely impact of the Dobbs decision on the actual number of abortions taking place in Red States was being exaggerated for political reasons.
From my perspective, the only thing that the Dobbs decision really accomplished was sanding off the roughest edges of Roe. Abortion could now be banned and regulated in states where it was always unpopular. We have states where marijuana has been legalized. We have states with different tax codes and regulatory environments. There were vast differences between the states in COVID restrictions. There are differences between the states in gun laws. A mature person would look at this as just another difference between the states, shrug his shoulders and concede that the people of the states should be allowed to govern themselves. We live in a federal republic which has always been too vast and too culturally diverse for top down decisions in Washington that try to settle polarizing cultural issues.
Liberals are incapable of looking at it this way. Every minor setback for the progressive agenda is a catastrophe. Every state in the country has to be remade by force in their image. Every country on earth has to become more like them. They have to control everything. Alabama has to have the same laws as Massachusetts. Self government is a threat to their authority. Progressives have a divine right to embed their values in the Constitution. We are here to follow their orders and adjust ourselves to their cultural preferences. They can’t sleep at night knowing there is any deviation anywhere from their norms.
America is becoming Gilead in exactly the same sense that Georgia is a “Jim Eagle” state where “Jim Crow on steroids” is practiced. This sort of overblown, hyperbolic language has become the norm among progressives. We are told by earnest progressives that Donald Trump is a “fascist.” The MAGA movement is nothing less than “fascism.” The term “white supremacy” is routinely used to describe the silliest things. There is hardly a day that goes by when we aren’t told that “democracy” is being murdered by the Right. The Dobbs decision, which returned abortion to the states, is the death knell of “democracy.” None of this is true, but this is earnestly felt by millions of deluded people who see the world this way.
LOL yeah, we’re literally living in Gilead now.
We shouldn’t underestimate the power of mass delusions though.
The War Between the States was caused by a mass delusion. After the Dred Scott decision which killed the Missouri Compromise, millions of Northerners became convinced that Southerners were going to successfully establish plantation slavery in the arid Western territories and joined the Republican Party to counter this nonexistent threat. The Cotton Kingdom would one day stretch from Alabama to Kansas to Montana. The Slave Power would eventually establish plantation slavery in the North too.
Fiction played a major role in fueling this mass delusion. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best selling novel of the 19th century. It created an enduring image of Southern slavery in the North where people had no contact with slavery as it actually existed. Southern masters didn’t take morbid pleasure in relentlessly whipping their slaves. The average slaveowner in the South was a middle class family that owned a few slaves. Some of the biggest planters were also Unionists.
There are some interesting parallels between Dobbs and Dred Scott and Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Handmaid’s Tale.
- Both Dobbs and Dred Scott have been loudly denounced by people who say the Supreme Court is an illegitimate institution
- The issue of the abstract constitutional right of a Southern slave owner to bring a slave into the Western territories was wildly inflated beyond what should have been its true importance. The issue itself was less important than the polarization it generated. If the country had rolled its eyes, slavery would have never become entrenched in the Great Plains and Southwest anyway.
- Both Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Handmaid’s Tale are about slavery. Margaret Atwood has explicitly compared pregnancy to slavery. In the latter, fertile women are the sex slaves of the powerful men who run Gilead and are treated like livestock. Cattle prods are used instead of whips.
- There is an Underground Railroad of handmaids who escape from their masters to flee to Canada
- There are women who are like Uncle Toms who betray their sex
- Both Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Handmaid’s Tale are degradation porn
I watched the show in the expectation that it would be give me some insight into the fevered imagination of a delusional feminist who is crazy enough to believe that pregnancy is like slavery. I wasn’t disappointed. The show is pretty much exactly what I expected it to be.
June Osborne, a college educated Millennial White woman from Massachusetts, is the main protagonist of the show. The show opens with June and her black husband and their mixed race child crashing their car and fleeing on foot toward the Canadian border. June is captured and wakes up in Gilead.
The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the aftermath of Civil War 2 and the Day of the Rope in which traditionalist forces have emerged victorious and established control over the majority of the former United States. The Constitution has been suspended. Homosexuals and other “gender traitors” have been strung up and hung from lampposts. Catholic churches are being demolished. There are mass book burnings. There is a wall which is decorated with the bodies of traitors and various enemies of the new order.
The underlying cause of this is a severe fertility crisis caused by environmental damage from nuclear fallout or chemicals used in industrial agriculture – the cause of the Apocalypse isn’t exactly clear – which has made it nearly impossible for humans to reproduce. The few fertile women who are left are therefore a prized possession who the new elites seize for themselves. A fundamentalist group called the Sons of Jacob has bombed Congress and the White House and has somehow overthrown the government to restore “traditional values” and organic farming. The people in the show go around muttering religious phrases like “Under His Eye” and “Blessed be the Fruit,” but it appears no one goes to church.
Gilead, of course, is a totalitarian police state which is only held together by heavily armed men with guns and relentless surveillance. There is zero social capital. The underlying premise of the show is that social liberalism is so great for women that no one could ever prefer to live in a traditionalist social order rather than under a liberal modernist one. The elites are cruel perverts and hypocrites. Handmaids are raped by their largely sterile masters with their wives present in a pointless religious ritual called “The Ceremony.” There is a hierarchy of women with the Wives on top followed by Aunts and Marthas and Handmaids. Jezebels are infertile women who serve as prostitutes. Handmaids are assigned and reassigned to the Commanders who are their masters. In this way, June becomes Offred which is short for “Of Fred” Waterford and goes on to join The Resistance which is a group called Mayday.
As with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Handmaid’s Tale says more about the author and her perspective and the audience and their values than the caricature of a traditionalist social order that is Gilead. There are lots of steamy sex scenes, but no one reads the Bible or goes to church. Women are separated from their husbands. The handmaids who are capable of having children are feminists or lesbians or sluts. It is taken for granted that men are predators and female selfishness and self-actualization is the highest good. Insofar as the West is being plunged into a real crisis caused by aging populations and depopulation, it is almost entirely due to modernist values and putting the Self up on its current pedestal.
When the end of the current degenerate era comes that Atwood fears, the correction won’t be nearly so dramatic. These degenerate periods wax and wane across history. They usually follow in the wake of devastating wars. A culture which values purity like the Victorian era can be followed by one that prizes debauchery like the Modern era and vice versa. The circumstances which led to our present era, which launched liberalism into orbit after World War II, are fading from view. The culture is turning away from feminism like a battleship correcting its course. It has grown stale.
I’m not sure if I will continue watching the show. I think I have already seen the gist of it and where it is going. It is not anything like Alabama in the post-Roe era. The people who are stupid enough to believe this need to get off Twitter, go outside, take a breath of fresh air and come back to earth before it is too late.