Millions of American women are cringe-watching the season finale of The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel. In dystopian Gilead, religious zealots overthrow America and establish a patriarchy where fertile women, or handmaids, fulfill their “biological destinies” by serving as sex slaves to produce children for the barren ruling class.
Although the book was written in 1985, it seems disturbingly of the moment in these United States of Trump, with Executive Producer Kellyanne Conway.
Conway was honored earlier this month by the New York State Conservative Party at its $500-a-seat gala, where Chairman Mike Long introduced her as the “first female campaign manager of a successful presidential campaign…and what may be more important to her, a mom with four children.”
Sounding like the character Serena Joy, who helped found Gilead with her belief in “fertility as a national resource, reproduction as a moral imperative,” Conway returned Long’s compliment by pointing to his large family as an example of “how I think we fight these demographic wars moving forward.”
Audio Credit: Azi Paybarah
Who are we at war with?
Conway did not specify, but Trump’s master race of disaffected white men made it pretty clear at last Sunday’s nationwide anti-Muslim protests, where they loudly condemned Islam and supposedly stood up for women against female genital mutilation, rape, and wife beating. Yet somehow they managed to vote for a Christian man with a stunning rap sheet of abuses, statements, and policies designed to make women into second-class citizens.
In Gilead, the commanders of the Republic pat themselves on the back for saving the handmaids from a pleasure- and profit-obsessed society, but also engage in forbidden non-procreative sex with women forced into prostitution, excusing it because “everyone’s human.” Everyone except the women, of course, who don’t control their own bodies. Least of all the handmaids, described as a “womb on two legs,” with no feelings or rights.
It’s a lot like pro-life language that focuses exclusively on the rights of the “fetus,” without regard for the woman attached to it. Just last week Atwood herself made the connection, describing efforts to restrict access to abortion in Texas as a form of “forced pregnancy” that she compared to slavery.
If that sounds extreme, consider that as a congressman, Mike Pence co-sponsored a bill that would’ve allowed hospitals to let women die rather than provide medically necessary abortions, with the only exception being for “forcible rape.”
Conway, who like Pence describes herself as a “Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” previously worked for Todd Akin, who lost spectacularly to Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2012 after declaring some rapes more “legitimate” than others.
Just five years later, she now works for President Trump, who, as she explained to the Conservative Party faithful, won on fairness, not equality: “Fairness means equality of opportunity not equality of outcome.”
Or as Atwood’s Commander Waterford put it: “We only wanted to make the world better. But better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.”
Not worse for Conway, though.
“I want the record to reflect forever more,” she told New York’s conservative faithful at the dinner, “that it took Donald Trump to elevate me to that position [of campaign manager] and it was a very natural thing for Donald Trump because he had been elevating and promoting women in the Trump Corporation for decades.”
The Trump administration’s agenda for women, though, was more clearly expressed by Ivanka Trump, in one of her father's campaign commercials: “The most important job any woman can have is being a mother.”
If that's the case, then you don't have to pay them the same, pass paid leave, or even give them jobs in your nearly all-male Cabinet.
From there, it doesn’t seem like such a long leap to Gilead.