Oh how I wish I could go back in time right now and make my 14 year old self write a book report on The Handmaid’s Tale. I remember that I got it as a birthday gift and that I loved it and that I stayed up very late finishing it, but other than the basic gist of the story, my memories end there. But what did it mean to me way back then? Did it all seem like a far fetched fantasy? Or could I possibly have already been worn out by man’s relentless need to control women’s bodies? If so, I really should have paced myself. I had such a long way to go.
This time around, I can’t really say that I loved it, but that almost feels beside the point. It still feels incredibly relevant 30 years later, as well as depressing, frightening, and sadly believable. I don’t mean believable in such a literal sense; I’m not worried that someday we’ll legally belong to men and our reproductive systems will be fully regulated by the government. (Well, not that worried.) But I absolutely believe that plenty of people buy into that ideology, full stop. At one point the narrator is reflecting on the end of her freedom, when she was still married but women’s rights were being stripped away; she suspects of her husband, “He doesn’t mind this, I thought. He doesn’t mind it at all. Maybe he even likes it. We are not each other’s anymore. Instead, I am his.” That for me was the most insightful moment in the book. I know the “get in the kitchen” macho chauvinist blowhard is a fading relic, but your run of the mill casual sexist chucklehead is alive and well and we see him every day. It’s why Billy Bush’s “how about a little hug” bothered me just as much as anything Trump said in the Access Hollywood video. He might not grab your pussy but he sure doesn’t have your back.
Anyhow, I don’t think this book is especially well done beyond the premise; I don’t like her writing at all and I absolutely hate the “historical notes” bit at the end. (Seriously, it’s like she mansplains her own book.) But I don’t really think it matters. It resonates as much today as it did then, it’s earned its required reading status, and it will always be my favorite Better Book Title.