Is the Handmaid’s Tale A Prediction?

Women’s March, New York City

In The Handmaid’s Tale Americans — and women especially — were gradually stripped of their rights, with little protest.

A small march here or there.

Is “The Handmaid’s Tale” a prediction?

Author Margaret Atwood is commonly asked that question.

Not exactly.

Let’s say it’s an antiprediction: If this future can be described in detail, maybe it won’t happen.

With that in mind I have been heartened to witness and participate in the marches and town halls that have energized the American people since Trump’s election. Beginning the day after his election… roaring the day after the inauguration… and continuing in town halls everywhere.

As New York Magazine describes it,

In 1913, 8,000 women marched on Washington the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration to demand the vote; in 1970, 20,000 women took to the streets to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. On January 21, somewhere between 3.2 and 5.2 million people participated in women’s marches in states and cities around the country.

Women’s March, San Jose, California

That’s not an increase simply in line with population growth; proportionally, nearly 50 times more Americans demonstrated on behalf of women in January (2017) than did in 1970.

We are having an effect.

Yes, election day was a wake up call.

Hoping for better vision in 2020.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on May 12, 2017, in politics/class inequality, reproductive rights, sexism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I remember reading The Handmaid’s Tale my senior year of high school and thinking it was the most absurd book. I went to an all-girls school and was constantly surrounded by strong intelligent women and at the time I was naively under the impression that this was the way the world worked. A few months later with a little more exposure to the world and a devastating 2017 election, I realized the book I believed to be pure science fiction was becoming more of a reality every day. My thoughts were further confirmed when I saw an SNL skit called “The Handmaid’s Tale” which centers around an interaction between some handmaid’s and some very modern men. It showed how women are living an oppressed life and the men are completely oblivious to just how bad the new reality is for women. Although it was an amusing skit it was eerily similar to interactions women are having even now when discussing sexism.

    • I first read this book in the 1990s and couldn’t relate to it. But now it seems terrifying. Especially when I see how it is all based on factual things that have actually happened.

  2. I have read Margaret Atwood’s novel and seen the first season of its adaptation on Hulu. While I don’t think it is a prediction, I do think it speaks volumes about how people in society interact with each other. The basis for the book is that somehow, there was a movement and an overthrow of our government, and what we were left with was a society where there were striations of subservient women in society, but men were ultimately in control, dominant and superior. Could it happen? Yes. Will it happen? Maybe, not yet. Not in our lifetimes. But, it is not inconceivable.
    The women’s march was encouraging. I took my 13-year old daughter and sobbed most of the day. Finally, I thought, a movement for equality that looks to be supported by women around the world. Everyone wants this – right? I mean, we are a modern, global society? Then more Trump. Then a second white, male supreme court nominee. The assault on everything that seems good and decent. It is overwhelming. All the energy that was in the march seems to have been sucked away by the daily trauma that is inflicted on us. The continued fight is draining, and people have again become distracted.
    The march was fantastic, wonderful and empowering. The true test will come when people go to the polls and vote. We have the majority, but people become complacent. There are women who are suffering in the southern and Midwest states, where legal abortions are difficult to obtain. State governments are constantly trying to erode Roe V. Wade. There are 18 states where it is legal to marry off a young girl of any age with parental consent. Why aren’t we all fighting for our sisters? Why do we only care about ourselves and our position?
    It reminds me of the poem by Martin Niemoller, “First they came…”
    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a socialist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
    Again, is the Handmaid’s Tale a prediction? Quite possibly, yes. We can fight it, but only if we continue to come together, like we did at the march, and stand up for each other.

  3. I haven’t had the opportunity to read Atwood’s novel yet, so this is what I know from Hulu’s adaptation.
    I’ve also had conversations with people about the show, and many of them describe it as a “predicted” dystopian future. Which, if it ever turns out to be, is definitely a terrifying prospect.
    I was, and frankly still am, terrified following the past presidential election. Not just as an American citizen, but also as a woman. I have witnessed our current president and his views of women. It’s hard not to make the connection while watching the show.
    But there are so many connections one could make between the views of the current administration and The Handmaid’s Tale. Our reproductive rights are in jeopardy, and the separation between church and state is starting to crumble. These are the two of the main issues in Atwood’s work, and it is no surprise people are worried that some aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale will become reality.

    • I had never read the book until the George W. Bush administration. He was a Republican, but the novel didn’t scare me then. It does now. That said, I didn’t realize that the Bush administration was trying to take away women’s access to birth control. I didn’t learn about that until later. In addition, Trump has an authoritarian streak and affinity for dictators that heightens my fear.

      Hopefully stories like this one will ensure we don’t become complacent, And fight back.

