Marching Towards Gilead - The Dystopia is near - Part I
… They are also downright biblical in their obsession to practically criminalise sex outside of marriage, and in their obvious Handmaid’s Tale-like intent to “guide” women back “on truck”, turning them into obedient little breeder / wives.
Art and Words by Fanitsa Petrou
There is an unmistakable shift in the way women are being treated by governments, the media, the pop culture and lately the law. Like in the case of the women in Margaret Atwood's dystopia “The Handmaid’s Tale”, which was written in 1985 and which is becoming increasingly relevant to our present, women’ s choice to reproduce is treated as public property, as if their bodies are no longer their own. All matters pertaining to their own health, and decisions that are supposedly private, difficult, life altering and wholly theirs to make, are given to the hands of men: politicians, lawmakers, government officials, doctors, husbands, partners, fathers, even rapists! Not to mention the male religious leaders who influence all the above. This is of course a trusted way of undermining women: by controlling women’ s reproductive rights, men are controlling their lives, their choices, and at the same time, intensifying and perpetuating longstanding economic inequalities between the sexes.
There is an unmistakable shift in the way women are being treated by governments, the media, pop culture and lately the law. Like in the case of the women in Margaret Atwood's dystopia "The Handmaid’s Tale”, which was written in 1985 and which is becoming increasingly relevant to our present, women’ s choice to reproduce is treated as public property, as if their bodies are no longer their own. All matters pertaining to their own health, and decisions that are supposedly private, difficult, life altering and wholly theirs to make, are given to the hands of men: politicians, lawmakers, government officials, doctors, husbands, partners, fathers, even rapists! Not to mention the male religious leaders who influence all the above. This is of course a trusted way of undermining women: by controlling women’ s reproductive rights, men are controlling their lives, their choices, and at the same time, intensifying and perpetuating longstanding economic inequalities between the sexes.
It is for this reason that the news of the various ways with which women’ s reproductive rights are currently being threatened in the United States, are significant for the rest of us, because they are very likely to have repercussions in other parts of the world where conservative Right-winged parties are becoming increasingly more popular. America leads the way in more ways than one, and the shadow these changes cast, falls not only on American women, but on women from around the globe, turning the clock backwards, setting a precedent, intensifying old sexist stereotypes and causing a serious hindrance in the evolution of gender attitudes. By them, Patriarchy perpetuates its rule over women, eroding basic liberties and making it harder to effect change on the traditional mode. They are also downright biblical in their obsession to practically criminalise sex outside of marriage, and in their obvious Handmaid’s Tale-like intent to “guide” women back “on truck”, turning them into obedient little breeder / wives.
A great way to achieve this goal is by introducing laws that are forcing women to be perpetually dependant upon their husbands, leading them back to their traditional domestic destinies. Despite The Equal Pay Act of 1963, for example, American women earn 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, but that is not a big enough gap apparently: a federal U.S. Court ruled recently that women can be paid based on what their previous salaries were, making sure they can never do better in life: each new employer will be paying them as much as the last one, regardless of the work they now produce - or how much the same employers would be paying a man for doing it - keeping them nicely and permanently in their place…
Additionally, should the American Health Care Act (AHCA) which was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives become law, it will defund Planned Parenthood for one year, unless it stops offering abortions, as well as make sexual assault, domestic violence, and pregnancy pre-existing conditions for States that set up high-risk insurance pools, marginalizing women in a very specific way: In 2017 America, the majority of the House of Representatives agreed that “pre-existing conditions” should not be required to be covered by insurance, and they specifically put in that category everything relating to a woman’ s health and life: C-sections, mammograms, gynaecological tests, post-partum depression, vaccinations and treatment relating to domestic abuse and rape, making women more at risk for being denied coverage or charged higher premiums. (Incidentally, there were exactly zero women working on the Senate version of the Republican health care bill) AHCA is also punishing rape victims, forcing them to become pregnant, taking away their access to abortion services, and on top of that, burdening them with high premiums for the rest of their lives. All these measures are aimed at making sure that women will never escape their second class citizens place.
