By Meghan B.
Everyone I know has zombie contingency plans. What to do if the undead ever awaken, where to go and how to survive. They come up with the quickest way out of the mall they work in because, well, zombies and malls have a history together. The likelihood of zombies rising is slim to nil but some people I know have complex plans for getting out of Dodge when the undead get out of their graves. "Just in case," they say.
Lately, I've been thinking about a whole other type of contingency plan. I vaguely wonder if my car could get me to Canada or what I would do if my bank account was suddenly taken away from me.
With all the talk lately of limiting the medical rights of women by defunding Planned Parenthood and taking away the ability to have autonomy over our own bodies, I've been wondering if I need a contingency plan for a Handmaid's Tale future.
Science fiction and women's rights have a convoluted and interesting history. One of the most horrific, poignant and interesting works on this issue is Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. A work of speculative science fiction, the story follows a fictional version of the United States after the rights of all women have been taken away by a tyrannical and religious, male dominant group. Basically slaves to men, only good for bearing children and no other purpose, the women are treated horrifically. They are stripped of their names and their educations as well as losing control over their bodies and sexualities. They are nothing but slaves to the men who rule.
The main character is Offred (named for the man she is a slave to) and she recounts the new world where she finds herself. She used to have a family and a job, but they are taken away by the new patriarchal government. The bank accounts of all women are instantly frozen (a truly terrifying thought in the current day and age of debit cards) and their freedoms and rights are taken away. Offred tries to escape to Canada but is instead caught, reprogrammed and settled into a life of sexual servitude. If you haven't read the book, I suggest you do. It is a stark, shivering novel of epic proportions. It seems both far-fetched and insane, but also cautionary and scarily ominous. I have a love/hate relationship with the book. It both scared the hell out of me and made me angry. It also made me think. I tend to come back to it whenever someone in power does something really revoltingly insane against my gender.
I'm not going to get all political and preachy here, but I will say that the Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood are some of the most sexist displays I've ever witnessed in all my life. By trying to take away the low cost health care of women, they had become no better than the men ruling Gilead, the name of the land in Handmaid's Tale. By taking away the rights of women to get pap smears and breast exams and, yes, even abortions, they have tried to limit the hard worn freedoms of my gender. It wasn't so long ago that women couldn't vote or own property. In some countries, women are still treated no better than furniture. It's sickening to see these things taken away from us, "for our own good", by men in positions of power. God knows we are just women and we know not what we do.
Just yesterday, Indiana's governor Mitch Daniels stripped Planned Parenthood of a majority of it's federal funds, taking away much needed money for the most basic health care needs of women. Something like that really freezes your blood and makes you realize how some people really do see you as less important or less able to make choices. I am less deserving of health care because I have the outlandish and rather unfortunate gall to have ovaries.
Last night I pulled out my worn copy of the Handmaid's Tale and flipped through it. I read short paragraphs and skipped around, feeling a slight but choking dread. This crazy and far-fetched future dystopia was becoming slightly more possible with every passing day. I don't know about you, but I am concerned. I would rather be hung on a wall, dead, than suffer Offred's fate.
Science fiction has an odd way of predicting the future, in ways you didn't see coming. Everything from the invention of weapons and wars, of technology and social change have been documented in the books of sci-fi authors. Sometimes they are eerily correct and something they are incredibly wrong. I hope Atwood falls into the latter category. In the meantime, I am writing my representatives in the Senate and in Congress (which you should do!), donating a few extra bucks to Planned Parenthood to keep fighting the good fight (ahem!), and mapquesting how to get from my house to Toronto by tiny Honda.
You know. Just in case.