  4. No one can claim to speak of the future, it is as of right now non-existent. What we can do is plan the future. Planning something means finding out what is most likely going to take place at a certain time and place. This is what we call statistics. Important to take in mind is that, we can plan something as much as we please but even then it will never go as planned. It can play out very similarly to what you had planned but never as planned. Unless you synthetically fix all the variables to play out as you please. This is the scientific method. That’s a completely irrelevant to us because we live in the real world where all the variables will never be able to be controlled.
    This is debatable of course. Today human’s have the capabilities to control some of the most important and yet most devastating variables that have tremendous affects on the human population. We tell people what they should eat, we sell people the food that is most profitable from. We control where people are located and then we control what people are aware of on big terms such as political and economical topics of discussion. I am not claiming that all people are not informed but these people are located on a geographical standpoints where they are completely excluded from society or completely intertwined within it that they have no need to believe that it is necessary to change the status quo because this is all we have or that the after effects could be worse than what we have now.
    This is where it gets ugly because politically and economically speaking those in charge are always or attempt to be a step ahead, for safety reasons. In politics especially, everything is done with a reason. The reason being the reaction. This is where the population needs to think very concisely about what they are being told and what they are being fed and how this might affect them. Important to take in mind, life itself has the possibility of being random and it can be changed for the better. This is true because it means human’s have the ability to chose. The only reason this is not true as of right now is because those in power have taken certain variables out of our hands and into their bank account which they use as a form of profit for themselves and control over the population. They control us through what we think/know(the effect of this reality depends on how much you are educated yourself) and what we eat(This has it’s biggest effect on those who buy what is affordable).We no longer get to chose. I am saying this because the book itself is a prediction or it attempt to be and people need to be aware that assumptions/predictions can take place when variables are controlled and today we have the ability to control variables. Am I saying this is what is going to take place, of course not. Remember nobody can speak of the future, it is non-existent. The one truth to statistics is that we do get an answer, is it the answer? No, because there are many answers, but the answer we do get is what is more than likely going to take place more than once. That is what it means for something to be probable. Saying this I do believe the book has some grain of truth. I also believe people are becoming much more rebellious and educated and that we will resist against those who want to take power over our lives for their own benefit. I also understand that people tend to look for safety when chaos is taking place over their lives, and this is where it gets messy once again.
    Politics. From what I read on this blog post and from what I am seeing take place today, I do not think we are far from the possibility of having our “freedoms” stripped away or at least an attempt to do so in a call for “safety.” I also agree that protesting does not do much but it does do something and that is give the opportunity for a voice to be heard, one that might have been silenced. For that reason solely, I believe protesting is important and necessary. Our rights are slowly being deprived from us both for women and really for our working class population. I think we as a country have learned to control people through fear and we are becoming very good at it. The only form I can see women stop protesting is if we are taught to not think of the problems that we speak on today as problems. If we are scared to believe that what is best for us, is what we are told by those who claim they know better. If we stop protesting our voice will be silenced once more by those who work closely with corporations and the wealthy which end up experiencing a completely different reality than most working class civilians. Women make up the civilian population, they give birth, raise, wife, and live with the rest of the population. Their own personal experiences and trauma have a direct effect on the rest of the population, which is why it is important that we protect their rights just as much as we protect our own. I sadly am aware that women and the rest of the population has the possibility to simply go with the flow. It is easier, less chaotic, and very much less scary. Especially because we as political and economical country are already scaring the population of all the possibilities that could be when in reality every single one of these possibilities are more than likely just as impossible as they are possible. The world could take any route but the route it takes will be taken by us because we eventually create the world we live in. Every single act that takes place matters, it may not matter to you specifically but it matters to someone. Not all women experience relationships equally which is why different women hold different views. We need to be careful when attempting to say one way is better than another. That is not true not even on physical or biological terms. Difference is what creates change, we need to leave the notion that in order for things to get better they must be the same. We need to listen much more than we judge, there is some truth to what everyone feels. When we learn to identify it, we as people will do much better. That of course is simply my opinion. We need to come together and figure out something that works, because clearly the system we have in place as of right now brings many more problems than it solves. Or maybe the system is doing exactly what it is meant to do because it was created by those who are thriving because of it.

  5. People can march all they want, but nothing will change. Marching is nothing more than a valve to release pressure… Did anything change as a result of the Occupy Wall St. protests that went on for such a long period of time? Actually, if the government feels threatened that protests will have some result/impact, it will respond with an overwhelming militarized police presence, even when the protests are peaceful. ex. North Dakota protests against the oil pipeline…

    I would argue that the militarized police presence/reaction is at best an attempt to intimidate and de-legitimize the protesters/movements and at worst an attempt incite violence.

    • You make a good point. Marching is not enough, Which is why I mentioned the town halls too. Both can have an effect, But won’t necessarily. We really need to get people in office you have Power and I’m hoping that the marches and the town halls will get people energized enough to vote

  6. Here is a piece by Suzanne Venker,

    “American women are often placed (metaphorically, of course) into one of two boxes: a feminist box, which purportedly denotes strength and empowerment and a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude, or a traditional box, which purportedly means being June Cleaver.

    Both descriptions are hopelessly flawed, but that’s not what this post is about.

    It’s about the third box.

    The third box marries two seemingly contradictory qualities: strength and femininity. These traits can, and do, work in tandem—and they’re a potent combination. Asian (and other foreign-born) women fit snugly into this box.