Of course there’s another much less sinister reason why these changes are suggested: anything pertaining to a woman’s health and life, is ignored for the simple fact that it does not affect men directly, who are the “default” human beings in the eyes of the law… In the words of Rep. John Shimkus, "why should men care about prenatal care?” It's a common way of thinking among men: back in 2009 when the Obamacare was being discussed, Republicans were also particularly outraged at having to pay anything that related to a woman’s health and maternity (which is kind of ironic, given that they are so keen on women being no more than mothers!) like the senator Jon Kyl, who was baffled at having maternity care being included in the Act, because HE personally didn’t need it, which prompted Sen. Debbie Stabenow to remind him the obvious:“I think your mom probably did!”
As if the AHCA was not enough, the new Republican government is hammering away at women’ s rights by daily attempting to pass bills that are specifically aimed at keeping women nicely in their place as birthing machines. Even when some of these bills do not pass, they still reveal a trend that is rapidly influencing our perception of who we are as women in our societies.
A law that allows doctors to lie to pregnant women:
Earlier this year, the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs, unanimously passed a bill (Senate Bill 25) that allows doctors to lie to pregnant women keeping them from knowing if the foetus they are carrying has any severe abnormalities, especially if the doctor “suspects” they 'll have an abortion if they find out.
Take a minute to imagine that if you will: you are pregnant and you are feeling like there is something wrong (maybe you have all kinds of unpleasant symptoms and are in pain, or you just sense that things are not right), so you go to your doctor hoping to get some answers (and pay him dearly in order to get them). Your doctor examines you, sees that there is indeed something seriously wrong with the foetus (maybe it will have three heads, maybe it will never be able to breath on its own, maybe it will just be a mass of flesh), and instead of letting you know, and leaving any decisions to you, the mother, the one who will pay the life-long emotional, spiritual, physical and financial costs of such a decision, he turns and tells you with a big, government-approved smile on his face “Everything is fine! There is absolutely nothing to worry about! This will be such a healthy baby! ! Congrats!!! It’s all in your head! It must be your hormones. You’ve just imagined it...” (You are a woman after all...)
If passed, this law will “protect doctor’ s rights” (while undermining the mothers’ fundamental own rights of course) making it impossible for Texans to sue a doctor for intentionally withholding any information about a fetus' health! By lying and keeping the mothers from making informed decisions about the fetus they are carrying, they are of course also keeping them from making informed decisions about their own body, their own health, and their own life. All so that lawmakers and medical personal get to impose their own religious beliefs on them!
Note: abortions were also banned in Indiana, in cases where a fetal birth defect was discovered.
A law that allows rapists to sue victims:
Even though American women are supposedly protected under the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, that affirmed the legality of a woman's right to have an abortion, as it fells “within the right to privacy” (which is another way of saying “it’s her own damn business!”), a new Arkansas Anti-Abortion law (Act 45) allows rapists to sue victims, stopping them from having an abortion if they got pregnant as the result of the rape,including incest! Rapists and other sick bastards who sexually assault their daughters, can also sue doctors for even being approached by their victims seeking consultation, while doctors who perform abortions, can face fines and up to six years in jail.
It additionally grants parents and legal guardians the right to sue, in order to prevent minors from having abortions, which means that even underage girls who are victims of pedophilia and incest, will be forced to have the kids of their abusers!
The same law will also allow husbands to legally forbid their wives from ending a pregnancy and to sue doctors who perform abortions - showcasing nicely what it REALLY means to be married: your body is no longer your own, and any decisions that need to be made about it, will be made by its legal “owner”: your husband!
In seven American States, women are already living in “A Handmaid’ s Tale world”, as are currently forced to share parental custody with their rapists, (even when they are convicted for raping them!) and are even forced to negotiate with them for custody rights. Efforts to repeal those laws have continued to fail.
