Books, Feminism, Top Stories, Women

Gilead Resembles an Islamic Theocracy, not Trump’s America

Margaret Atwood, whose work I have long admired, is now being hailed as a prophet. It is quite the phenomenon. According to the pundits, Atwood’s 1985 work, The Handmaid’s Tale, which Mary McCarthy once savaged, and the recently-published 2019 sequel, The Testaments, are dystopias which aptly describe the contemporary climate change crisis, toxic environments, the rise in infertility, and the enslavement of women in Trump’s America.

Is this all Atwood is writing about? Do the increasing restrictions on abortion in America parallel the extreme misogyny of Gilead, the theocratic state in Atwood’s saga? Is the unjust separation of mothers and children, a la Trump on the southern border, what Atwood has foretold? Every review and interview with Atwood that I could find strongly insists that this is the case.

Michelle Goldberg, in the New York Times, attributes the current popularity of The Handmaid’s Tale to Trump’s ascendancy. She writes: “It’s hardly surprising that in 2016 the book resonated—particularly women—stunned that a brazen misogynist, given to fascist rhetoric and backed by religious fundamentalists was taking power.”

Michiko Kakutani recently reviewed The Testaments for the New York Times. She writes:

Atwood understands that the fascist crimes of Gilead speak for themselves…just as their relevance to our own times does not need to be put in boldface. Many American readers and viewers of The Handmaid’s Tale are already heavily invested with the story of Gilead because we’ve come to identify with the Handmaids’ hopes that the nightmare will end and the United States—with its democratic norms and constitutional guarantees—will soon be restored. We identify because the events in Atwood’s novel…now feel frighteningly real. Because news segments on television in 2019 are filled with images of children being torn from their parents’ arms, a president using racist language to sow fear and hatred and reports of accelerating climate change jeopardizing life as we know it on the planet.

At the anti-Trump pro-women’s rights marches around the country, some feminist protesters dressed like Handmaids in billowing, shapeless red dresses, their facial identities obscured by large, white Victorian-era bonnets, carrying signs that read: “Make Margaret Atwood fiction again” and “The Handmaid’s Tale is not an instruction manual.”

They have a point. Abortion rights are being steadily challenged and nearly eviscerated in the formerly slave-owning American states. Right-to-life lawyers insist that the protection of unborn children without any gestational markers is the law of the land. We now have free states and slave states in terms of access to high quality, insurance-funded abortions. Pregnant, drug-addicted women are being jailed for child abuse.

However, Atwood’s Gilead reflects and foretells two other profoundly devastating realities, which neither the critics nor Atwood dwell upon.

Handmaid is about many things: Extreme misogyny, woman’s Inhumanity to woman (at which Atwood excels), and post-Orwellian totalitarianism. But it is also quintessentially about commercial surrogacy, a practice which has already been legalized in at least 20 American states, a transaction which is seen as “progressive.”1

Many feminists favor altruistic and commercial surrogacy. They, their daughters, their friends, including their gay male friends, may be infertile, unable to maintain a pregnancy, or are womb-less and may need the services of a birthmother surrogate. Such feminists are Gilead’s Serena Joy/Mrs. Waterford, a high-ranking Commander’s wife, just as much as they are Offred, their enslaved, fertile Handmaid.

The real handmaids in America today are the birthmother-surrogates who, out of economic desperation, or in a psychological fugue state, agree to carry a child for an “intended” parent or parents. Their diets and medical care is as closely supervised as in Gilead and they are sometimes forbidden to even see the babies in the delivery room. Breastfeeding is not an option. In one case, armed guards prevented the birthmother from meeting her triplets in the NICU.

Why choose surrogacy when other options are now possible? Today, in New York State, newborns and infants are available to all to adopt, including single, infertile, and gay couples. But they are mainly African- or Hispanic-American. Choosing one’s own genes or eggs is not seen as racism, nor is it condemned as selfish and genetically narcissistic.

Many feminists believe that a woman’s right to an abortion is dependent upon her right to sell or altruistically give away a baby she has borne; that doing so is not dangerous to the birthmother’s or the baby’s physical and mental health.

However, viewing a woman as merely a vessel for property that contractually belongs to “intentional parents” is in direct conflict with the grounds for a woman’s right to an abortion. The embryo/fetus/developing child is part of the woman, it belongs to her because it is in her body. This fact gives her the right to terminate a pregnancy. If others claim this right, then what may stop the sperm donor, the state, the church, or the Wives and Commanders of Gilead from claiming custody and adoption rights?

