In recent months, here in Trumplandia, American women have seen sexist behavior emboldened and misogynist rhetoric normalized. We've seen our hard-won reproductive rights continuously eroded. The chatter around new Hulu series The Handmaid's Tale, adapted from Margaret Atwood's 1985 dystopian novel, reflects its eerily accurate depiction of our present situation, a dark vision that values women primarily as vessels for childbearing.
The series begins with a young couple and their daughter on the run, driving on a remote road near the Canadian border. We later learn this is June (Elisabeth Moss, in an incandescent performance) and her husband, Luke (O-T Fagbenle of HBO's Looking). The car crashes, sirens loom closer, and Luke tells June to take daughter Hannah and run to a meeting point two miles away; he'll be right behind her. Their goodbye is hurried; June barely gets 30 seconds into the woods before she hears gunshots. She hides with her daughter, but armed men capture them.
We then see June, now known as Offred, describing the small room she now lives in, her new reality as a Handmaid. We see her brought to a "Red Center," where Handmaids are schooled in recent history and how to behave in their new roles as compulsory baby-makers. The matron running the center is Aunt Lydia (True Detective's Ann Dowd, terrifyingly powerful), and she's as skilled in quoting scripture as she is in wielding a taser.
Piety and brutality walk arm in arm in this brave new world. As she enters the fray of the Handmaids for the first time, an exhausted, terrified Offred catches a glimpse of her best friend, Moira (Samira Wiley), but the two cannot reveal they know each other. Surveillance is omnipresent, and being under "the Eyes" is a constant threat to private thoughts or outlawed behaviors (like swearing, lesbianism, eating sugar or reading).
The first four episodes streaming on Hulu take us deeply into the world that is the Republic of Gilead, formerly the U.S.A., forged by a violent takeover by an ultra-fundamentalist Christian movement. In flashbacks, we see how things changed. Women's bank accounts are seized on the same day they lose their jobs. Martial law is declared in response to "terrorism" and armed men are everywhere, their radios blurting unintelligible but ominous words. Protest marches are shut down with brute force. This recent "past" looks very much like our present: People jog with iPods, cafés serve complicated low-fat coffee drinks, and the police are outfitted with military-grade riot gear, sporting black knit hats like a bunch of Colorado hipsters.
Handmaids are forced into service to "Commanders" and their wives, forced to undergo a bizarre impregnation ritual each month known as the Ceremony. Handmaids are only allowed outside to go grocery shopping, which they must do in pairs (in one scene, piped-in elevator music and the clean white interior of the store conjures a reference to that other woman-hating dystopian film, 1975's The Stepford Wives). Offred's "partner," with whom she walks to the market each day, is Ofglen (Gilmore Girls' Alexis Bledel), who strikes Offred as a pious "true believer." But one day, after a brutal public ceremony in which the Handmaids are encouraged to punish a rapist, Ofglen and Offred let their guards down. But their newfound sisterhood is cut brutally short; the community these women inhabit is infected with paranoia and betrayal.
Could it happen here? As of this writing, a new executive order is set to be signed by our president on the National Day of Prayer: This "religious liberty" order intends to give sweeping protections to people who discriminate against others (like same-sex couples seeking to marry, or women seeking birth control or abortions) based upon moral or religious grounds.
Naturally, the ACLU and decent people everywhere will push back. But by the stroke of a pen, prejudice and hatred will be not only normalized, but protected under the law. At least in Gilead, they had to murder Congress and blow up the White House before they created a system encouraging the rape, torture, murder and enslavement of women in the name of fulfilling their "biological destiny."
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches.