Atwood read the blueprint

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. [Don’t let the bastards grind you down.]
— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Handmaids have entered the Texas legislature.
Nan L. Kirkpatrick‏ @nanarchist Mar 20:
The Handmaids have entered the #txlege. #sb415 #fightbacktx pic.twitter.com/Fpa9cNGHR0

The rate at which proposed  regulation, crafted by the American Far (“Christian”) Right, targets women’s most basic rights has been accelerating over the last several years. Bills that used to be outlandishly unthinkable are now commonplace, what with the Republican Party having wholly embraced the right-wing fringe, especially in its Dominionist flavour.

A protest against proposed draconian restrictions on abortion last week at the Texas legislature was only the most recent to draw parallels with Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel about an ultra-Christian future of gender-regulated servitude, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Of course, the upcoming release of Hulu’s series based on the novel has also brought the book to the forefront of pop culture again, but the novel has been increasingly mentioned in news, streams, threads, and conversations about the Right’s treatment of women.

Earlier this week I was reading about the original critical reception to Atwood’s landmark book. It was darkly funny to learn that some reviewers — like the New York Times’ Mary McCarthy (Feb. 9, 1986) — felt its premise was too unbelievable to be successful:

“Surely the essential element of a cautionary tale is recognition. Surprised recognition, even, enough to administer a shock. We are warned, by seeing our present selves in a distorting mirror, of what we may be turning into if current trends are allowed to continue. That was the effect of ”Nineteen Eighty-Four,” with its scary dating, not 40 years ahead, maybe also of ”Brave New World” and, to some extent, of ”A Clockwork Orange.” “

“It is an effect, for me, almost strikingly missing from Margaret Atwood’s very readable book ”The Handmaid’s Tale,” offered by the publisher as a ”forecast” of what we may have in store for us in the quite near future. A standoff will have been achieved vis-a-vis the Russians, and our own country will be ruled by right-wingers and religious fundamentalists, with males restored to the traditional role of warriors and us females to our ”place” – which, however, will have undergone subdivision into separate sectors, of wives, breeders, servants and so forth, each clothed in the appropriate uniform. A fresh postfeminist approach to future shock, you might say. Yet the book just does not tell me what there is in our present mores that I ought to watch out for unless I want the United States of America to become a slave state something like the Republic of Gilead whose outlines are here sketched out. “

It’s worth reading the entire review, it seems like a point-by-point comment on current news, 32 years after publication. It’s hard to believe these days that McCarthy found A Clockwork Orange’s dystopia more likely than the one in Atwood’s “palely lurid pages.”

[Edit: Here are some very current topics touched on in The Handmaid’s Tale which I jotted the last time I read the book:

    • Patriarchy and kyriarchy
    • Rise of religious fundamentalism
    • Feminist reactions to pornography
    • “Freedom to” versus “freedom from,” and safety versus liberty
    • Abortion, contraception, and reproductive choices
    • Self-determination, ownership of one’s body
    • Right to take one’s own life
    • Environmental degradation
    • Surveillance and information technology
    • Gun control
    • Sexual orientation and choice
    • Non-reproductive sex
    • Citizenship
    • Poverty
    • Access to education, knowledge as power
    • Status of and relationships between U.S. and Russia
    • Public apathy and the creep of authoritarianism
    • Isolationism
    • Televangelists and the Christian media industry

And I bet I missed some.]

Partisanship has been increasing over the past 25 years. The Republican Party now controls the U.S. Presidency, Senate, and House of Representatives, as well as the “trifecta” (governorship + both State congressional houses) in 25 state legislatures, the senate in 12 more states, the house of representatives in six more states, and governorship in eight more states, and soon the ninth and deciding seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The trend is clear, and it is frightening.

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Credits: Photo by Nan L. Kirkpatrick, as seen on Vulture.

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How to tell the candidates what to do

 BSanders-HClinton2Last night my husband and friends voted in the California primary in what was dubbed this year “Super Tuesday IV” of the U.S. presidential election, then we watched the returns with friends. (I don’t get to vote but my naturalization process should be complete in time to vote in the November elections.)

Early in the evening I started seeing acrimonious posts on social media between friends who supported Bernie Sanders and friends who supported Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination. Some are saying “It’s over, Mr. Sanders, get behind the presumptive nominee;” which really means “STFU Bernie supporters, support my candidate.” The latter answer with “Our candidate said he was in until the national convention in July, he’s not going to fold now,” which really means “No you STFU, I’ll support who I want to.”

