I'm a costume designer, makeup artist, teacher, mom, knitter, baker, want-to-learn-how-to-do-it-all

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I'm a costume designer, makeup artist, teacher, mom, sewer, knitter, baker, want-to-learn-how-to-do-it-all, blogging, Costumed Beagle enthusiast. I am not always pleasant, although through intensive cupcake therapy I have learned not to throw knives at people anymore.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood

I cannot believe that I have not read this book.  I have heard of the title, but never about the book.
Set in a vague future, the United States has become Gilead, a totalitarian state ruled by some sort of fundamentalist Christians.  In the name of protecting women, their rights have been stripped away.  Reading of any kind is forbidden; even the names of the grocery shops are reduced to pictures to keep women from needing to read.  Women do not own property and cannot have money.  All are watched to make sure they do not deviate from the structure and those who do not are taken by the "Eyes" and are subjected to public hanging or sent to work camps.  Sound a little Orwellian?  Yes, but here the target is specifically women.
There is still a distinct class structure, however, and while there are women who are married to powerful men they aren't allowed out in public, but instead are protected at home.  There are also "Marthas" who serve as the working class to clean and serve the wealthy and the "Handmaids" who are merely bodies meant to produce babies.
For reason, in this world, there are few children; it seems that the chemicals and pollution have rendered many people infertile, as a result, the wealthier more politically connected are given "handmaids" one of many allusions to the bible where Rachel gives her handmaid to her husband to have a child.  In these households, an handmaid is assigned and is required to engage in a fertility ceremony with the hope that she will prove her worth (and ultimately save her own life) by conceiving a child with the husband.  It is disturbing.
Disturbing because the ideas that bother me the most in the story are only slightly exaggerated versions of religious and political discourse we hear all too frequently lately.  Women should stay home and have children, educating women is unnecessary because they do not need to pursue careers, men are the heads of the household--it is a feminists nightmare. What is most surprising about this particular aspect is that this book was written in 1985 not 2012.  In a year when women's health has been on the chopping block and the government, in the name of morality, has threatened almost every aspect of Women's health care, the book feels very current and the message is very clear...we have to be careful.  Even something as "good" as religion can chip away at the very rights our great-grandmother's fought hard to make certain we would have.  
I think we take our freedoms for granted, and while I am not advocating that all women stand up and march into the workforce if that is not their cup of tea, maybe we should assert our right to birth control and fair pay, because even if we don't need or want it we should have control over it.

This book won a ton of awards when it came out and was listed in the last decade as being on the American Library Association's top 100 list of most frequently challenged books (I think that's the new way to say banned...).  It was made into a film in 1990 with the screenplay by Harold Pinter and starring Natasha Richardson--I'm going to see if my library has it.

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