Our Own Worst Enemy
WRITTEN BY ALEXANDRA WATT
DESIGNED BY KATE DAVIS
Over the last six months, there has been a steep rise in sales of The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel written by Margaret Atwood that centers on a society in which women have no control of their reproductive rights. In the wake of the presidential election, many women chose to lean on the words from the novel, “nolite bastardes carbondurum” which (is fake Latin, but) means “don’t let the bastards grind you down,” the bastards here being the kind of governmental patriarchal oppression we’ve been seeing in all of those recent all-dude White House photo ops. But, looking deeper at the book along with post-election news like this, maybe it’s time to consider that it’s really other women who are the bastards.
Hulu’s adaptation of the novel was in production as things were heating up on the election front, but no one could have predicted something so fortuitous as the inauguration of a man whose first executive order was to rollback the funding for women’s reproductive services around the world. As far as timing goes, the April 24 release of “The Handmaid’s Tale” could not be more impeccable – for better or for worse. Just as in the story, the men are the ones in charge, but the enforcers of the rigorous misogyny? Oftentimes, we have to look more towards our own gender for that.
Tense female dynamics are the focal point of The Handmaid’s Tale. Fertility rates have plunged, and the women who are able to reproduce are mandated to serve as literal babymaking machines, having sex with their superiors as the wives of the Commanders look on. Though it is the men in charge that are ostensibly propagating this slavery, the wives of the Commanders and the Aunts – the women who are hired to “train” the Maids to be obedient to the systemic rape they experience on a regular basis – are notably complicit. They cling to the slim amount of power that is given to them by aligning themselves with the men’s point of view and see the fertile women as a threat to them. Keeping the Handmaids down is part of their job, and their fear-driven efforts are more effective than any man’s could ever be.
“After sixty years, why are we doing this again?” Margaret Atwood attempts to answer her own question in a recent New Yorker profile, saying“…as you know, in any area of life, it’s push and pushback. We have had the pushback, and now we are going to have the push again.”
It seems no other group of women understands Atwood’s words so clearly as the women in HBO’s smash hit, “Big Little Lies.” In fact, pushing is one thing that brings them together. The mothers of Monterrey are constantly bucking the system, trying via community theater production, public advocacy, and their own careers to shove off the limitations they’re roped into by living in an upper class society where their husbands are the ones typically holding the power. Such jockeying leads to friction amongst the women as they seek to thwart each other’s reaches outside of traditional motherhood, with “career mommies” on one side and stay-at-homes on the other. The series finale shows us that there is something deeper than the murky triviality of parenthood politics. “Big Little Lies” gives us a lesson in sisterhood and shutting down oppression that most of us probably didn’t expect -- women putting their differences aside to unite and…kill…someone? There’s a reason that watching a group of women band together to curb stomp a misogynistic dickhead criminal feels cathartic right now, but the sporadic defense system showed that there is a time and a place to stand up and show up for your fellow ladies.
Feminism was really #trending right after the election, but all sisterhood has the tendency to dissipate in favor of competition because females have been bred to see each other as a threat. For the Handmaid’s Tale to remain fictitious, we’ve got to step forward and do a little pushing of our own.