If The Handmaid’s Tale is Not A Warning for the Trump Era, What Is It a Warning For?

A surrogate mother hostel in India, from The Guardian story linked below.

I’ve never understood the aura of The Handmaid’s Tale. The dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood about fertile women forced into breeding stock was made into a movie with Faye Dunaway, Natasha Richardson, and Robert Duvall in 1990. Both the book and the movie have been beloved by feminists who are looking for oppression in all the wrong places. To them, the story warns of impending Christian rule.

Now, Hulu, trying to break into Netflix’s original series game, has produced a remake. The commercials started in earnest a few months ago, during the Super Bowl of all things and have tapped into current western women’s fear by claiming that the show is eerily reminiscent of our time. I don’t disagree, and I thought when “The Handmaid’s Tale is a Warning to Conservative Women” appeared in my feeds that some commentator finally got the connection. But alas, it was another piece warning about Trump and/or Christian authoritarianism…which is not the eerily reminiscent connection between fiction and real life.

The Puritans are coming! The Puritans are coming!

I have no intention of arguing that Christian authoritarianism of the kind experienced by Sarah Jones does not exist, or that it should not be resisted. The kind of indoctrination of women she describes does happen. (Gracy Olmstead alludes to it in her review.) But it is fringe and in retreat.

Children raised in these fringe styles tend to leave when they grow up, as Sarah Jones did. All of those analysis pieces about Millennials leaving the church? They usually root some of the exodus in this authoritative mood, which by the way, requires relative isolation to sustain even temporarily in America, not only because it is antithetical to American ideals but also Christian ideals. With perhaps the exception that The Handmaid’s Tale inspired Jones’s leaving her upbringing behind, her story isn’t that uncommon among her peers.

We can also see the decline of Christian authoritarianism in history, which Megan McArdle covered in Bloomberg.

The popular panic — I hesistate to use the term hysteria, even if it fits — is unfounded. The Puritans are not coming.

But that doesn’t mean there is nothing eerily reminiscent in The Handmaid’s Tale. There are two much easier connections to make.

The first is obvious if not politically correct.

This isn’t just about the clothing similarities. In the Islamic world women, girls really, have been used as breeding stock. Although the returns have not gotten as much coverage as the single kidnapping of a bunch of Nigerian school girls back in 2014, some of those girls and others have been released or have escaped…with their infants.

The other connection has nothing to do with religion, is gobsmackingly obvious, yet I’ve only seen it mentioned in passing in The New Republic article: surrogacy.

The handmaids are surrogates, and the modern world has seen a booming surrogate market for decades. Same-sex couples and heterosexual women who have delayed childbearing to the point of infertility need fertile women to give them children. Of course, they pay for the service rather than enslave women to provide it, but that leap from dystopia to real life is connection is far easier to make than the Christian one.

Most Western countries forbid commercial surrogacy because it is so prone to abuse, turning women and children into goods for purchase.

India had a huge “rent-a-womb” industry until it outlawed the practice for foreigners in 2015. Here is just a peek at that market from an investigative journey by Julie Bindel for The Guardian:

I was told it is common practice to plant embryos in two or more surrogates and to perform abortions if more than one pregnancy takes hold. Similarly, if several embryos are implanted in one surrogate and a multiple pregnancy occurs, unwanted foetuses will often be aborted….
I ask if the surrogates live in a hostel during pregnancy, which I had seen on television back home, and she shakes her head. I’m told I can pay for a woman to be housed for nine months, “or if you want to save money do it for a bit and then send her back home”….
I am told the clinic can do nothing for me. “Because of human rights the government is now closing [surrogacy services]. Maybe it is because the children are not treated well,” says one of the doctors. I had never previously heard of children born through surrogacy being harmed by commissioning parents, but there have been cases where children have been abandoned and left in India with the birth mother. In 2012, an Australian couple left behind one of the twins born to an Indian surrogate mother, reportedly because they could not afford to bring up two children.

Actually, in that last example, the twin was left behind because he had Down’s Syndrome. The woman who carried the child — not the biological mother as the surrogacy market prefers the birthing woman and the egg donor be two different women to avoid the Baby M problem — kept the baby.

The US has state restrictions on the surrogacy market, and because of other nations restrictions, a few states have gained popularity as a surrogacy destination. Here military wives make up much of the current breeder stock.

Aside from the payment for services rendered and the temporary marriage ceremony prior to procreative sex in the story, Atwood’s tale isn’t that far fetched (although we can compare, the sperm donation market in which “natural insemination” is often preferred by the commissioning party).

I thought the article warning Christian women understood how women are already used as breeding stock.

Should Atwood’s dystopia ever fully manifest in the US — most likely driven not by Christian zelots but by social welfare governments’ need for high birthrates to sustain their programs — it will be service minded, Christian women un-poisoned by extensive use of hormonal birth control who will be the handmaids. That’s the warning.