The kid is reading The Handmaid’s Tale for English. Yeah, wrap your head around that. When I was a child, the raciest stuff we ever got to read was Tess of the D’Urbervilles where “weeping in the Chase” and Hester Prynne letting down her glossy black hair in the woods was about as close as we were ever going to get to any insinuation of unchaste behavior.
I thought this would be a good time to revisit The Handmaid’s Tale with an eye to understanding whether feminism has devolved into dogmatic feminism. I also like to refer to this as “red tent” feminism. I consider myself a feminist but one who basis her feminism on a very Mary Wollstonecraft sensibility. Feminism is a philosophy that asserts that all humans are equal and that women are no less endowed by nature to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than men and that there should be only one criteria for denying women anything they aspire to- individual ability. Since science is beginning to show that women have equal mental capacity in the sciences and math and other intellectual pursuits, the only limitations on females to achieve what they want is physical. And the only area where they lack in physical strength is in the upper body. That pretty much leaves them out of professional football leagues, certain weight classes in boxing, wrestling and weight lifting and not a whole lot else. If a woman is still interested in firefighting or combat or something else, let her train and develop those physical traits that will let her compete. There may be other subtle physical differences but nothing that can’t be overcome. We’ve already seen that women are quite capable astronauts and pilots, political leaders and business people. Let’s just cut the crap with the artificial barriers already, ok?
I don’t believe in a society that treats women as some kind of special physical being is good and I don’t want to live in that world. In other words, I don’t think men envy us for our baby making ability. That’s just wishful bullshit. Are you kidding me? If men could gestate fetuses in a box, a la Monty Python, they would. Your ability to bear children is a curiosity and a necessity but not something they would ever wish on themselves. So, if you are a woman hoping to retreat into some “red tent” community of women where you can all celebrate your menstruation and hope that the rest of the world will recognize and honor your superiority because you are able to give life, dream on. Ain’t never going to happen. If anything, The Handmaid’s Tale reinforces the notion that childbearing is not a noble endeavor and separate is not equal. (Note that I said childbearing, not parenthood. And in the modern world, BOTH sexes can and should be good parents) The women who are conscripted into the Handmaid class may be re-educated to believe that they are in an honorable profession but the rest of the world still sees them as concubines. So, think it over ladies. If you want to focus all of the world’s attention on what is between your legs and not your ears, separate yourselves and worship your childbearing above all else. What can be seen as a gift can be coerced when the need arises. Then it’s not a gift anymore and you as a person cease to exist.
Margaret Atwood has said that her idea of The Handmaid’s Tale was in part generated by the feminist anti-pornography movement that sprang up in the wake of the initial waves of feminism. In this scenario, it is the anti-pornography feminists who collaborate with the religious right. The feminists have become dogmatic, fail to discriminate degrees of infraction, and react to pornography with public burnings of the material. Like the Aghanis who gave control of their country to the Taliban, these dogmatic feminists may have sanctioned the religious backlash in order to restore order and control over violent behavior. As one of the “Aunts” says in the movie, “There is more than one kind of freedom. In the days of anarchy, it was ‘freedom to’. Now, you’re being given ‘freedom from’. Don’t underrate it”. In the Aunts, we see the merging of the dogmatic feminist with the religious right and an inability to think outside a rigid box in a way that respects individual agency and personal maturity. It’s easier and safer if everyone just follows the rules and stays within the rigid box society constructs for them. What is particularly disturbing is that we can see some real world examples of this kind of mindset recently that should scare the living sh&* out of us.
For example, remember the Anthony Weiner affair? Do you remember the commenters here (you might even have been one yourself) who indignantly insisted that the recipient of the pictures was a victim whose eyes were violated and who was the target of an online rape? Let’s just put aside the idea that you can be raped online, is this even reasonable? But what does it say about the power of our American culture when a whole blogosphere of women can be prompted to turn on themselves, to assert that the recipient of the text “didn’t ask for it” that she was a victim of a sexual pervert, as if looking at an erect penis was something our innocent eyes shouldn’t see? WE have “self-control”. Men have lustful desires. It’s very Handmaid. We reinforce the idea of slut shaming when we circle the wagons around the alleged victim of an online rape, protecting her from accusations of participation instead of laughing it off. It was a digital picture for god’s sakes. It can not hurt you. And besides, what if what she had written to him *had* seemed like an invitation? What’s wrong with that? Are women not allowed to be provocative? Do you see where I’m going with this?
Ok, how about Julian Assange. The stories the alleged rape victims reported in Sweden have come into question. I’ve always considered the charges to be a very, very broad definition of the word “rape”. If that was rape, just about everyone has experienced it. And then I start to wonder, what about the women who claim to be on the pill who deliberately get pregnant against the wishes of their male counterparts. Please, do not tell me it doesn’t happen. We all know that it does. Isn’t that also a form of rape? It’s not violent but it sure isn’t consensual, is it? But whatever. I was very surprised to see the number of women who immediately and without question took the side of the accusers. I have no idea what the Swedish court system would do, it’s really in their bailiwick. But I was disturbed at how women once again assumed that the accusers were victims, as if they were completely without any sexual agency whatsoever. The did not *own* their sexuality. It is part of a pattern that looks at women as asexual passive beings upon which men impose their aggressive sexual lusts. Is that the way women want themselves to be seen? Or is it merely convenient because lust is not a desirable female trait in our culture?
Feminists on the left need to be careful that they aren’t used as political tools through accusations of rape and other sexual taboos. If you are conditioned to have a knee jerk response to any accusation of sexual misconduct by men towards women no matter how innocuous or tangential it is to their official duties, you can be used as a tool of mob justice to take out your potential allies. Condemnation is one of the only political powers women have and to do this against men based on unproven or trivial accusations is the equivalent of a digital particicution.