Historically and legally, the definition of “mother” was always the birthmother. Many pregnant women bond with the developing embryo in their bodies whether or not the genetic material belongs to them or to their husbands. This biological reality is being overturned via a legal contract. In the past and in countries around the world (Nigeria’s baby farms come to mind), high-value newborns may be obtained forcibly, by holding women captive. Slave women were raped by their Masters who had the right to separate mother and child by selling one or both of them.

Just as in Gilead, the modern practice of surrogacy breeds a false equality between sperm, egg, and legal adoptive motherhood versus months of painful IVF treatments, nine months of pregnancy, and childbirth. It completely erases the pregnant woman and childbirth. Doing so disenfranchises womankind and the biological reality of pregnancy.2

Gilead’s handmaids are genetically related to their children. Handmaids are forced to breast feed for a limited amount of time and then banished forever from the lives of their children. This is exactly what is now happening all across America. It is also happening every day when American citizen mothers unjustly lose custody of their children.

In my view, commercial surrogacy is matricidal and a form of child abuse. Strong words—but backed up by a range of horror stories about what happens when such arrangements, even of the altruistic kind, go wrong.

To be clear, Atwood has foretold the horrific rise of surrogacy in America—but none of her admirers want to talk about this because it distracts from their anti-Trump agenda.

There’s another contemporary parallel that also gets scant attention. Gilead’s system of pseudo-theocratic totalitarian control in both her novels and in the MGM/Hulu versions does not accurately reflect what is happening in America today; it mirrors what is happening in most Islamic countries, a fact that Atwood and her admirers are too politically correct to notice.

Obscuring one’s individual identity, masking one’s face, sequestering women at home, may have been true of many previous cultures and regimes. However, in this day forced face veils (niqab) and burqas (head, face, and body bags) are mainly realities for women in Muslim countries and communities in the West. In Iran in July, three women were sentenced to a total of 55 years between them for protesting against the veil.

A Shia woman walking during Aberdeen. Photo by ‏?? فی عین الله on Unsplash

In The Handmaid’s Tale Atwood does mention Islam twice (to exonerate Muslims as the suspected mass murderers of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Oval Office in Gilead (p.174) and again in a reference to the “obsession with harems” on the part of allegedly Orientalist Western painters who did not understand that they were painting “boredom” (p.69). Atwood’s quintessential Bad Guys are Caucasian, Bible-thumping, right wing, conservative, American Christians.

Where else but in the Islamic world do we see forced face veiling, forced child marriage, women confined to the home, polygamy (a “wife” and a “handmaid” under the same roof), male guardians and minders, cattle prod shocking, whipping, hand amputations, stoning, crazed vigilante mobs stomping and tearing people apart, and tortured corpses publicly displayed on city walls or hanging from cranes in order to terrify the populace? Or the torture murder of homosexuals? This is how Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, the Islamic Republics of Iran and Afghanistan, the tyrants of Somalia and Saudi Arabia, interpret, correctly or incorrectly, Sharia law.

How could all the reviewers not see what I so clearly see? Perhaps here’s how.

once lived in a harem in Afghanistan—a harem simply means the “women’s quarters.” It is forbidden territory to all men who are not relatives. If you can’t leave without permission or without a male escort, you are in a harem and living in purdah.

After a 30-month courtship, I married the glamorous, wealthy, very Westernized, foreign student whom I first met at college when I was 18. We never once discussed religion. Not a word about Islam. He had not prepared me for what life would be like in his country, even temporarily. For example, he had never even mentioned that his father had three wives and 21 children, that most Afghan women still wore burqas or heavy hijab, that I would be pressured to convert to Islam, and would have to live with my mother-in-law.

When we landed in Kabul, officials smoothly removed my American passport—which I never saw again. Suddenly, I was the citizen of no country and had no rights. I had become the property of a polygamous Afghan family. I was not allowed out without a male escort, a male driver, and a female relative as my chaperones.

This marriage had transported me back to the 10th Century and trapped me there without a passport back to the future.

I experienced what it was like to live with people who were permanently afraid of what other people might think—even more so than in Small Mind Town, USA.

I was terrified when I first saw women wearing ghostly burqas—ambulatory body bags, sensory deprivation isolation chambers—huddled together literally at the back of the bus. My Afghan family laughed at my over-reaction, which was considered abnormal, not their practice of burying women alive.