Back in 2015, the Republican candidate Sen. Marco Rubio went a step further, when he proposed that rape victims should be incarcerated so that it is made sure they are forced to give birth to their rapists' children! If he was elected president, in his words, he would: “put rape victims into custody and under strict supervision if it is determined that they are planning to have an abortion”. (In short, "Welcome to Gilead!")
Incidentally, David Eastman, a Republican who is a member of the Alaska House of Representatives, claimed that women are actually happy to be pregnant so that they can get to travel to have an abortion. In his words: “You have individuals who are in villages and are glad to be pregnant, so that they can have an abortion because there's a free trip to Anchorage involved" (Clearly a man who knows a lot about women…)
Women as cattle / animals:
It is also interesting to note that the Wyoming Senate, is considering bills on women’ s reproductive rights that are being handled by the Senate Agricultural Committee (!) instead of committees debating Health issues (as in HUMAN Health issues….) But why should women be seen as anything more than cattle, right? (Maybe the cattle prods with which the women are tasered in The Handmaid’ s Tale fictional universe, are not far behind…)
This also brings to mind the fact that Sex Trafficking Victims all over the US, are forcibly being marked with tattoos of a crown, which is often accompanied by the name of their pimp / slave owner, or even with microchip implants. Just like cattle, they are being branded by their owners…
On a similar note, Missouri Lawmakers joked that women who want abortions should “get them at the Zoo”!
A law that takes away options available to doctors:
Additionally, the Texas Senate approved recently a new anti-abortion bill that would prohibit certain procedures in order to prevent donation of fatal tissue and by doing that, it however also limited the options offered to doctors and prevented them from using their best medical judgment when it comes to problematic pregnancies, putting women’ s health and lives at risk!
A law that if passed, would require women to carry their dead fetus to term:
In March, Shannon Lundgren, an Iowa State Representative went on to suggest that women who miscarry after 20 weeks of pregnancy, should carry their dead fetus to term! (Again, take a minute to imagine how the woman who has to go though this particular brand of hell would feel! Not to mention how it would affect her health) No other legislators appeared to take issue with, or attempted to correct Lindgren’s comments during the debate.
A rape-loophole law:
A loophole in North Carolina’s state law on sex and consent, set by a 1979 State Supreme Court case, says that it’s not considered rape if a woman agreed to sex initially, even if she later revoked her consent for any reason like in the case of violence, (or because she just doesn’t fucking like it!) Men’ s pursuit of sex must be legally protected at all costs after all. Which is another way of saying: interfering with a woman’s body is OK. Interfering with a man’s orgasm, is NOT!
More recently, in 2016, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, ruled that someone cannot be found guilty of forceable sodomy if "a victim is so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious at the time of the sexual act or oral copulation” The court' s ruling (which refers to the case of 16-year-old girl who was raped while unconscious and woke up in hospital while being examined for sexual assault) is perpetuating victim-blaming and establishing a dangerous legal precedent that creates a loophole for rape! (as in: “first drug her, then rape her”. Bill Cosby must be ecstatic….)
It is interesting how when the rapist is drunk, this works in his defence, as he is not considered responsible for his actions, and his alcohol consumption is actually seen as a poof of his innocence! While a woman who is unconscious (even if she was drugged by her rapist!) is seen as being responsible for having been raped while she was unconscious!!!
