How Much Longer Until We Are Living in Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

Whilst writing my most recent essay I found myself submerged in the world of Gilead that saw women’s autonomy and identity completely stripped under the new patriarchal government. After Trump’s election, sales of the novel skyrocketed and I see no reason why Alabama’s move to ban abortion will not prompt the same reaction.

News of this has swept across social media with many being shocked by what appears as a massive regression in women’s rights over their body. This comes after the emergence of the harrowing TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale in which we see these fears actualised in a very tangible way. However, whilst the news from across the pond is shocking, it isn’t half a world away for those living in the UK. Northern Ireland still has some of the strictest abortion laws in the EU.

Of course, this is a horrible law that women in the US (not just in the state of Alabama) are facing, and I don’t want to in anyway make the situation reductive, but we can see a slither of hope. Such a massive regression has resonated with women globally creating a sisterhood of women (mostly) joining together in the face of adversity. Let’s deal with these two aspects separately:

The Bad

There’s no way to minimise the subtext of such a bill having been passed. Taking away a woman’s right to her body sets us back years when women for decades have fought so hard for gender equality and access to reproductive rights. The fear now that it has become law is that women are vulnerable in situations where they fall pregnant as a consequence of rape/sexual abuse. The law change means they will have to live with a constant reminder of an unimaginable experience.

It’s clear that the law’s passing will not put an end to abortions; they will only end safe abortions. This is a sentiment that has been echoed by many and is a reminder of the dangerous kitchen table and back alley abortions many had to undergo in order to terminate pregnancies. Such procedures carry enormous risk but will likely become an option for many women. More women will follow the fate of Gerri Santoro, the woman whose dead body in 1964 became an image for pro-choice campaigners after it was found naked kneeling collapsed on the floor with a bloodied towel between her legs.

How many women will have to die unnecessarily in order for men to hear their suffering?

Such is the power of men. It isn’t men that will have their bodies affected. It isn’t men that are left with the baby. It isn’t men that will have to undergo a potential unsafe abortion that threatens the life of a woman. But it’s a man that is needed to create that baby. The image of the 25 men that voted to pass the bill has become a statement shared everywhere online. This hammered home the stupidity of men imposing laws affecting women – saying it out loud, it really doesn’t make sense.

The Good

If there is any solace, and I think there has to be some, it’s that this has created a sisterhood that transcends geography as women become part of the fourth-wave feminists that use the power of social media to make their voices heard. The same images and hashtags are recurring on different sites, demonstrating the power of the internet to not just raise awareness, but also to keep the conversation alive.

So long as women have a voice, the conversation surrounding women’s rights can never be silenced. The simple fact that women are uniting already proves how far feminism and women’s rights have come. However, this law is just one way in which we are knocked back and shows how far we still have to go.

It’s incredibly difficult to hear this news and not feel as though some parts of the world are slowly becoming more and more like Gilead, especially when states like Louisiana follow suit and add to the slow eradication of reproductive rights. With two seasons of the show already aired and a third coming soon, women have seen what extreme control over their bodies can be and it’s scary that aspects of Atwood’s novel are slowly becoming a reality. But to find some good in this, as we must, the image of the handmaids is one that many use in order to gain recognition for the cause women are fighting so hard for.

Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri and Georgia are massive contenders in making the world such a hopeless place. With every new person I talk to about these events I feel a sense of futility. One can only imagine how those living in those states feel. Yet as much as it angers me, I will continue to talk. That is what I encourage all women to do.

You may not live in the US or Northern Ireland. You may have no connection to these places at all. Yet, a collective sisterhood has been created online in the face of this adversity. That sisterhood must count for something. Use your voice so that in 20 years time fertile women aren’t clad in red cloaks with their only purpose being “two-legged wombs”.

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