My dreamer-of-a husband kept assuring me that the dreadful burqa and my captivity would both soon pass. He lived to see this dream come true for about 15 years for the middle classes until it was shattered again, perhaps forever.

Many Afghan women have mothers-in-law who beat them and treat them as despised servants. Mine never hit me or ordered me to cook or clean, but she tried to convert me to Islam every single day and tried to kill me by telling the servants to stop boiling my water and washing my fruits and vegetables. I got deathly ill.

Poor woman, she was a deserted and much maligned first wife. She feared me, envied me, hated me—as a woman, an infidel, a Jew, an American, and mainly, as a “love match,” something considered too dangerously Western. Afghan mothers-in-law do collaborate in or even perpetrate the honor/horror killings of their daughters and daughters-in-law. So do rural India-based Hindu mothers and mothers-in-law, Muslim mothers and mothers-in-law world-wide, and Sikhs, to a lesser extent.

I got out of the wild, wild East and I moved on. But I never forgot the way it was. I always understood that as imperfect as America and the West might be, it was still a much better place for women than the Islamic world. Forever after, I understood that barbaric customs are indigenous, not caused by foreign intervention; and that, like the West, Islam was also an imperial and colonial power, owned slaves, and engaged in gender and religious apartheid.

I owe Afghanistan a great deal for teaching me this. Perhaps my radical Western feminism was forged long ago in pampered purdah in Kabul.

Islamic or Islamist totalitarianism today and as I knew it nearly 60 years ago in Kabul is the more obvious face of Gilead than the one imagined by Atwood more than 30 years ago.

Like the handmaids and domestics in Gilead, the captive population in Orwell’s 1984 is monitored around the clock through “telescreens” that can view every room, each person. The telescreens broadcast Big Brother’s orders and conduct daily “hate” sessions. People are always anxious and paranoid; everyone has permanent enemies.

Today, Orwell’s Thought Police sound a lot like the Afghan Taliban or like Iran’s or Saudi Arabia’s Virtue­ and-Vice squads, who arrest men and women for the smallest sign of “individuality” or difference, and who harass and arrest women for showing a single strand of hair, or a glimpse of ankle. Here’s Khaled Hosseini’s fictional description of life in Afghanistan under the Soviets in The Kite Runner:

You couldn’t trust anyone in Kabul anymore—for a fee or under threat, people told on each other, neighbor on neighbor, child on parent, brother on brother, servant on master, friend on friend…the rafiqs, the [Afghan] comrades, were everywhere and they’d split Kabul into two groups: those who eavesdropped and those who didn’t…A casual remark to the tailor while getting fitted for a suit might land you in the dungeons of Poleh-charkhi…Even at the dinner table, in the privacy of their own home, people had to speak in a calculated manner—the rafiqs were in the classrooms too; they’d taught children to spy on their parents, what to listen for, whom to tell.

And here he is describing Afghanistan in the Taliban era:

In Kabul, fear is everywhere, in the streets, in the stadiums, in the markets, it is a part of our lives here…the savages who rule our watan [country] don’t care about human decency. The other day, I accompanied Farzanajan to the bazaar to buy some potatoes and naan. She asked the vendor how much the potatoes cost, but he did not hear her, I think he had a deaf ear. So she asked louder and suddenly a young Talib ran over and hit her on the thighs with his wooden stick. He struck her so hard she fell down. He was screaming at her and cursing and saying the Ministry of Vice and Virtue does not allow women to speak loudly. She had a large purple bruise on her leg for days…If I fought, that dog would have surely put a bullet in me, and gladly!

Hosseini’s descriptions are right out of 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale.

Two memoirs set in Iran, Azar Nafisi’s best-selling Reading Lolita in Tehran and Roya Hakakian’s Journey from the Land of No, describe the savage curtailment of private life and thought—and of life itself—by radical Islamists.

According to Nafisi, Khomeini’s goon squads closed news­papers and universities and arrested, tortured, and executed beloved teachers, prominent artists, intellectuals, and activists, including feminists, and thousands of other innocent and productive Muslims. The squads constantly harassed women on the street and at work. If a woman failed the dress-code standards even slightly, or by accident, she risked being arrested, probably raped, probably executed.

