Don’t Waste Time: The Handmaid’s Tale’s Easy Authoritarianism

handmaids, authoritarianism
Check out this photo of women in Texas surrounded by men with guns, and you tell me the likeness to elements of episode 3 isn’t eerie. Property of The Advocate, http://bit.ly/2pDVc5a

I’d avoided watching episode 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale for a while because I knew what it contained: visual depiction of how easily the revolution established authoritarianism in what became Gilead. Having read the book, I knew this part was coming, but watching it during these particular weeks felt that much more ominous than when I read it for the first time, twelve or so years ago.

In case you don’t know the story, here’s how it goes. There’s an attack on Congress, leaving few alive. It’s labeled a terrorist attack, and people step into the vacuum and establish martial law “for the duration” (in quotes because it’s a pretty quintessential thing to say in times of war). The constitution is suspended, allegedly temporarily. And before long, as adherents to the coming revolution multiply, surfacing here and there (in episode three there’s an aggressive guy in a coffee shop visited by June and Moira), the executive orders also multiply, and no one’s protesting in large numbers in the streets until it’s too late. The show does a good job of showing isolated adherents and protestors in the flashbacks to the earliest stages of the revolution; mass protests don’t even quite erupt when the government declares women working illegal and they’re all summarily fired. It’s when women lose access to their money—all electronic, like ours often is—that people take to the streets. By then there are men with machine guns everywhere, and they’re not afraid to use it to make their revolution more permanent.

Anyway.

Margaret Atwood once said there was nothing in the book that hadn’t already happened in our world, and I’ll be damned if 45’s America isn’t giving her additional fodder for a sequel. I’m a bit dramatic, I realize, but let’s be honest—there’s only so much separating one coup from another, one dictatorship from a different one. We were out in the streets for the first several executive orders, but where have we been lately? As EOs come down limiting LGBTQ rights in the name of “religious liberty,” where are we? And last week’s health care bill, which deliberately and carefully (or, alternately, stupidly and unthinkingly—I’m not sure which is worse) placed women in second-class citizenship for being women, making their health care easily more expensive?

As I’ve said to students time and again, why do we call things like reproductive care “women’s issues,” whereas we’re all supposed to be concerned about, say, prostate cancer? Why aren’t “women’s issues” everyone’s issues, which would foster a more egalitarian health and social system?

I’ll tell you why. Because once we do that, we can’t charge women more if they’ve been raped, or if they’ve carried a baby to term, while also defunding Planned Parenthood—which gives women wide access to contraceptive care, cancer screening, and abortion services. As a bill, the AHCA condemns women for existing: all stages of our life are now more expensive. And we’re paid less in the process.

Where are the people in the streets? We cannot make the same mistake as the women who became Handmaids. We cannot assume—as our dear leader fires those investigating him and people like Paul Ryan, who would rather institute Atlas Shrugged than stand up for his country, support him—that the country’s systems are going to save us. We cannot just be Twitter warriors. It’s important that we come out for major, planned marches, but we also need to be out there ALL THE FUCKING TIME. I say this as I’m firmly ensconced in my office, typing away, drinking a cup of cold coffee. I realize my hypocrisy.

But I’ll never be a fucking Handmaid, and neither should you.

If you want to protest in real style, you can knock out these easy tutorials for a cape and a bonnet and join others out there in Handmaid gear (note how that article is in HuffPo’s ‘Women’ section and scroll back up to ‘women’s issues’ in this post).


Here’s a cloak tutorial. It calls for fleece but you could likely make it out of shirting or other red fabric. https://www.fleecefun.com/long-hooded-cloak-pattern-free.html

And here’s a bonnet tutorial. To make it look closer to those on the show, you’d skip the trim and the chin strap, get rid of a little of the bulk in the back, and consequently have fewer pleats. http://www.sunsetfamilyliving.com/pioneer-bonnet/

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