Thursday, September 9, 2010
THE HANDMAID'S TALE
I've never turned a book review into Lynn's Chatter, but THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood affected me so much that I really had to do more than just a review. Available in paperback, it was first published in 1985. It's a feminist dystopian novel set in the near future. The U.S. Government has been overthrown and everyone is now living in a totalitarian theocracy. My blog entry isn't meant as an indictment of any religion; like some of the internet jokes currently being passed around, this blog entry contains something that can offend everyone.
I'm almost ashamed to admit that I wasn't fully aware of burkhas until the tragedy of 9/11. As with most of us, I'm able to live my daily life without the specter of that awful day. However, every September my thoughts turn to that event and I realized recently that I have become more aware of people wearing burkhas. I honestly don't remember seeing them before, but now they're popping up in the most unexpected places; in the center of Morristown, NJ and in many smaller U.S. towns.
I've thought about how insidious are the lives of the women forced to live with rules that don't allow for any individuality or personal freedoms of which burkhas are just the outward symbol....a symbol of lost hope and repression based on religious practices. I've tried to imagine how that could ever happen in our country, a country filled with strong, resourceful women, most of whom enjoy more freedoms and protection under the law than at any other time in our history. I can't picture the women of Mendham, NJ succumbing to such restraints, or the women in New York City. A number of years ago, the black wife of a friend of ours responded very loudly to something she found objectionable at a school board candidates' debate. Imagining this woman, Joyce, being told she couldn't go out in public without this imprisoning garment, own property, show off her wonderful dreadlocks or even read a book and be completely under the control of her husband and the government. All that comes to mind is, "Yo, WHAT??!!", her response that long ago day.
THE HANDMAID'S TALE is not a new book, having been published in 1985. Sometimes I am just resistant to reading what everyone else is reading until long after it's popular; for this same reason I can't currently bring myself to read "Eat, Pray, Love". I finally read this very intense and disturbing book by Margaret Atwood and I'm glad I waited. Ms. Atwood's tale is almost a blueprint of how severe changes to our very existence could actually occur. It's a good lesson for us to all protect the freedoms we do have and reminds us to not be so quick to jump on the bandwagon of anything that lessens any one else's personal freedom. Just as women all lost their jobs and access to any of their finances and basically became chattel of the men in society in THE HANDMAID'S TALE whether they were wives, handmaids or Marthas you could just imagine how quickly it could happen.
Many religions have restrictive covenants for women. Before some orders of Catholic nuns became more secular, most if not all were enrobed in garments very similar to burkhas. They were not allowed to adorn themselves with makeup and trinkets, took vows of chastity and poverty and in the more restrictive convents, took vows of silence. They lived very basic lives and their rooms actually resembled the rooms of the handmaids described in Ms. Atwood's book. But the difference was that most of these women had a CHOICE to become a nun and live such spare lives, following their own religious beliefs. It wasn't foisted upon the entire population of women who were practicing Catholics.
This is not to say that all women who wear burkhas don't want to. Some wish to modify their lives because of their religion, but just as in Margaret Atwood's tale the key that is missing and is so alarming is CHOICE.
Perhaps the women in Islamic countries didn't notice or become alarmed by the small changes in their lives. Maybe they didn't realize just how desperately things were changing until one day they found themselves swaddled in burkhas.
As you can see, THE HANDMAID'S TALE is a powerful and frightening book and if you haven't read it, you should.