In Journey from the Land of No, Roya Hakakian describes the in­describable “Mrs. Moghadam,” the newly-installed head of the Jewish girls’ high school. Mrs. Moghadam tyrannizes, terrifies, and shames the Jewish girls. She tries to convert them to Islam. However, her true passion is more Talibanesque. She informs the innocent girls that, although they do not know it, they are “diabolical,” “abominable,” “loathsome,” “lethal,” capable of “drowning everything in eternal dark­ness,” capable of bringing the “apocalypse” by showing a single strand of hair. To Hakakian’s credit, she presents a rather dangerous turn of events as a dark comedy.

Mrs. Moghadam is definitely an Aunt Lydia, the lead female tormentor of the Handmaids, right out of Gilead, circa 1985.

As Muslim women are being tortured, honor-murdered by their families, or stoned to death, sometimes for refusing to wear the veil, many Western multiculturally and politically correct post-colonial feminists are deconstructing and wearing the face veil and the head scarf as symbols of anti-racism and as a form of respect when they visit Muslim countries. Such feminists are also silencing and demonizing all other views in academic journals, in the media, and on feminist internet groups.

I’ve written about this many times. Therefore, while I know that violence against women still remains a burning issue in the West, I agree with Allison Pearson’s recent article in The Spectator: “The appalling vanity of Western Feminists who think Margaret Atwood writes about them.”

Atwood depicts an all-female power structure in which the handmaids are kept in line by cruel female “Aunts,” led by Aunt Lydia, who casually apply cattle prods and tasers, who blame them as evil sluts, punish them with group condemnation, bouts of solitary confinement, exile them to the “Colonies” to die cleaning up toxic waste, etc. Such behavior seems to contradict feminist views of women as morally superior to men and as more compassionate and intuitive.

Like men, women are human beings and as such are as close to the apes as to the angels. Women are also aggressive, cruel, competitive, envious, sometimes lethally so, but mainly toward other women. I would not want to be at the mercy of a female prison guard—or a female concentration camp guard—in the West. But let’s not forget the Wives of ISIS—the all-female al-Khansa Brigade who whipped, beat, and mutilated the breasts of girls and women when their heavy black burqas slipped. Displaced ISIS women continue their anti-woman reign of terror.

Misogynist thinking and actions exist in America today but not only among right-wing conservatives. It is also flourishing among our media and academic elites. Such thinking is flying high under the banner of “free speech,” “multi-cultural relativism,” “anti-racism,” and “political correctness.” Dare to question this elite’s right to silence and shame those who challenge their views—i.e., that the West is always to blame, that jihadists are freedom-fighters, that the Islamic face veil is a free choice or a religious commandment, that polygamy encourages sisterhood, that Islam is a race, not a religious and political ideology—and, as I’ve noted many times, one is attacked as a racist, an Islamophobe, and a conservative, and swiftly demonized and de-platformed.

While MGM/Hulu’s TV series is dramatically compelling, part soap opera, part horror movie, part Warrior Queen fantasy, the series is radically different from Atwood’s 1985 novel. For example, Atwood’s narrator, Ofglen, is not an increasingly daring, crazed, female assassin, as Elizabeth Moss brilliantly plays her. She is hardly heroic at all; under totalitarianism, heroism, collective or individual, is quickly ferreted out and destroyed. It exists but is rare.

Contemporary viewers are hungry for multi-racial characters, interracial and same-sex couples, “badass” women. Hulu gives them to us. Hulu’s Canada is a multi-racial, politically correct refuge for Gilead’s escapees; same-sex couples and feminists are government leaders. This is not true in the novel. On the contrary, in her 1985 Epilogue, Atwood has Canada rounding up and returning all Gilead escapees.

Atwood the divine novelist is absolutely entitled to depict whatever she wishes. But the current crop of reviewers as well as the filmmakers are playing partisan politics with her original vision and are refusing to see other and larger global dangers contained in her work.

Women’s freedom and women’s lives worldwide are under the most profound siege. To focus solely on the United States or on the Caucasian, Judeo-Christian West is diversionary. It scapegoats one country, one culture, for the far greater crimes of other countries and cultures.


Phyllis Chesler Ph.D is the author of 18 books including Women and MadnessWoman’s Inhumanity to WomanAn American Bride in Kabul, and A Politically Incorrect Feminist. 

Photo: Margaret Atwood, during a press conference, at the British Library in central London, on the global publication day of her new book: The Testaments, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. 