I understand both sides and they both have good points, but I find the bickering infuriating. Besides, the votes and in the candidates have announced their decisions — social media rants are not going to change that. So I’m going to tell you what to do too, and it involves reaching out to your candidate instead of antagonizing your friends. Continue reading “How to tell the candidates what to do”

I stand with Planned Parenthood, in mourning

I-standCan you imagine?  When I show up at my work place, I’m worried about how the company is going to stiff me again today.  When workers of women’s health clinics show up for work, they’re worried about whether someone will try to kill them.  And patients!  You go to the clinic to help make your life better or at least keep it from getting worse — and now you have to weigh whether this means being taken hostage or gunned down.

Responding to my adoring audience

D716IWCLegalAbortion1977My previous post explained why I stand with Planned Parenthood on Pink Out Day, so naturally it had to attract ridiculously offensive comments from people who have never read anything I’ve ever written, including that particular post.  My initial reaction was, of course, to hit the delete button.  But I’m feeling in a pillory mode, so instead I will post the comment in its entirety, unaltered, and then I will respond.  Because sometimes all you can do with a dog that pees on the carpet is roll up a newspaper.

Mary

The commenter wishes to be called “Mary” — this is not private information since it would have appeared with the comment if I had approved this submittal. Of course, I believe in calling people what they want to be called (except for Republican politicians who want to be called “President,” right now I’m very much against that.)  But to be honest with you, when I read Mary’s post I see the weird old guy with a bazillion surreal signs, religious tracts, and plastic Virgin statues like lawn gnomes who’s always hanging out in front of the local PP clinic.  Let’s call him “Mary”, shall we?

The author of the comment uses an email associated with a church volunteer in a Midwestern state, itself accompanied by a phone number from Cheyenne, Wyoming; the full name associated with this information is common to 19 white pages listing in the church’s Midwestern state, most of them elderly, and several of them recently dead; and the comment was posted from a mobile IP registered in a different Midwestern state.  So really, this could be a prank, a real person, a pseudonym, an identity theft, etc.

Here is what Mary had to say to me:

Do not trust birth control handed out by a company that makes its money off conception. Do not trust anyone who thinks your baby is better off dead. Do not trust people who will slice your baby into the most valuable cuts and sell them. Do not trust a business that must do a certain # of abortions to provide pay checks to its workers. PP sees us coming and sees $ signs. Factory farming of women and children. Livestock. Planned Parenthood cares about women and children the way farmers care about breeder sows and piglets. Wrap all this gut-sucking and baby mutilation all up in pink to look innocent and good? No- just bloody.

All righty, Mary.  This is going to take some unpacking; there is so much rolled up together.

The Medium is the Message

Let’s break this down in smaller bites so we can fully appreciate it.

Do not trust birth control handed out by a company that makes its money off conception.

Nice start!  You’re saying that Planned Parenthood is doing what, giving fake contraceptives? Is that what you’re saying? Because I can tell you, the stuff comes in the manufacturer’s wrapping, all sealed. You’re so desperate, you won’t even cite a third-hand anecdote to back this up?

Do not trust anyone who thinks your baby is better off dead.

What baby?  The live babies I saw going in there were cared for — all too often for free since the parents are only there because they have no health coverage.  Oh, you mean the small mass of non-viable cells I might decide to have removed from my uterus before it becomes a real baby that I would be unable to care for?  That baby?  Mary, it’s as much a baby at that point as a pinecone is a tree.  Even a really nifty pinecone is not a tree. An egg, even a fertilized egg, is not a chicken.

Do not trust people who will slice your baby into the most valuable cuts and sell them.

You don’t have a whole lot of familiarity with your topic, do you?  What is it you picture, a rosy ham carved spiral-style?  If you mean stem cell culture, we’re talking about getting a few cells from the egg or the pinecone — or in this case, the tiny blob of reddish jelly, to grow them on glorified agar plates. It’s too small to slice, see? Also too small to be a human being, let alone a viable one.

Do not trust a business that must do a certain # of abortions to provide pay checks to its workers. PP sees us coming and sees $ signs.