The ways men attempt to control women’ s bodies have no end, like in the case of the Arizona Republican Russell Pearce, a former State Senator, (the nice fellow who was also involved in Arizona’s “papers please” immigration law) who went a bit further, and actually suggested sterilizing poor women as a prerequisite for getting welfare support:“If you want food stamps, you’ re going to have to be sterilized… we don’ t need those kind of genes”!!!! he said, and thankfully he was forced to resign…
Whenever the issue of welfare is raised, Republicans often turn also to the bible, like the Texas representative Jodey Arrington for example, who when asked to give a reason why access to food stamps should be cut, he replied in a Handmaid’s Tale-kind of manner, by turning to the Bible: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (Thessalonians 3-10) He was the third Republican to quote the same passage…
The forced sterilisation that was suggested by Russell Pearce, also brings to mind the cases of mass forced sterilization in Peru (not to mention WWII Germany): between 1996 and 2000, 272,000 indigenous women and 22,004 men were sterilized in Peru against their will, as part of the "National Reproductive Health and Family Planning Program", that aimed to “eradicate poverty through lower birth rates”. They were basically being punished for being poor (AND of indigenous descend obviously) Many women died due to complications and others still suffer serious health complications to this day. No charges were ever pursued.
On the other hand, when a woman WANTS to be sterilised, she is refused: in the U.S., even though doctors cannot refuse patients who for whatever reason want to have their tubes tied based on federally protected grounds, there are more and more cases of women who are denied permanent birth control by their doctors if they have not yet had three children. (Three, is apparently the “appropriate” number of children a woman MUST have before she is allowed to say she wants no more.) This line of logic is in fact quite common and there are different versions of it: single women are seen as worthless unless they get married. Married women are seen as tragic and their lives pointless unless they have kids. And even then: one child is OK, two is better, three is obviously the best; while women who want to adopt, are often discouraged and told they “should first try to have their own kids” and if they fail, then and only then they should turn to adoption etc etc.
Rape & incest as “acts of God”:
Oklahoma has also given the world the Republican George Fought, who in defending his bill that would prohibit women from seeking abortion services when their foetuses have genetic abnormalities, not only when they are the result of rape but also of incest (which is of course very likely to cause a genetically abnormal feotuses), he claimed that “if a woman gets impregnated by force, it ’s because the Lord was just using her!” When asked by the Democrat Cory Williams, whether he considered rape and incest and the pregnancies that may result from them to be the "will of God", being the pious Republican Christian that he is, Fought replied: “The Lord uses all circumstances”(including rape and incest…) When he was asked to explain his reasoning he replied: “Well, you know, if you read the Bible, there’ s actually a couple of circumstances where that happened”. Well, as long as it was considered OK during The Iron Age…
But if he is going to take that road, I do hope he is not also caught working on a Sunday, because then he must be punished by death (Exodus 31:14), and I hope his teenage kids are not misbehaving as they must be stoned by the townsfolk(Deuteronomy 21:20-21) and I hope he follows God's orders on the all-important matter of his sideburns (Leviticus 19:27), and hopefully his wife will pass the dust-swept-off-the-Tabernacle-floor-mixed-with-water test, and she won’ t get sick when she is forced to drink it, because then it might mean that she was unfaithful (Numbers 5:11-31)and he will have to put her to death(Deuteronomy 22:22 ) preferably by stoning(John 8:4-5). I also do hope that he is a handsome fellow with no “blemishes, a flat nose, or bad eyes” and he is certainly not “blind”, “lame” or a “dwarf” and he does not have “scurvy”, because his God really hates these sort of things (Leviticus 21:17-24) and would not want to have him anywhere near His church. No sir! And I hope he won’ t go having sex with his sister-in-law, because that’ s a big No-No! and he might end up dead(Genesis 38:1-10)And I do hope he is not partial to selling his own daughter into sexual slavery, because that’ s what his God wants (Exodus 21:7-9). Not to mention I hope he is careful not to wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (Leviticus 19:19) because God is VERY particular about that one, or indeed curse “outside the camp” because then all who hear him, must “stone him to death” (Leviticus 24:14) And if his engaged, virgin daughter (note that she HAS to be both a virgin and an engaged one, namely be another’ s man rightful “property” and all that) is raped by another man and she doesn’ t cry loudly enough, or she cries and there’ s no one around to hear her, then he must get rid of her, no questions asked. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) And if he is one of those Leviticus-is-anti-gay sticklers (Leviticus 18:22) who thinks that gay men need to be “put to death” (Leviticus 20:13 ), he better also not be caught planting different seeds in the same field (Leviticus 19:19), eat fruit from a tree within four years of planting it (Leviticus 19:23) or indeed sleep with another man’ s slave (Leviticus 19:20) and if he just can’ t help it, he better have a ram stranding by, ‘cause he will need to sacrifice it asap. (note: his supposedly unfaithful wife needed to be stoned to death, yet he can get away with raping a slave by sacrificing a poor ram…) And if he comes upon any messengers of God, he should go ahead and throw his daughters to be gang-raped by a bunch of wild guys if he is to save those messengers and keep them from being raped by the same (obviously bisexual) bunch of wild guys. They are only women after all, and it will please his God quite a bit!(“Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”- Genesis 19: 8-9) One cannot pick and choose only the passages that satisfy one’ s misogyny and homophobia, and just go about being reckless about the lenth of one’s sideburns and the flatness of one’s nose, is what I’ m saying.