1 Commercial surrogacy has been outlawed in India, Thailand, parts of Mexico, Malaysia, and South Africa, as well as in many European countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, and the UK. Hence, the campaign to legalize commercial surrogacy in America has gathered momentum.
2 Contemporary surrogacy has now become a way of slicing and dicing biological motherhood into three parts: an egg donor, who undergoes painful and dangerous IVF procedures; a “gestational” mother who faces all the risks of pregnancy, childbirth, and potentially negative and lifelong medical and psychiatric consequences; and an adoptive mother or father. This vivisection of motherhood makes it impossible for a birthmother to win custody for any reason.



  1. Strange article. It starts off as something you’d typically see at BuzzFeed or Huffington Post. The melodrama about Trump’s America being akin to the Handmaid’s Tail, the psychotic claim that preventing women from killing their offspring is a curtailment of rights or tantamount to slavery, the border separations they didn’t care about when Obama did it (not to mention the utter banality of criminals being separated from their kids every day, in every city and town, because they must go to prison). I wondered why this same overused, poorly-supported screed was being published here when it is the stuff of the homogeneously-leftist mainstream media Quillette is a reaction to.

    Then the tangent on surrogacy. It’s unclear to me how that fits in with the Huffington Post editorial take that comes before it and what comes afterward. I wonder if the author is also a SWERF, because it seems to me that if feminists think prostitution is okay, surrogacy should be more than fine. Renting your holes to someone who couldn’t earn their use any other way is surely more demeaning than creating a new human for people who can’t have one of their own. Slandering people who want their own biological children as racist seems petty. The whole issue would have been better as its own article. As is, it is poorly explained.

    And finally, the author comes to the point of the piece, and I realise why this isn’t in the Huffington Post. The thoroughly obvious observation that the Handmaid’s Tail is essentially life under Islamic theocracy. I have to say I’ve never read the book, but my friend did insist on us watching the series last week, and from the first episode it is clear Gilead is a more pleasant version of ISIS. It baffles me how Western women see themselves in this universe and not the women who have actually lived the same experiences, except with more beheadings and more people burned alive.

    The author congratulates herself for noticing this obvious parallel that anyone remotely informed on global events for the last 10 years should see, but that makes the beginning of the essay all that much more confusing. Why partake of this vain exercise of claiming such extreme victimhood when you know you are deeply privileged compared to the hundreds of millions of women living in Islamic countries?

    The only reason I can think of is that some women have a very distorted view of sex and motherhood, and an infantilized view of women’s responsibilities on this front. Engaging in the reproductive act by necessity means accepting the risk that reproduction will occur, particularly if no precautions are taken. Refusing to understand or accept that risk leads women to thinking they can get around it by just killing their offspring. Another way leftists deny science, they don’t recognise the biological fact a new, individual human life began at conception. Just like they confuse the simple concept of sex with irrelevant meanderings about gender, epigenetics, ect, leftists use the same motivated thinking to dismiss the humanity of new humans based on some vague concept of “personhood,” the human’s dependency, or (as this author does) “gestational markers.” Ignorant, of course, of the fact that all major systems are laid out before the first missed period, and that growth is continuous from conception to full maturity at age 25. It’s like the author has never been pregnant and read the weekly development updates on pregnancy websites.

    Overall, strange, disjointed piece. It would have been much more interesting with a greater focus on the author’s experience in Afghanistan. That sounds like one hell of a story.

  2. An interesting article, made all the more powerful by real-life testimony. What really strikes home is the curious doublethink employed with apparent ease by the intersectional Left. Even if the Muslim Brotherhood had not successfully popularised the word islamophobia and made it synonymous with the phrase hate crime, then Muslim theocracies would still be inherently good, through the simple virtue of being primarily comprised of black or brown people.

    Within the corridors of power in the post-war liberal consensus, perhaps the greatest error lay in the blind adherence to the theories of Isaiah Berlin, especially in the way his analogy of the nun and mother was applied to geopolitics and the cross-cultural friction caused by religion. His view was that whilst both the nun and the mother fulfil laudable roles within a society, these roles are by definition mutually exclusive. His point was that when applied to two fundamentally different cultures, with different values, these differences would always be a source of friction and potential conflict. The response was a period of deliberate period of secularisation in the West, when policy makers deliberately downplayed the role of religion, in favour of the modern pursuit of material wealth and consumerism.

    There were two main problems with this analysis, and one major downstream negative consequence. First, he failed to recognise that even if one stripped away the core of Judeo-Christian values at the heart of Western societies, then the secular values of liberal democracy would be seen as more alien and more of threat within the Islamic world than Christianity, with our wholesale rejection of our inheritance as People of the Book. Second, that is seeking to overcome the gulf that difference represents, in attempting to invite benign reciprocity, the best response would have been to find commonalities of values underlying our faiths, rather than to focus on removing difference through secularisation.

