In the mid-1980s, Margaret Atwood wrote a novel that went on to win many literary prizes, mostly ones that recognise excellence in science fiction and fantasy. The Handmaid’s Tale was also the first recipient of the Arthur C Clarke Award.
I read that book when I was 18 years old; it was 1990. It was the most terrifying book I had ever read. I still remember the clammy feeling of fear it instilled in me. So when it became a hit TV series 25 years later, I didn’t watch it.
The book is described as a piece of speculative fiction, while the series is listed as being set in a “dystopian future” – neither is an accurate description.
The book should rather be listed as a cautionary tale about what happens when the patriarchy feels that its grip on power – which is exercised through the subjugation and control of women – is slipping. And throughout the world, it is slipping.
The actions of the 25 old white men in Alabama in the US this week stink of fear. They are dead men walking.
Not only because they are old and irrelevant, but because their kind will not be making any decisions for any of us for much longer, much less about something as fundamental as the right to a safe abortion under the pretence of protecting lives they wouldn’t save from a terrorist with an assault rifle.
The days of living in a world where those who have power do the bidding of warmongers and capitalists are ending.
Sure, it doesn’t feel like it, as Arundhati Roy eloquently described this week in her Arthur Miller Freedom to Write lecture: “... as we lurch into the future, in this blitzkrieg of idiocy, Facebook ‘likes’, fascist marches, fake news coups and what looks like a race towards extinction…”
However, I like to believe that what Roy describes as “the steady hands of white supremacists in the White House, new imperialists in China, neo-Nazis once again massing on the streets of Europe, Hindu nationalists in India, and a host of butcher-princes and lesser dictators in other countries to guide us into the unknown”, are rather symptoms of the rally before the long overdue death of our greedy, consumerist society as we cast out these old men who have led us to the brink of annihilation.
Children like Greta Thunberg – who graces the cover of Time this week – are the future.
She shows us how we can pull ourselves back from the brink to be truly pro-life. Like in Naomi Alderman’s speculative novel The Power, our collective rage can remake the world. We just have to harness it and convert it into the jolt we need to start afresh.