For those who haven't read it, the book is a work of feminist science fiction that depicts a future US in which the religious right has created a theocracy (The Republic of Gilead) in which women have, in essence, become state property. Those who are able to conceive and bear children are put to work as "handmaids" of elite couples, there only to be a uterus and justified by biblical injunction. Other women are assigned to very specific roles within the household, and the whole society has restricted sexual freedom and civil liberties in a variety of ways. The book is in the tradition of other dystopian "warnings," rather than a prediction of how things might go. Written in the mid-80s, her perspective is understandable with the rise of religious conservatives during the Reagan years.
During the current administration, with its own deep connections to religious conservatives (who in their most radical form certainly have theocratic ambitions), a number of proposals, policies, and actual legislation have appeared that resonate with the world of Gilead in Atwood's novel. I keep seeing these echoes in various places and have wanted to call attention to them on a regular basis, and this inaugural post is my first attempt to systematically do so.
Let me also put my cards on the table, as I know some readers of L&P are less critical of (if not downright sympathetic to) the religious right, and perhaps the Bush administration, than I am: I have absolutely NO sympathy for religious conservatives and I think building strategic alliances with them is a huge mistake for libertarians to make. Yes, mainstream religious conservatives are hardly the Christian Nationalists of the Gary North sort, but I fail to see the "libertarian streak" in them that others do. I find them to be as antithetical to liberty as any other group left or right, if not more so in the ways that many would restrict non-economic freedoms, which are often harder to "work around" than economic ones and in their support for the warfare state. And as a Jew, albeit an atheist one, I find talk of the US as a "Christian nation" to be downright bone-chilling, even if it is couched in terms that don't explicitly suggest it is the state's role to "Christianize" anyone.
That said, not all the items in my "Gilead Watch" will involve the religious right, although one of my two today does. The first is a Salon piece by Michelle Goldberg (viewing of a brief ad required to access) documenting the most radical of the religious right activists - the Christian Nationalists. I think the connections to Gilead speak for themselves. The second is a blog entry by Bitch PhD. She reports on some new federal guidelines that "ask all females capable of conceiving a baby to treat themselves -- and to be treated by the health care system -- as pre-pregnant." This is more or less the way in which the Handmaids were treated in Gilead: everything they did was done so that they had the maximum chance for conception and a successful pregnancy. Now no one is suggesting that women be coerced into reproductive service, but as Bitch points out:
The federal government thinks all "females"--that's what we are, ladies, biological specimens, not people. Not women. All females who are "capable of conceiving a baby"--not becoming pregnant, "conceiving a baby"--are to treat themselves, and be treated, as "pre-pregnant." The federal government. From pubescence through menopause. Throughout highschool, college, and most of one's career.
With such guidelines in place, how much of a step is it from "guidelines" to "requirements?" Like the novel, here's another warning. And I happen to love her demand the women get better information about the real risks of things like drinking during pregnancy so that they can make their own choices, rather than simply being told "don't do it." Bitch has her own libertarian streak in her at times as well.
UPDATE: Things may not be as bad as first thought. See Bitch's post clarifying what was in the CDC report and what was coming from the Washington Post's coverage of it.
More "Gilead Watch" to follow, I'm quite certain.