    The result of all this deliberate consumerism and pursuit of material wealth was a loss of faith and purpose in the West, and the outright rejection of the forces of secularisation within Islam. Worse still, by removing the source of communities that religion naturally generates, we left young men in the West with only one main means of achieving the status within their communities so necessary for finding mates, that of career success- and unfortunately, when your only means of computing status is unidimensional, then this inevitably leads to a harsh zero-sum game in which there will always be winners and losers. Worse still, behavioural science now informs us that self-perceived low status leads males to adoption of high-risk strategies and, in the absence of fathers, higher rates of juvenile violence.

    In many ways the sixties and seventies offered us a Pandora’s box, operating in reverse. We got all the hopeful shit first. Civil rights. Equality for women, under the law. It was only afterwards, that all the adverse consequences of that period began to be felt. The shallow depth of the chalice of cornucopia, with it’s absence of meaning. The endemically higher incarceration rates caused by the loss of paternal figures within many urban communities, in particular. And the basic inability of the West and Islam to get along, without the common framework of underlying values that Christianity could have allowed us, beyond the transitory dictates of dogma and culture.

    We might have even had a chance at a more inclusive and compassionate branch of non-churchgoing Christianity, reflective of the more tolerant approach being embraced by the current Pope. After all, pre-Christian Jewish folklore abounds with examples of sinners beloved by God, for their greater virtues of kindness and charity. Because one things for certain, Muslims would have loved us more for strong Judeo-Christian values, than they currently do, for the mewling Leftist fear of offence. They proudly proclaim the right to decry the defamation of the Prophet, and protest the intrusion of LGBT into their communities, whilst secularists find themselves ill at ease, and Leftists perform the types of mental gymnastics, that indicates an internal dynamic best analogised with the metaphor of attempting to spin too many plates.

  3. Well, Dr. Chesler, welcome to what in Europe is called “the far right”. I have observed that in Europe, to be called “far right” is suffices to have noticed the illiberal aspects of Islamic sharia and to point out that they are a bad thing. I’m not sure that usage has spread to the Anglosphere outside of the UK, but it probably will soon.

  4. Agree with your assessment. A strange piece. While I commend the author for acknowledging the sad truth of Islamic culture’s misogynism and Western feminists’ bizarre excuses for it, this is not exactly a new realization. Meanwhile, she dogmatically paints abortion restrictions in Red states as some sort of Gilead-lite (while glaringly omitting the equally extreme permissiveness re late term abortion that has taken hold in some other states), thus exhibiting the mindless, knee-jerk attitude about abortion that is no less orthodox than an Islamic imam. It’s complicated. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t be engaged in cultural warfare over it. But we live in a free society where we can have such debates and I’m not sure what more one can want. Yet, reading this piece, I couldn’t quite shake the impression that author sees the West and the U.S. as a better-than-nothing consolation prize, not the freest civilization in the history of humankind.

  5. Misogynist thinking and actions exist in America today but not only among right-wing conservatives. It is also flourishing among our media and academic elites.

    Right eyebrow raised. This is awfully passive-aggressive.

    It’s like saying “There are plenty of bitches, but feminists aren’t the only ones.”

    Thanks, I guess?

    They just can’t help themselves. Even when the article is mostly talking about how repressive Islam is, the author still needs to passive-aggressively signal how bad conservatives, Trump, and America are.

    Even when the article is talking mostly about how backwards surrogacy is, the author still needs to passive-aggressively signal how backwards being pro life is.


    How about you just make a point and stick with it. This isn’t Buzzfeed. There’s no need for signaling. The author typifies the passive-aggressive cattiness stereotypical of feminism.

    Looking at the disproportionate number of feminist articles being posted here, feminists seem to be trying really hard to wedge their ideas into Quillette.

  6. Overall it was an article with a poor beginning but a good second half. Before getting into the meat of the criticism, the parts about the authors lived experiences in Afghanistan and how it has helped her see the hypocrisy of western woke political correctness is commendable, and it’s good that shes not afraid to call it out. The idea that the handmaid’s tale is basically modelled on extreme Islamism as seen in Iran, ISIS and so on, is rather self evident and isn’t a huge insight, but I’m glad the author of the article is willing to say it out loud. In fact, I do suspect that Margaret Atwood knows deep down that her book is less about Christianity than about Islam, especially modelled on the Iranian revolution, but she can’t say so herself or she will be excommunicated by the left for heresy.