    Asian (and other foreign-born) women are just as “empowered” as American women. They are educated, professional women. What makes them different is they’ve retained their feminine nature. They may be a force to be reckoned with in the world outside their doorstep. But as wives and girlfriends, they’re soft and receptive. They’re respectful. And hold on to your hats: they like men.

    Consider the following comment that was written in response to my recent article, “Most men just want a woman who’s nice”:

    “Asian woman just want a good man, are low maintenance, warm, not loud, whiny and complaining, and blow away the American woman. My girl is Asian and what a pleasure she is—so unlike the bossy women here. Go for it, guys!”

    Here’s another:

    “Too many American women have forgotten how to nurture. European and Asian women understand the role of nurturers. American women would rather compete and cooperate with their husbands. Just go out to a restaurant and listen to how American women talk to their husbands, particularly in the northern states. American women have been indoctrinated by feminists to believe they can do no wrong.”

    For the past five years I’ve been embroiled in America’s gender war, one that pits the sexes against one another in an endless game of one-upmanship. The implication is that for a woman to be a man’s equal, she must be his competitor and prove to him she doesn’t need really need him at all.

    Women in the third box don’t operate that way, and their relationships are stronger for it. These women understand male and female nature and, indeed, embrace it. It works for them, not against them.

    But there is a catch to being in the third box. It requires that women be vulnerable with men, that they are able to trust them—and that’s a tall order for women who’ve been raised in a culture of divorce and who’ve been specifically taught to “never depend on a man.”

    As an example, in her book Going Places, former Fox News anchor E.D. Hill talks of being raised by a mother who taught her to learn to do everything herself—even the typically male tasks. “Be able to stand on your own,” her mother told her.

    But there’s a downside to this attitude and approach to love. “I couldn’t stop myself from proving that I didn’t need [my husband] to do things for me. Needless to say, this “power struggle,” along with other issues, put a big strain on our relationship, and he is now my ex.”

    By conflating femininity, or being soft and receptive, with weakness, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s simply no way to have love in your life if you’re unable to let down your guard.

    Love can’t get through a brick wall.

    Change is possible for those who are willing to look honestly at themselves. A great place to start is to watch how Asian (and other foreign-born) women act when they’re with their man.

    And they do what they do.”

    If more women in America would learn to act like women, they would have better and more lasting relationships. In turn, they would be happier women.

    We got a Black woman last night as the new Miss USA. Immediately, the Left has pounced on this young woman because she is not a feminist and her response to health care being a privilege. Is there no end to the madness on the Left?

    • This is a straw man — or should I say straw woman.

      Feminists don’t feel the way this woman describes. In fact, what she describes is the internalization of patriarchy that values men and masculinity over women and femininity.

      Feminists say that traits that have been associated with women are every bit as good as traits associated with men and should be valued.

      The main difference between feminists and this woman is that we believe that traits associated with women are so valuable that both women and men should embrace them.

      We grow up being taught to cut off half of our humanity. And men and boys are hurt when they always have to be tough and they can’t be in touch with their emotions, Or be nurturing…

      Do feminists have to agree with someone just because she is black or just because she’s a woman?

      Do you really think that healthcare should be a privilege and not a right?

      Outrage at thinking it’s okay for people to die so that the wealthy can get more money is outrageous?

      Do you think it’s more important that the working poor get a $800 billion cut to healthcare so that wealthy people can get a $600 billion-dollar tax cut?

      Is it more important that rich people can afford a helipad on top of their penthouse then that a child can get health care and have a healthy life and live?

      That’s madness.

      • Thank you very much for taking the time to read Suzanne Venker’s piece. I also very much appreciate actually posting it on your site.

        “The main difference between feminists and this woman is that we believe that traits associated with women are so valuable that both women and men should embrace them.”

        But, do men need women to be telling us men to embrace these female traits? How would you feel if we men were to start demanding that women embody more of the traits associated with men?

        As for the healthcare matter…In America the only rights we have are those guaranteed to us by the Constitution. Obviously, healthcare is not one of those rights. If as a nation we want to make healthcare such a right, then we can pass a law explicitly stating so.

        Unlike most of my conservative friends, I believe that the best and most cost efficient healthcare system is a single payer system. Whether is is Obamacare or any other variant, they will ultimately fail. Fail in terms of cost or fail in terms of delivering healthcare to those who cannot afford it.

        I think we can agree that a country as rich as ours can really do a lot better for its middle class and poor. However, the approaches espoused by both the Left and the Right are equally flawed in my opinion.

      • You’re welcome.

        Well, if men could be in touch with their feelings and express them fewer men, women and children would be harmed. Guys tend to bottle up their emotions and then explode. I don’t think it hurts to get feedback from one another.

        Our laws are largely affected by the wealthiest Americans — money in politics. So it’s not a surprise that things that don’t benefit the wealthiest aren’t considered a right. And I agree that single-payer is best. If Obamacare fails that’s probably what we will end up with because the American people will be too upset about their healthcare being taken away. I’ve even seen a number of conservative say the same thing. And that would be better. But some people will suffer and die in the interim.

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