It’s probably because this is the week that The Handmaid’s Tale debuts on Hulu, but I’ve been thinking a lot about male/female relations lately. And I have a confession to make: I kind of get why men would be sexist.
I discovered The Handmaid’s Tale as a high school student, one of many subversive books I might have been told I was too young for but, somehow, mercifully, wasn’t. It’s a tale set in a near future, in which women have lost all their rights and, due to declining birth rates, are being forced into reproductive slavery.
I re-read it last January. In preparation for the Hulu series, I listened to the audio book last week (I finished it today). So, you know, I’m pissed. It’s raw. I read the book thirty years ago, at the start of my investigation of gender imbalances in our society, during my first blushes of trying to understand why men in my culture of origin were so revered and feared and, tragically, so rarely questioned or challenged. It now presents itself to me three decades later, when my sensibilities are much refined, but when my world reflects fictional Gilead more than it did in 1986.
The book first showed up in my life when Madonna promised that our bodies could be ours, when thick shoulder pads told us that we could brave the office, when you could bring home the bacon AND fry it up in a pan, when my pert body gave no complaint. It insinuates itself back in under President Pussygrabber, with reproductive rights more in danger than ever, slowly eroded like my youthful exuberance and rash hope that things always only get better.
So this is where the confession comes in: I get it. I know why white men are mad. I know why they wanted a time out after five decades of head-spinning change and declining economic promise. I understand. Worse, even: I sympathize. If I’d have been the recipient of their charmed promise, I’d be mad as hell to see it go. I’d want to live in a world where women still read magazines with advice like, “Tips to look after your husband,” So simple. So soothing. Not quite so many steps removed from Mom. Wouldn’t we all want to come home to an orderly house free of complaint and dust? To accept that it is otherwise is an act of supreme maturity, and if we could avoid maturity… wouldn’t many of us?
I asked my boyfriend the other day why any man wouldn’t root for the home team, and would self identify as a feminist instead. His answer failed to satisfy (sorry, babe). It was something about believing in equality. But we all know about injustices we abide, because changing them takes work, or because they don’t affect us too directly. I know that if I let myself watch a documentary about factory farming I’d never want to eat meat again. But I like steak, so I turn a blind eye. This afternoon my daughter and I decided to Google statistics on sexual assaults in refugee camps. (Spare yourself. It’s demoralizing). My overwhelming reaction was lassitude. What could I do? To slay every dragon would leave me laid out on the shores of despair.
Yeah So… why? Why do men join us, learn to like something other than a vacant smile behind an apron? I’m still not sure. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to pull it off if the shoe were on the other foot. But, damn, am I glad so many of them do.
Watch The Handmaid’s Tale. Because so many of us are terrified. Not because we don’t understand, but because we do. And because we see the thin gossamer between one and the other.