    However, there was a fair bit of the article that struck me as being somewhat still muddled and confused.

    First, am I the only one that was irked at the phrase “former slave-owning American states”, when the author ought to be saying the southern ones?
    I’m not claiming any expertise, but was it not the case that all the states (maybe except some of the remote western ones?) had slavery at some point, including the northern ones? If so, clearly almost all are former slave owning, and it’s just a matter of when they abolished it. It’s wrong to single out the southern states in that manner. Also, what has slavery got to do with abortion anyway?

    Second, I don’t understand why the author calls surrogacy “matricidal”? Matricide, according to my faithful dictionary, means killing your mother. I’ve yet to hear of a case of surrogacy where a mother is killed, so I must conclude the author isn’t careful with words, and it detracts from her point. I do agree that surrogacy is something that needs real thinking through, but trying to distort language is exactly what the woke feminist ideologists and activists try to do all the time, so it’s not good to emulate them.

    Also, what is the link between abortion and the handmaid’s tale? I’ve only read the beginning of the book, but I can’t recall there being any characters seeking abortions. From my limited recollection, all the women in the story want children but because of the fertility crisis, they start fighting over each other’s children, which is the starting point for the dystopia. The TV series shows this in a scene where someone tries to steal the newborn baby of the main character from the hospital, which is the marker of a society reaching breaking point. It seems to be the opposite of abortion.

    Since the topic of abortion was brought up, I see the authors argument of women having the right to it simply because the “embryo/fetus/developing child is part of the woman, it belongs to her because it is in her body” as very weak and essentially already rejected by essentially all western societies today, as shown by the fact that there are limits on when the child can be aborted in all countries, eg the child cannot be aborted the day before it is due (and this is true of even the societies that are most permissive with regards to abortion). Therefore, that argument has already been rejected.

    Instead, it seems to me the fundamental question is what is life? We need to adopt a consistent standard of defining when a person is considered alive, whether inside the womb or outside. It seems to me that there is a double standard operating in most western countries right now, that a born person can be on life support with minimal brain activity, etc, and still be legally alive, yet an unborn person in essentially the same state isn’t considered alive. What makes people, including many doctors, uncomfortable today is that there have been cases of premature babies being born (or, effectively being miscarried) at around 4-5 months that can survive in incubators to childhood with the help of science and modern medicine. Since they are legally alive and thus deserve the treatment they get, how do we reconcile that with still allowing abortions of foetuses of that stage? I think the way forward will be to aim to find a somewhat admittedly imperfect definition of being alive, irrespective of being born or not, and regulate abortion according to that. The same rules would apply to adults and older people, so it would force us to consider carefully the question. My uneducated guess is that it will put the boundary for abortion somewhere between 12-20 weeks from conception. It won’t resolve the matter in any objective sense, but at least it gives us a consistency and a principle we don’t currently have.

  7. Agreed. There are so many leftists writing for quillette, and their writing is often laced with propaganda. For example, yes, there is a lot about Islam that is fundamentalist zealotry. But, hey, there is a lot of fundamentalist zealotry in feminism too, which the writer is utterly blind to. Note her casual argument about how a mother has the right to terminate a child because it’s her property (being of “her body”). I’m not particularly anti-abortion but, wow, that’s vile. Not much different from a husband saying: I house my wife, she is property inside my property, so I can kill her if I want to.

  8. No, you are not. In fact, during the time when slavery was lawful in parts of the US, it was lawfully practiced in much of the rest of the world.

    A more truthful phrase would be “former slave-owning world.”

  9. Or northern states. For a quick look at slave-owning in New York State, I recommend the following:

    “All remaining slaves were finally freed [in New York State] on July 4, 1827.”

    More than 50 years after the Declaration of Independence.

    (Ironically, the author of this article is a professor emeritus of the College of Staten Island (New York).)

    There has always been a great deal of northern smugness over slavery, quite unjustified, directed at the southern states. “We gave it up first! Nyah, nyah!”

  10. Feminists cannot abide by a consistent definition, because the fact is that making a rational case for drawing a definitive line across the spectrum of human growth, where on one side you can kill the living human with impunity and on the other the human is protected by the constitution, is both very difficult at the ages they want to be able to kill humans and conflicts with much of the rest of their thinking.