The thing is, when you make such angry misogynistic biblical utterances your compass, is it any wonder that you start actually believing that rape and incest are “the will of God?”
Women as “Hosts”:
Oklahoma is unfortunately not “doin' fine” and when it comes to women’ s Rights (Human Rights!) is NOT “O.K.!” at all. Another Oklahoma state legislator, Rep. Justin Humphrey, earlier this year, tried to push a similar bill that would require a woman to reveal the father’ s name and to get “written, informed” consent of her sexual partner if she wants to have an abortion. Even though women’ s bodies are directly affected by pregnancy and their entire lives are considerably more affected by having children than men’ s own. But more to the point, take a minute to contemplate what a joke it is, to talk of “the male right of consent” when it comes to the countless rape victims: a woman does not have to give her own consent when a guy decides to use her body by force, but he needs to give his own (in writing no less!) if she gets pregnant as the result of being sexually abused by him! This bill will incidentally result in her having her rapist always in her life, not to mention that fact that her child will be forced to have a rapist for a father… The House Bill also says fathers can veto a women’ s decision to go forward with the abortion, even in the case of incest! Take another minute to ponder on that…
In another The Handmaiden's Tale-like twist, Rep. Justin Humphrey went on to justify his reasoning, by informing the world that a woman is merely a “host”, and once she decides to be “irresponsible” by having sex (the guy with whom she is having this sex, is of course blameless) her body is no longer entirely her own because she will always be a potential “host”! Put in his own (remarkably eloquent) words: “I understand that they feel like that is their body,” he said of women (note to him: actually dude, we don’t “feel” that. It IS our body!). “I feel like it is a separate — what I call them is, is you’ re a ‘host. You (women) know when you enter into a relationship you’ re going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don’ t get pregnant. After you’ re irresponsible then don’t claim, well, I can just go and do this with another body, when you ’re the host and you invited that in.”
He is of course downright Aristotelian, in his misogyny (though I have my doubts whether the stetson-wearing Oklahoman has heard of Aristotle). In fact, the Greek philosopher’ s notion was that men are the sole “life givers”, and women are merely the “incubators”, the “potting soil” for the male “live seed”. Aristotle, also claimed that mothers have no actual relation to their children (!), since they are merely the “hosts” for as long as pregnancy lasts. (That is why in ancient Greece, matricide - the killing of one's mother - was not considered a crime, while patricide was a very severe one…) In Aristotelian terms, (much like in the world of The Handmaid’ s Tale), mothers were merely the wombs that brought children to the world, and fathers had the reproductive ownership of those children. (Aristotle was born some 2,400 years ago though, what’ s this guy’ s excuse?)
