The Handmaid’s Tale: Conservative’s Dream, Feminist’s Horror

Note: If you haven’t watched The Handmaid’s Tale (SBS On Demand), and plan to, this post does not include spoilers. I will give a vague idea about what the series is about, but it won’t give the plot away.

The Handmaid’s Tale mesmerised and repulsed me in equal measure. Yes, it is fiction. I get that. But art reflects life, and the life this series reflects is a little too apparent in the attitude of many powerful people in our society to make me rest completely easy in ‘that could never happen to us’ fiction watching comfort. So, what have I learned about Conservative ideology from the fictional dystopia of the Republic of Gilead? Read on to share my horror.

The rights of women are hard fought and women should be proud of how far we’ve come. But, we have a long way to go, and we should never rest on our laurels to assume our rights cannot be un-done. Mike Pence, one impeachment away from the Presidency of the United States is a staunch anti-abortionist. President Trump won the presidency after a lifetime of misogynistic, sexually lewd and disrespectful behaviour towards women. A president who owned beauty pageants, who says he would date his daughter if she wasn’t his relation, who boasts about grabbing women on the pussy and forcing himself on them, and who thinks a compliment to France’s First Lady is to tell her she’s in ‘good shape’, is the same man now removing women’s rights to maternity care from health insurance.

These are two men with power over the lives of women. They were elected by both men and women who at least disregarded their attitudes towards women, and at most support these attitudes. And don’t for a moment think those men are over there in the US, and not here in Australia. Case in point: Tony Abbott. And Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull has continued Abbott’s legacy of disregarding the needs of women and undermining women’s rights in a myriad of seemingly small but individually devastating ways, such as through cutting funding to women’s domestic violence shelters and trying but thankfully so far failing to cut maternity leave pay.

The men who vote for, and cheerlead for these politicians are the same types of men who troll the internet for hours every day, writing abuse on Clementine Ford’s Facebook page, and supporting the army of conservative commentators who bully women who have opinions, such as Yassmin Abdel-Magied. These men, their ‘shock-jock’ idols, and their political heroes, would relish the opportunity to live in Gilead, where women aren’t allowed to read, own property, work or choose their clothes. The women of this fictional land, reduced to homemakers and childrearers, are meant to appreciate their freedom from the demands of modern society, allowing them to fulfil their ‘biological destiny’ as baby-makers. Yuck!

Why would these men relish such a world? Why would men, who campaigned to ‘lock Hillary up’ willingly take society back to the dark ages if it meant putting women back in their place, below men on the pecking order of moral authority, back in the kitchen, out of the workplace, away from decision-making, to be heard only when spoken to? There are obviously many theories about this, but the one I subscribe to is fairly simple: these men have weak characters and a low opinion of their own abilities. They don’t want to compete against women – for jobs, for respect, in an argument, in life – so the quicker women get out of their way, the better. And of course, if these same men can ensure there’s a woman slave waiting for them when they get home from work, dinner on the table, children looked after, house clean, cold beer in the fridge, well, that’s their ultimate fantasy come true.

Women like me, who dare have careers and raise children, who write political blogs, who have opinions and challenge patriarchal views, we would be hung-drawn-and-quartered in Gilead. Unless of course they needed our fertility; then we’d be raped monthly as surrogates, with the baby ripped from our arms in the birthing suite. It sounds extreme, but look how quickly men go to rape threats when challenged in online forums. Look at the way many men and women in Australia responded to our first female Prime Minister, subjecting Gillard to a barrage of misogynistic abuse, burning her at the rhetorical stake, campaigning to ‘ditch the witch’.

Watching The Handmaid’s Tale felt like a preview of what is at the end of a very slippery slope. And when you realise how many Conservative forces are pushing our society towards the slope, it is a confronting, and motivating force. We must push back. Women’s rights need to be constantly defended and aggressively fought for. The Conservatives know what they want. The Handmaid’s Tale should scare anyone against that vision to make sure we don’t proceed any way down the slope towards it.

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8 Comments on “The Handmaid’s Tale: Conservative’s Dream, Feminist’s Horror”

  1. Yes. Margaret Atwood doesn’t write fantasy but rather speculative novels, where the question is ‘simply, What if we continue down the road we’re already on? How slippery is the slope? What are our saving graces? Who’s got the will to stop us?’

  2. Mal says:

    Well written Victoria. My comment is this. I am 84 years of age and I was taught to respect women. Ladies first, Open the door for the lady, Treat women as equals, Never forget they brought you into this world, Dont listen to lewd jokes about women, Try to help in the house work and looking after the children, Tell the children that their mother is the greatest. I could go on forever but you get the picture.

    • Wam says:

      How were you taught women are equal? At school women believed they were no good at maths, had cricket bats as wide as the stumps awomen who were big and strong enough to do all the men’s jobs through the war were back on their backs, as the weaker sex. Once again having doors opened for them by a patronising society. The preists were forcing women to stay in marriages and who were regularly raped and beaten by drunken war torn men. Even now stupid men say ‘you’re in good shape!’
      However no sexist racist ignorant man can be elected without the votes of women, blacks, asians and

  3. Mal I am a little your junior however I was taught likewise and I still live by those principles and I am proud to be a new age sensitive bloke as well, bugger the yanks and what they are trying to shove down our throats I’m an Aussie and I will die a proud Aussie.

  4. Anonymous says:

    What really confuses me are the women who actually vote for and support male politicians such as Pence, Trump, Abbott, Christiansen, et al …. what do they have against their own sex?

  5. DGGYST says:

    I can’t watch the Handmaid’s tale too often, I end up yelling at random men on the street “WE”RE PEOPLE” and then I feel embarrassed…

  6. Wam says:

    Try the handmaiden(korea) a more sensible story of the future of women power.


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