"Dying Of Too Much Choice": Sarah Palin And The Handmaid's Tale

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So, are you guys interested in Sarah Palin? We can't really tell. Seriously, among the many e-mails we've gotten from you about McCain's suspiciously Tina-Fey-looking running mate was the suggestion than her candidacy parallels the plot of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a dystopian novel in which women have been stripped of all their rights. Accurate? We decided to find out. See the results (spoilers included) after the jump.One nice thing about The Handmaid's Tale is, like Sarah Palin's resume, it's a pretty quick read. Basically the US has become a Christian theocracy where piety is required and women are chattel. They can't have property or jobs, and they are forced into arranged marriages or disturbing functional roles. A few become whores, and get to hang out at a brothel called Jezebel's. Others are Handmaids, so called because of a story in Genesis. Pollution has made most people sterile, but Handmaids are still believed to be fertile. Their job is to live with rich couples and have sex with the husbands — while the wives lie on the bed with them — in hopes of conceiving a child. The narrator, Offred, is one such Handmaid, and her description of the "fertilization" process ("My red skirt is hitched up to my waist. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body") probably stuck with you if you read the novel in high school, for its sheer awful dehumanization of sex. The Handmaids are told they are better off than women before the theocracy, who were "dying of too much choice." So, is this the kind of world Sarah Palin wants to usher us into? Well, sort of. The Christian Heritage Week she signed into law in Alaska sounds like a far milder version of the state-sanctioned Prayvaganzas. When a group of Handmaids-to-be chants "her fault, her fault, her fault" at a rape victim, I thought of women in Wasilla paying for their own rape kits on Palin's watch. And of course there's the reverence for childbearing that permeates the culture of The Handmaid's Tale, from the gruesome displays of executed abortionists to the arranged marriages of girls as young as fourteen in order to "start them soon." All this is reminiscent of Palin's avowed pro-life stance, a stance so unswerving it's hard to imagine her daughter could have gone against it. But does Sarah Palin actually want the US to turn into a Handmaid's-Tale-style police state? No more than any of us. She's not against women holding jobs — she's a working mother of five. Nor would she, if elected, force us all to attend Prayvaganzas or have sex with other people's husbands. However, a character named Serena Joy should offer a chilling cautionary tale to Palin and her ilk. Before the theocracy, Serena Joy was a popular televangelist, preaching about the need for women to return to the home. Afterwards, she does just that, and she is trapped in an arranged marriage with knitting and gardening as her only occupations. Atwood writes:


She doesn't make speeches anymore. She has become speechless. She stays in her home, but it doesn't seem to agree with her. How furious she must be, now that she's been taken at her word.

Sarah Palin hasn't been as anti-woman as someone like Ann Coulter, whose persistence in asking people to listen to her while telling them women are stupid is a mind-boggling exercise in doublethink. But Palin does want to deprive women of the right to decide what we do with our bodies. And as The Handmaid's Tale shows, women who want to take power away from women should be careful what they wish for. The Handmaid's Tale Earlier: Patriotism Is Not A Cultural Pissing ContestPalin Gives Thumbs Up To Financial Bailouts, Down To Rape Victims



The parallels here aren't really hard to follow, although of course Palin isn't literally Serena Joy...but I'm confused how some comments seem to dismiss the issue with her because "Bush and Co." have the same views. I think it's that, as a woman, I'm horrified at another woman advocating taking away my reproductive rights. And I want to stress that my problem is NOT that she personally, as a choice for herself, objects to abortion or is religious or abstinence-only advocating...my problem is that she wants to work towards enforcing those personal views as public policy. And it bothers me more when a woman wants to do that because she she should know better.

Of course, whatever happens, our U.S. isn't going to exactly resemble The Handmaid's Tale...but that's not the purpose of speculative fiction. The point is to ask a "What if?" question and then speculate on the outcome. It can range from the frighteningly accurate to wildly unlikely. But the core focus is about looking at cultural issues and what we can discover by telling a "what if" story. What do we learn about ourselves? What do we learn about the world? And what do we want to do about it?

I think Atwood touches on a very relevant fear here...one we should all look at, regardless of how much we may or may not like her writing style. Asking "What would happen to women if we really do lose our rights?" is important. This election maybe more than ever. Because as good a mother as Palin may be, she does not stand for women's rights unless they apply to her. And that's very dangerous.