The Handmaid’s Tale: Reactions from Three Corners of the World
Last week, when the full trailer of The Handmaid’s Tale came out, three Book Riot contributors discussed how close the trailer felt to reality. Of course, it’s extremely exciting to see the novel be adapted, but recent political developments have brought overt misogyny and sexism back into fashion. It was noted that we all felt the same, but that we all come from different countries and contexts. Below are our reactions, contextualized within the political moment of three different countries: India, the USA, and Brazil.
(TW: sexual assault)
Last week, a new Chief Minister was elected for India’s 4th largest state—a state that has my favourite places to shop, a state that my office is relocating to, a state I live 500 metres away from, a state my entire extended family lives in—a state with a population of 204 million. This man is a staunch, fanatic Hindu, and has several court cases against him for causing communal violence. I must clarify that this is in addition to our current Prime Minister, a slightly subtler, but equally hate-filled version of USA’s 45th President.
One of the new CM’s claims to fame is the hate speech against the Muslim community that he and his followers spew. Among other horrific things he has said, footage of him has emerged where he is sharing stage with a man asking their supporters in the audience to “dig up and rape Muslim women’s corpses.” The same man has also claimed that “women are not capable of being left free and independent… their energy should be regulated, lest it become worthless and destructive.”
When he was elected, there were people on my Facebook timeline asking me to “give him a chance,” “try to see him outside of his past actions,” and “not judge him by his words.” I cried. I couldn’t believe there were people, people I grew up with and people who received the same education as me, who truly didn’t see anything wrong with his misogyny. And it’s getting harder and harder to rebel. You know what you get when you try to debate these issues on social media? More misogynistic hate.
Watching The Handmaid’s Tale trailer makes me realize just how little time and space there is left between Margaret Atwood’s fictional dystopia and our reality, all over the world. Is there anything, at this point, that could stop the men in power from doing what they please?
–Deepali Agarwal, India
“I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen.”
I’m a United States citizen. I have always been a United States citizen. I was safe. Most powerful country in the world! These colors don’t run! ‘MURICA!
I hate to admit that it’s only now that a hate-mongering carnival barker has come into power that I realize just how tenuous was my claim to safety and security. I’m ashamed to confess that atrocities I’ve seen for years reported on by international news correspondents, while horror-inducing, never truly touched me.
I woke up on the morning of November 9th physically unable to lift up my legs to step into the shower. I brushed my teeth as tears streamed down my face. I walked through that first day like a poorly-paid extra from The Walking Dead. In a single day, my voracious consumption of all things Dystopian Fiction no longer seemed like a rolicking good time. Now it was reality.
But ay! There’s the privilege. There was no 24 hour transition from fair, just, safe world to Offred’s worst nightmare. My cocoon had been breached, but the tree had been on fire for some time now. In the wee hours of Wednesday, November 9th, we were forced awake. It was only our American arrogance, stitched together by bald eagles, fireworks, and Revolutionary War Reenactments, that allowed us to remain asleep as the smoke began to billow around us.
We slept through countries refusing women bodily autonomy and agency to the point of death… only to elect into office a man who thinks women seeking abortion should be subject “to some form of punishment.” A man who brags about grabbing genitalia without permission. Using women as living incubators no longer seems like a fantasy. It’s been reality for some time to plenty of women.
We slept through countries stripping their people of the right to their own voice… only to elect into office a man who rejects media outlets who disagree with him. A man who refuses the free press, a cornerstone of our democracy. The “suspension of The Constitution” suddenly doesn’t seem like just an interesting thought in the mind of a genius author. Free speech was only a fever dream to plenty of my brothers and sisters around the world.
We slept through countries disposing of their poor and elderly populations…only to elect into office a man who strips funding for food and medical treatment for our older generations. A man who dismisses free lunch programs for students if they don’t show any improvement in arbitrary standardized testing scores. Now enduring forced servitude to simply survive doesn’t feel like some symbolic commentary on an ambiguous social construct. Daily starvation has never been just an interesting thought-exercise for many human beings.
When our (myself included) first instinct is to assume that the stomach-churning hits-too-close-to-home moments in the upcoming The Handmaid’s Tale adaptation trailer is a commentary on our individual nation’s political climate and not a representation of gross injustices and deplorable human rights violations occurring across the globe for decades, our naiveté is showing. The fact that I could sleep easy after having read The Handmaid’s Tale, seeing it as a valid form of escapism, and am only now realizing it is not fantasy says so much about the long overdue lessons Americans are about to learn. The fact that I was giddy with excitement over the adaptation and could not wait for a trailer just a handful of months ago, and now come away from a viewing with a pit in my stomach and a sense of dread proves that while the election of 45 might seem like the catalyst for all of the bad in the world, he is just a symptom of a larger global problem.
–Elizabeth Allen, USA
My reaction to the full trailer of The Handmaid’s Tale adaptation was mixed: it’s so exciting to see a book I love onscreen, but the similarities to the current political climate are completely chilling. I am from Brazil, and the taking of power by men with the express intention to further oppress women has been frightening to watch in my country.
For around six years, we had our first and only female president, Dilma Rousseff. She was far from perfect, but she did not deserve to be impeached by a woman-hating vice-president who literally looks like Voldemort for a crime every single sitting Brazilian president had committed before her. During her impeachment, misogynistic language was rampant, and right-wing assholes felt completely emboldened to shout out their sexism and make it perfectly clear that they feel women should be submissive to men.
After the impeachment, the new president composed a cabinet of only white men–no women, no people of color, no one that diverges from their idea of dominant–and completely stonewalled anyone who asked about diversity in his administration. He simply did not see the problem. On March 8th, International Women’s Day, the new president said women are important because they know how to keep track of food prices and are extremely valuable for “the home and the children.” Many journalists said he messed up and it was a mistake; but most Brazilian women already know the new president was just being his true, sexist, misogynistic self.
Perhaps the state control over women’s bodies in Brazil is already dystopian: the lack of legalized, safe, and free abortions results in the death of around 22,000 women every year. Our first woman president was ousted by a misogynistic Voldemort type, and we have our own Donald Trump brewing in the background of all of this. Hulu’s trailer for The Handmaid’s Tale adaptation spoke about a gradual process of change into dystopia, it doesn’t happen overnight: this has been my experience with what’s happening in Brazil. The conversion from a generally liberal government to a woman-hating government was fairly gradual, and then it happened all at once. What else am I not watching? What or who will turn against us next? My fear is that a global patriarchy is looming and if we don’t stay awake, we won’t be able to stop it.