The Handmaid's Tale strikes again.
In 1988, sitting behind the dollar store, across from school, me and my two closest friends sat and read from library books. Yet, these weren’t ones from school. Instead, we had gone to the public library and picked up copies of The Handmaid’s Tale, as the boys heard is was a great sci-fi novel. They convinced me to read along, as a girl was the star and it was a story about women and courage. Or so we had heard.
Reading, turning those pages, my heart raced. My eyes grew large. Sometimes it kept me awake in the midnight hours. The boys and I made a pact to read every night, and they made me promise to not read ahead of them (since they knew I read like a crack fiend). That being said, in 1988 those two talked me off morning ledges as we eagerly and rapidly discussed the book before getting to school. In the after hours, we huddled and read in the Midwest fall afternoons. I’m fairly certain that book haunts us to this day. I cried when we finished; they exhaled so loudly you would have thought someone died. We were glad to be done, and the irony of it all... we read that book in semi-secret as our conservative school openly frowned upon it.
Perhaps that is the book that turned me into a feminist rebel. Perhaps that is the reason one of those friends is as liberal—or nearly so—as me. Sadly, the other boy passed on far too young. In my mind’s eye he’s a rebel with us, with causes for humanity, feminism, and equality. Though, the point of the matter is that that novel has continued to creep in over the years and just when I think I can forget it, it resurfaces like a long, lost bad penny. In college, a professor in a lit class had me read it. I shook in terror, on my couch, flipping those pages as ulcers grew and I curled my frame into a tighter ball than thought to be humanly possible. Then, like now, I was single and flipped those pages and then couldn’t sleep at night. Except, this time I find myself living in a world where an adaptation of the novel is compelling, unavoidable, that I watch like a deer in the headlights, and... it is a world where politics, feminist backlash, and rising conservative tides are making us all wonder what is happening next.
The HULU series, launched in late April, holds true to Atwood’s concept with obvious corrections to update the text, bring it progressively forward (for lack of a better word), and keep the viewer captivated. Yet, the truth of the matter is that after all these years I still find my heart racing, my body clenching, and my sleep interrupted by the fear within the concept. Why? The modern series has a clitoris removal, as punishment for loving another woman, and as we all know a woman’s sexuality has always been a point of conservative vocal fire. Scenes with pleasures of breaking the rules still captivate us as we nibble on ice-cream and brownies and sit among our stacks of fashion magazines and shelves with books of fiction and lore. Of course, though, the real power here is that the facts of fiction are haunting. Men, white men to be precise, will always say “It’s just fiction. Stop your worry.”
These are the men who should be reading this book and watching this dark series with Instagramable scenes and a grimy over layer to remind the viewer that these are not comedic times. They assert that our rights will never be infringed upon, and they say that we have protected ourselves and our lives. Yet, as most women can tell you there’s been a day, a week, a year that a lover, a husband, a longtime friend has turned back her clock, always catching her off guard and stopping her in her tracks. He suddenly demands you change your blazer, a legislature suddenly makes birth control more expensive, a doctor treats you like a woman in search of attention when you really are writhing in pain with an inflammation he never bothered to check, and a boss uses your work for a multi thousand-dollar raise and promotion to cast you aside. These are the realities of life. These are the moments that seep through life, as if they were pulled from an Atwood novel. In that instance, you see the reality of fiction and the fiction of reality. In a passionate novel, the facts of that history crafted the playbook but modern day complacency stands to see time undone and dystopian novels to turn into modern day guides to life. These are the reasons the current reboot, and resurgence of the book’s popularity, are important. These are the reasons we must continue on, continue to teach, continue to dream. Just as Offred intends to survive we must too.