Even though this notion was of course also a popular ancient Hebrew belief (and one of the many reasons why the Old Testament is such a fun read for feminists – or anyone who is not intellectually speaking, still stuck in the Iron Age), Aristotle’ s re-imagining of it, has left a lasting mark on Judeo-Christian tradition and the writings of the Church Fathers, (and the Koran) and was particularly popular throughout the Middle Ages, (the actual ones, and the hypothetic ones in which we are currently living obviously) It was based on Pythagora’s own theory of "spermism",which claimed that fathers contribute the essential characteristics of their offspring, while mothers are the “passive vessels” and contribute only a material substrate (the “surface” on which life is “deposited”). A theory that in turn influenced 18th-century Christianity, as expressed in “preformationism” (or preformism), which was only one of the many similar theories that attempted to offer “evidence” that women are just “nurturers” and not actual parents to their kids! This particular theory, claims that there is a ‘homunculus”, (an actual miniature man!) inside every sperm, whom scientists claimed to have been able to see through their microscopes (or should I say magic spheres?) and that of course offered a so-called “scientific” proof that only men give life… (the fact that women literally carried a human being in their bellies was not seen as important....) Which is another way of saying: men have been trying literary for centuries to devaluate women in every way imaginable, even in their most obvious role as mothers.
Genetics proved centuries later what a lot of complete nonsense those notions were of course, proving that we share genes with both our parents (and if anything we are "more" related to our mothers). Which means the mothers of all those biblical prophets who were so particular about their father’ s lineage, and all those ancient philosophers who spent all that time theorizing about how they had no relation to their mums, and all those pseudo-scientists who were claiming to be able to see little men inside their sperm, not to mention all the modern-day conservatives, were hardly merely the “incubators” that carried them!
Such notions are of course still popular in many places around the world, (regardless of science, or common sense) and children are legally seen as more, or even solely their father’ s children, and are for this reason more likely - by far - to take his patronym. Moreover, sons are seen as considerably more important than girls, and the sole “carriers” of the bloodline, a notion that is dangerous as it not only justifies Patriarchy, but also the killing of countless baby girls every single day. These kinds of religious, philosophical and pseudo-scientifical notions, were fundamental in the exploitation of women through the centuries, as they were seen as a “proof” of a woman’ s inferiority, and an excuse for her social exclusion, sexual exploitation and economic dependency.
Present-day Right-winged lawmakers know it well: If you want to control women’ s reproductive roles by laws and regulations, you do it by the continuous and relentless repetition of those same old biased "philosophical" or so-called scientific theories, and religious aphorisms. It is a simple enough method, and it has worked for countless generations. As soon as the Women’s Rights movement started gaining ground, the old laws, the age-old bias needed to be revisited, and what better place to start than at the beginning? Namely at religion, which makes a come-back in our days, masked as a nostalgia for “traditional values”, and which is nothing more than a blatant attempt to strip women of their rights.
And by the way, can we just face it, that Christian religious fundamentalists who are obsessed with “family values” and take the bible in its literal sense are not that different from Moslem ones? And can we finally face it, that the sexism that can be found in Islam, has actually been stolen from our own Old Testament? Misogyny is hardwired in our own religion, in our own culture as well. It’ s all there: everything the sharia law prescribes, every command about selling one’s daughters, and taking revenge on one’s enemies, and stoning, and lashing, and sex slavery and victim-blaming when it comes to rape, and the covering of the head, and the cutting of the arms, and the gouging of the eyes, it’s all there! Every woman-hating utterance, every attempt to keep women silent and subservient and compliant and under the control of fathers and husbands, and basically punish them for not being men, every chilling cruelty we find to be unthinkable and barbaric and alien to us, is all there and if we allow it, it will also become our present for once more. Christians have been through that phase too (and in theory at least, went pass it). It’s just "newer" to them. That is why they hold on to it, with white-knuckled (and bloody) hands. Making it their only compass. This is their own Middle Ages. These are their own Inquisition days. They just did’ t have 2000 years (and change) to work things out, and become able to see through the darkness…