I was relieved to see the feminist community rally briefly around Sandra Fluke. But even more enraged that anyone could stick a slut label on any woman these days. I really thought we had banished that word forever but here it was again, raising its ugly head. And then I saw a youtube lecture on Tolkien from a speaker from Baylor University who in the middle of his lecture made a comment about a co-ed in a tight sweater with a caption that said “goats they do nibble”. ”Did she know she was going to be a slut when she put on that shirt?”, he said to an auditorium of college students. So, the word is back in business.
And that’s the way the women in The Handmaid’s Tale saw the Handmaids. They were sluts whose sole purpose in life was sex. It didn’t matter if they didn’t enjoy it. Young, fertile women are tramps, whores and sluts. The were literally the scarlet women. That seems to be the way we are going as well.
A new area for the anti-sex “feminists” is in the area of New Atheism. Most of us are familiar now with Elevatorgate, the controversy that sprang up when Rebecca Watson took an invitation from an unknown guy in an elevator as a prelude to rape and exploitation. To say she overreacted is an understatement. In my college days, we would have assessed the safety of the situation and determined whether we were interested or not. If not, we would have politely declined, arranged to meet for coffee the next morning and gotten off at our floor. But not so with Rebecca. Apparently, all the guy was interested in was her vagina. It sounds a bit like what our 50′s era parents would have been told. “He’s only interested in getting what he wants and then dumping you”. But maybe he would have been just interested in talking. Or talking and a little light snogging. If there was anything else intended, you could always say no and leave. Most people will let you leave. There really aren’t that many rapists around. Truly. But so what if Rebecca had gone all “paradise by the dashboard light”? So what?? That’s her right. It’s not seduction if its mutual.
In the Handmaid’s Tale, pleasurable sex is a crime against the state. It is an act of willful defiance. And to be defiant is to be free. So, is Rebecca Watson a free person? Or is her relatively recent feminist conditioning taking away her freedom to be a sexual being?
Or, is she using her public chastity as a bludgeon against men because we have focussed so much of our attention on our nether regions that women have lost ground in the intellectual sphere? Is the only way for women to assert power in this society to use sex as a weapon? It *is* the only place where women have made some progress. Sexual harassment is almost universally forbidden in this country. Men can get hammered with a sexual harassment suit like nobody’s business so they are extraordinarily cautious in the public sphere about avoiding it. That means that real discrimination has gone underground and takes more subtle and insidious ways to exert itself. We’re all familiar with the performance evaluation by behavioral criterion that has taken down women great and small. The cultural stereotypes of passive, compliant, pleasant and obedient women as being the most desirable to work with has also crippled them and made it very difficult for them to break the glass ceiling.
Anyway, that’s my little stream of thought ponderings that have been running through my head this morning. I won’t even go through how much the Duggar family lives the life of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s almost like they used the book as a supplementary bible. They’re into an extreme form of patriarchalism, worship childbearing, are fanatical about forbidding any enticement to lustful thoughts, and they don’t educate their daughters very well. Just like the handmaids in the movies, the children travel in pairs with each one accountable for the behavior of the other, always ready and willing to betray a trust and intimacy. All that’s missing are the color coordinated clothing. They may look a happy in front of the camera and maybe some of them have the constitution for it. But for the ones who don’t, it must be a living hell. Religious women who worship the Duggars should read Atwood’s book (or reread it). We do NOT want to live in a world like this because no one would have a minute’s peace. There would always be rebellions, terrorism, violations, executions. It would be like the Taliban mixed with the Department of Homeland Security against all of the lefties who have become sudden fans of the 2nd amendment. Not my cup of tea.
So, comments anyone? Fire away!
If you haven’t read the book, you can find it here at amazon.
Here’s the movie version on YouTube. It’s got German subtitles but is in English otherwise.
And here’s an interesting discussion about The Problem with Dogmatic Feminism and supplementary discussions part 1 and part 2 from Ask An Atheist. I like the way the hosts go through the issue step by step in a thoughtful manner. I wouldn’t have been so diplomatic. The bottom line, as I see it, is that the dogmatic feminists are undermining their own cause. Instead of reinforcing their equality and insisting on things that would really change the dynamics at a New Atheist convention by demanding at least 1/3 female representation of speakers and a progressive stack during discussions, they are alienating even the more sympathetic men in the movement by considering all interactions between males and females as invitations to seduction and abuse.
The New Atheist movement is having to confront this issue early and I hope they take some time to get to the bottom of it and define what feminism in a post religious world should be. (And by post religious, I mean in the present context where state and church are intertwined. The goal should be a secular culture where the religious can do what they want in private. That is what I mean by post-religious) They also need to be careful because this is an issue that the religious could use against them to split the New Atheist movement. In other words, they need to find a way to get through to the Rebecca Watsons to carefully examine what they are doing so they don’t cause unnecessary tension at their gatherings and inadvertently reinforce cultural and religiously based cultural stereotypes. I know that’s not what Rebecca thinks she is doing but by reducing every woman at a meeting as a potential victim and every man as a potential rapist, that’s what she is doing. I wouldn’t want to be a new female convert to New Atheism, go to a convention and have all the men avoid me and instantly think I was a neurotic pain in the ass just because the Rebecca Watsons got there first and took all the spontaneity out of the event. She’s not doing women any favors.
And here’s some insight on rapid social change brought on by stressful environments, her is Atwood herself speaking to Bill Moyers:
Filed under: General | Tagged: Anthony Weiner, anti-pornography, dogmatic feminism, female sexual agency, Julian Assange, margaret atwood, mary wollstonecraft, New Atheism, Red tent feminism, The Handmaid's Tale | 22 Comments »