Oh, you betcha!  That sweet, sweet reproductive health care cash!  All those Benjamins they collect from, uh, giving away medical examinations, classes, laboratory testing, vaccinations (oh wait, that’s evil too, isn’t it?), contraceptives, and referrals to battered women’s shelters.  Boy, they sure are rolling in it, as I can readily see every time I go in there.  That 1970s office furniture — don’t let the looks fool you, you can’t get that stuff for love or money these days!  Priceless antiques!  The jobs at 60% of what the health care workers would be making in private practice?  It’s a cover!  All that money is ferried to the Cayman Islands on steamers entirely powered by the combustion of baby corpses.

Factory farming of women and children. Livestock. Planned Parenthood cares about women and children the way farmers care about breeder sows and piglets.

Unlike, say, religious people who think sex should only be for conception, and women should be at home producing children.  People who think abortion should be outlawed even in cases of pregnancies that put the mother’s life at immediate risk, or force her to carry for weeks a fetus that is non-viable, or even already dead. Totally.

Wrap all this gut-sucking and baby mutilation all up in pink to look innocent and good? No- just bloody.

Ooooh! Was this an attempt at allegory?  Alas, what you gave us was bathos instead.

Reading is Fundamental

I do love how this paragraph, this collection of non sequitur, was thrown like a plateful of noodle (rAmen!) at the wall to see what would stick, but really had nothing to say about my post.  It had to do with the words “Planned Parenthood”, not with anything else I had written.  Mary, if that’s all you get from your readings, I recommend Twitter; it will be less effort for you.  Heck, I’d like to make your life easier, you seem like you can use a break.  Why don’t I just give you some writing prompts for the next writer’s block:

  • Sex education
  • Social justice
  • Wage parity
  • Single-payer health care
  • Marriage equality
  • Free child care and preschools
  • Maternity and paternity leaves
  • Access to contraception
  • STD screenings
  • Recreational sex
  • Teaching consent
  • Secular humanism
  • Living wage

Just pick whatever frightens you most, and write me another essay.

I will leave you with a reading assignment: The Horrifying Reality of Abortion Before It Was Legal in America.

Edit: And here is the follow-up reading assignment: Real stories of late-term abortions.


Credits: Photo by Dorothy Marder, taken at the International Women Year National Conference, Houston, Texas, November 18-21, 1977

Pink Out! I stand with Planned Parenthood

pink-outTomorrow (September 29) it’s Pink Out Day in support of Planned Parenthood.

First, let me tell you why I stand with Planned Parenthood, using two excerpts from my journal, just over three years ago when I had no health insurance and was unemployed and flat broke. The people I described were the ones I saw and spoke to, not conceptual entities.

June 18, 2012

Thank you, Planned Parenthood. You were there for me many years ago when I was a penniless student, and you’re here for me again when I am unemployed and have no insurance. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m glad a regularly donated when I was employed, and I will again when I am employed anew.

Right-wingnuts: fuck off and die. You’re not doing a damn thing to help me, or anyone else who was in that waiting room: the mother with two infants, the menopausal lady worried about her surging cholesterol, the happy, giggling expectant young couple, the two young women there to get their first birth control prescriptions, etc.

June 25, 2012

I went back to Planned Parenthood for my follow-up today. I don’t know if I’m just lucky, but everyone is always incredibly nice and helpful to me in PP clinics (well, the two I’ve ever visited.)

I tend to think that it’s not luck, that it takes a special kind of people to work there with the crazies picketing every day and probably paid less than in private clinics. Many of the people I speak to have worked there forever and a half, so it’s not like they just jump on the first chance to work at a safer, more posh place.

And it nags me, bugs me, burns me to think that these incredibly nice people who help me are placing themselves at risk, that there is a very real possibility of a nutcase harming them for helping me. That’s fucked up.

That’s right: Planned Parenthood charged me nothing for the health services it provided. And yes, as soon as I had a regular income again, I resumed donations so others could benefit.

Now for some tips on showing support (besides the obvious, donating to Planned Parenthood):

5 Ways You Can #PinkOut

I-standOn September 29th to show your support for women’s health and for Planned Parenthood

  1. WEAR PINK on September 29th. Get a #StandwithPP pink t-shirt from the store.
  2. Pink Out your Facebook and/or Twitter profile image
  3. Attend a Pink Out Event near you. Can’t attend or not near a rally city? RSVP to the Facebook event for updates.
  4. Join the #PinkOut Thunderclap
  5. Share a #PinkOut selfie to #StandwithPP on social media

On Abortion

While the vast majority of services provided at Planned Parenthood are not related to abortion, I don’t want to dodge the issue. I’ve seen a lot of outrage about right-wingers who refuse to compromise on abortion even for special cases.  You know what? When they say that they’re against abortion in all cases, even rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother — that works for me, in a weird way. Abortion is legal, there are very good reasons to keep it legal, and I don’t want to see it chipped away by downgrading it to only special cases deserving the protection of the law.

