Margaret Atwood began writing her speculative-fiction novel The Handmaid’s Tale almost 30 years ago, while living in West Berlin — before the wall came down.
It was a long time ago, in more ways than one. Atwood wrote of a dystopian United States, where a feigned terrorist attack blamed on Islamic extremists ushers in an era of theocracy, where fertile women — handmaids — are regarded as property. Sex is officially regarded as for reproduction only. Freedom of religion has been abolished, and the government controls who is allowed to hold assets, reproduce and even read.
Ironic, then, that a group of “concerned parents” — as if there were any other kind — seek to ban The Handmaid’s Tale, along with a few other titles, from the suggested reading list of some Guilford County Schools’ advanced English programs.
SEX IS A BIG PART OF LIFE, AND IF YOU’RE DOING IT RIGHT, THERE WILL BE WAY MORE SEX IN YOUR LIFE THAN THERE WILL BE VIOLENCE
The 2,200 or so signers of a petition making the rounds agree that the book, along with Kurt Von- negut’s Cat’s Cradle and House of Spirits by Isabel Allende, violates their personal moral standards. One parent told WFMY that The Handmaid’s Tale, in particular, denigrates Christianity.
Lisa Reid, who organized the protest, said of the book: “I did not find anything inspirational. I did not find anything to help our young people.”
We’re wondering if she only read the naughty, sexy parts. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most important books to come out of the 1980s, inspiring a generation of women and men alike, and helped craft a new brand of feminism. It explores themes of power and gender, politics and fear, religion and sexuality. And yes, sometimes the characters in it get down with each other.
We’re okay with that. Sex is a big part of life, and if you’re doing it right, there will be way more sex in your life than there will be violence — though the “concerned parents” don’t seem to be bothered by violence. Another book on the list, Shakespeare’s Othello, is loaded with it, and lots of sex too, though somehow it escaped notice.
The Handmaid’s Tale is not required reading for Guilford County’s advanced English students — only a few of the schools list it and there are other books on the list to choose from — but we’re thinking maybe it should be.
Because not only is The Handmaid’s Tale a remarkable, award-winning piece of fiction, it is also a cautionary tale, warning us about the perils of legislated morality, the inherent unfairness of class and gender distinctions, and what happens when people are stripped of their rights, ostensibly for the greater good.
We suggest that everyone go out and read it, lest the grim future depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale starts to happen here.
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