Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Favorite Banned Books: The Handmaid's Tale

This week, September 27-October 3, is Banned Books Week, a time to honor those authors and their books that have created waves of controversy among the selfish and simple-minded.

Who has the right to tell you what to read? No one. Except me. Put "The Handmaid's Tale" on your TBR list if you haven't already. And spread the word.

"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood is dystopian science fiction, utopia gone horribly wrong. It has been banned in places because of its depiction of the mistreatment of women as well as sexual scenes and of course, accompanying profanity. Atwood wrote the book in the early 80s, a time when there was a backlash against the feminism of the 70s. The 80s were a sorry time for women in this country: all the advances that women had made, the sacrifices they had made in order to create more opportunities for subsequent generations of women, were being ignored or rejected. There was a national call for women to return to the home, to leave the workplace and go back to raising the kids. Sure, you remember the big hair and shoulder pads but do you remember Nancy Reagan? Do you remember the conservatism of the 80s?

Atwood's story is told by Offred, a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, a class society in which women of a lower caste are the concubines for the ruling caste and provide babies for the women. In this society, sexual intercourse is considered degrading to women so only the lower class women have it. Men and women are very strictly segregated, according to their gender as well as to their class. Atwood critiques fundamentalist religions as well as caste societies and the military.

I attended a women's college in the late 80s and we were taught we could - and should - do anything we wanted to. I also was raised by parents who never told me I couldn't do something because I was a girl. However, that's not the case for millions of women all over the world. So many women are treated like third class citizens, like chattel, like property, like they are only good for one thing. Many young women in the US don't realize that American women used to be treated that way too. They often take their freedoms for granted. Don't get me wrong: there's absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to be a wife and mother but women should not be defined by those designations alone, just as men are not. We need to promote worldwide equality for women.

This will be an eye-opening novel for a lot of people. Read it.

Tomorrow...Carrie by Stephen King.