Let’s recognize right now that we need not make apologies: no one is is suggesting that abortion is a fun thing, something every woman should try at least once, or something we should have punch-cards for (“Buy ten, get one free!”) Having to have an abortion sucks enough as it is — heck, having to consider whether to have an abortion sucks enough, that we need not make apologies for having a legal procedure when we, the persons who are having to make the individual decision, find it necessary.

Downgrading abortion from a right to a conditional procedure you have to get special dispensation for only opens the way to have access to contraception restricted in the same way.  We’ve had plenty of evidence recently, from right-wingers’ opposition to sex education in schools, to framing their attempts at restricting contraception through health insurance plans as a religious freedom issue.

And Violence

I mentioned in my old journal posts that the people helping me were putting themselves at risk.  Although I did not see any sign of violence, every time I have been to that clinic I have seen a fanatical picketer, a man bringing his entire collection of signs, religious paraphernalia, threats disguised as predictions, and so forth (and there have been more visits, both before and after the ones that prompted my journal entries).  Imagine being intimidated every day, every time you go in and out of your place of work!

Get a grip

OK, people. Time for a short rant on nonsensical comparisons.

Back in 2000, during the American presidential election, I would have voted Ralph Nader of the Green Party if I had been able to vote at all (I’m not a citizen here so I can’t vote.) At the time it looked to me like Bush and Gore can from the same kind of background and money and represented the same interests, and Bush merely seemed unqualified. Naturally, I rapidly learned that the two men were very different, that Bush was far worse than unqualified, etc. The point is, in my mind I had lumped together flaws and offenses that were simply not comparable.

Within a year, Democrat voters started complaining that the Greens had given the election to Bush and were virtually traitors. That was equally nonsensical and a cop-out. Then we saw the post-September 11 “patriotic” craze — actually self-righteous pricks wrapping themselves in a flag to call anyone raising any kind of mild objection a terrorist, a hater, a traitor, etc. Again, lumping together offenses that were completely disproportionate.

From 2001 through 2008 I observed more despicable acts from those in power and their cheerleaders, in a race to the bottom, than I ever imagined possible in this place and this age.

In late 2008 Barrack Obama was elected with a comfortable margin on the promise of change. After just under a year in power, his progressive supporters now feel disappointed, abandoned, betrayed, and complain bitterly that there has been no actual change.

Let’s review, shall we?

Bush’s first acts in power: renege on the Kyoto treaty, appoint industry lobbyists and religious right loonies to all key positions. Obama’s approach by comparison: launch major R&D into alternative energy sources and energy conservation, appoint scientists and experts to key positions, take the U.S. back to the table to tackle global climate change, launch a reform of the disaster Americans call a health care system.

Yes, there are still industry lobbyists in key positions, but the balance has shifted dramatically. Cap-and-trade does not go as far as we environmentalists would like, but it’s at 180 degrees from the previous free-for-all. Guantanamo has not been emptied yet, but the work has started. The health care reform will probably be sadly incremental, but there will be a reform.

Seriously, folks, how can we complain that there has been no change? Did you think that once people had gotten off the couch to vote a Democrat in power there would be lemonade, chocolate chip cookies and ponies for everyone? Did you think the fight was over? No, dammit, if you want reform you have to fight tooth-and-nail for it all the fricking time.

Look at the Loonies of the Right: even when they win, do they ever stop asking for more? No! They keep demanding, and demanding, and advancing upon the liberties of all. Yeah, it’s a bummer and a pain in the ass that we’ll always have to march and petition and call and give and stand up and protest and, for those of you who can, vote. It’d be nice if we could call in our order and wait for the 30-minute guaranteed delivery, but we’re outside the delivery area.

Obama has already initiated (not finished, yet!) more good than the Bush administration ever did (that’s on account they did none, but who’s counting.) It’s true that the Dems in the House and Senate are infuriating. Call them, for $#%^* sake! It’s very nice that you signed that petition the other day; now call again! You’re not done! And stop whining that this administration is no better than the previous one. It’s a goddamn lie and it’s defeatist.