    Think of how frustrated they get when you ask how many genders there are. The typical response is that you can’t delineate that because it’s a spectrum. Well, growth from a zygote on day 1 to a baby on her birthdate is a spectrum. If they can’t draw a definitive line on the issue of gender, how can they for something far more important, literally life and death?

    It’s unambiguous that a new human life begins at conception. That would be the most logical place to begin considering someone to be alive. Unique genetic code distinct from mother and father is the most definitive standard.

    If we wanted to get more wishy-washy, for the sake of compromise, we could say that pregnancy doesn’t actually begin until the fetus implants itself in it’s mother’s womb. Most embryos die before this stage, because the womb is a very hostile place to embryos. The mother’s body doesn’t want to waste energy on anything but the most suitable embryo. You could argue that the morning after pill, which prevents implantation, is simply extending the body’s natural resistance to pregnancy to the mother’s conscious mind. This provides a nice solution for rape victims, as well.

    Getting more murky, we could draw the line at a detectable heartbeat. Humans are often pronounced dead when they have no pulse, and the great majority (75%, I think) of miscarriages happen before a heartbeat is detected around 6 weeks. Doctors tend not to get you to arrange for your pregnancy (signing in at a hospital, ect) until that point, because loss is so common.

    Beyond that, I don’t think there’s adequate justification for the inhumanity of an unborn human to risk stripping them of rights. The human is most likely to survive, the major systems are in place and growing rapidly, and we can see 8 week old embryos dancing about like they do at 28 weeks. New technology is making it harder to dehumanize the very young.

    Feminists tend to want to be able to abort at 12 weeks because that’s when you can estimate risk for Down Syndrome, and the recent push for 20-25 weeks in some jurisdictions stems from new research which has found brain structures predictive of autism at that age. Blood tests can also often determine sex at 12 weeks. The motivations for abortion in the second trimester are eugenic in nature and should be dismissed. There is no meaningful benchmark reached in the second trimester that doesn’t have its roots in the first, mostly in the first 6 weeks.

  11. Is it just me, or is “slave owning states” a statement that only a spittle-flinging ideologue would say? It strikes me as a statement that could never be made in good faith, which made it very impossible to take the rest of the article seriously.

    Is this the Quillette version of traffic chum? Quillette has endeared itself for taking volatile topics that draw our attention, and treating them with a level of rationality and moderation that can’t be found in the mainstream. And then, there are articles like this one. Perhaps Quillette is just offering itself as outlet for this author to prove what an irrational dogmatist she is. In which case, mission accomplished.

    Has Quillette considered hiring a sensitivity reader? Said person could watch for:

    Assumptions about [Conservatives and Moderates] that are archaic, or badly sourced, or aren’t nuanced enough to unpack why said slander is bad.
    Faulty Science
    One sided mentions of historical situations, such as slavery, that do not tell the whole story.

  12. I also find it bemusing that the author compares fundamentalist muslim practices to ‘‘small town USA’’ and not to the real equivalent- snotty, wannabe, lefty arrivstes.

  13. Thank you for that, Stephanie. Every conversation I’ve had, with those that refuse to engage with the question of when a fetus becomes a human being, has been entirely devoid of the concept that it’s a viable choice to either abjure hedonic gratification or choose a type that entirely obviates pregnancy.

    The way that “responsibility” has been exclusively defined for the last fifty years (at least, among a significant percentage of the population) is a strange and seemingly Kafkaesque absolutism; rather than being accepted as indicating acceptance of the consequences of one’s actions, it’s been enforced purely as a behavioral mandate.I would posit that a great deal of our current cultural conflict derives from such insistence on application of one definition of the concept to the exclusion of appropriate and contextually valid usage of the term.

  14. It’s the obsession with fairness and equality of outcome.

    I agree emphatically, but in this particular case, the counter is that

    Person A: I had sex and got pregnant!
    Person B: I had sex and did not
    Person A: This is not fair! Why am I being punished for something everyone does?

    Of course, this conversation would never happen:

    Person A: I played the lottery and won!
    Person B: I played the lottery and lost!"
    Person A: This is not fair! I’m giving the money back!

    Of course, there’s a non-sequitur sometimes raised about rape and incest- of course, the highest estimate I’ve ever seen for that, taking all claims at face value, is 2% of abortions. And many states wrote their anti-abortion laws, in the long-long ago, where this was “pregnancy termination,” as a legally distinct entity from “abortion”, which was defined as voluntary. Never hear that discussed.

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