Image Credits: EVY MAGES

One of the most common refrains on the left that living under the Trump administration in America is akin to living in the Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. You’ve probably seen the protestors dressed in long red costumes every time Pence or Trump talks about defunding Planned Parenthood, restricting access to abortion, traditional values, et cetera. Now that there’s a Hulu TV show based on the book and the long-awaited sequel/companion, The Testaments, has been published, there’s some renewed fervor. 

But…is the Trump administration really like the Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of Offred, a woman whose only role in Gilead is to bear the child of her Commander, a higher-up in Gilead whose wife is unable to conceive. At some point before the conception of Gilead, birth rates and fertility (especially for Caucasians, the book notes) were down. This is due to a combination of pollutants, birth control, and other breakdowns. Offred, meaning “Of Fred” her commander,  was ripped away from her husband, Luke, for being his second wife, and their daughter was taken away. She was sent to the Red Center where she was indoctrinated into the ways of Gilead. In Gilead, women can’t read, they are subservient, and traitors are either killed, displayed on the Wall, or shipped off to “The Colonies” where they inevitably die from picking up toxic waste. The focus is on procreation in a way that will “continue” Gilead, but things are more difficult for the woman living there–who must be careful at every turn. 

Offred’s story is a compelling one. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do, but I have a hard time saying that the Trump administration is out here recreating it word for word, because there are some components that just don’t line up. 

Abortion

The main comparison that people make to the Handmaid’s Tale is the bodily autonomy, or lack thereof, for women. Handmaid’s like Offred are kept as potential incubators. They are forced to have sex with their Commander routinely in order to conceive, but not for pleasure. “Unwomen” or women unable to conceive or interested in the same gender, have a bad fate. Sexual promiscuity is also not allowed for the handmaids.  Because fertility is so prized, of course birth control and abortion are taboo, outlawed, and outright blamed for the lack of fertility at some points. On this point, I can understand why protestors might tie this to abortion limitations, although it’s a little hyperbolic. It’s one thing to limit abortion. It’s another to allocate fertile women to high ranking men for routine rape that will result in offspring. That’s simply not happening in the United States. 

Reading & women’s rights

In Gilead, women are not allowed to read. Magazines are destroyed, books are burned, it’s a real dystopia in and of itself. Is that happening under Trump? Nope. I’m here, I’m a woman, and I’m reading voraciously. No, the administration isn’t burning books in the street. Also, in Gilead, women are not allowed to do anything that doesn’t fall into line with the mission of the state. Therefore, all the women in Trump’s cabinet, his own daughter working, and the allowance of women to continue to go to (and run!) colleges, shows this isn’t the best argument. 

Guns

While the Left loves to focus on the sexual aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale, something they overlook is their own attempts to recreate the book. In The Handmaid’s Tale the only individuals allowed to possess guns are the military guards. No civilians, no women, etc. Not for protection, not for safety, not for rising up against an oppressive regime. Sound familiar, Beto? 

So, while I understand why pro-abortion advocates don their red gowns whenever someone threatens to take away abortion or birth control funding, I don’t think it’s the best comparison. Sure, it’s dramatic and gets attention, but at the end of the day, you’re missing out on so much more of the book. It’s not just about the handmaids. It’s about the governmental coup, the assassinations that created this state, the uncomfortable level of disruption, and the way we do and do not remember. I, for one, am looking forward to the next dystopian novel we can all pretend our society is becoming, because while The Handmaid’s Tale is a good book, it’s just not happening here in real time. 

Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member