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Handmaid's Tale in Context: Feminism

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Bruce Derby

on 19 September 2012

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Transcript of Handmaid's Tale in Context: Feminism

Overview Definitions of feminism
History of feminism
First wave feminism
Second wave feminism
Atwood’s interpretation of feminism What is Feminism? Image Sources Mary Wollstonecraft Portait
Rebecca West photograph
Gloria Steinem Images
Betty Friedan photograph
Erica Jong "Seducing the Demon"
Elizabeth Fox Genovese photgraph
Margaret Atwood photograph
http://www.mediabistro.com/appnewser/files/2010/09/margaret-atwood-01.jpg "I do not wish them to have power over men, but over themselves. "
"Taught from infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison. "
-Mary Wollstonecraft "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is:  I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a door mat or a prostitute." 
Rebecca West, "Mr Chesterton in Hysterics: A Study in Prejudice," The Clarion, 14 Nov 1913 "Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That's their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood."
"This is no simple reform. It really is a revolution. Sex and race because they are easy and visible differences have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups and into the cheap labour in which this system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned. We are really talking about humanism." Gloria Steinem "Men weren't really the enemy - they were fellow victims suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill."
Betty Friedan "Women are the only exploited group in history to have been idealized into powerlessness. "
Erica Jong "Women Unite" Protest
Miss America Protest
The Women's Movement Today
Married Love
"We Can Do It"
"Do the job he left behind"
The Pill
Roe v Wade (Abortion protest image)
Sandra Day O'Connor
"Feminism has led the way in demystifying personal relations, forcefully insisting they are political to the core."
Elizabeth Fox Genovese
Feminism Without Illusions Does feminist mean large unpleasant person who'll shout at you or someone who believes women are human beings. To me it's the latter, so I sign up.
Margaret Atwood The Backlash The Backlash Pat Robertson The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.
1992 Iowa fundraising letter opposing a state equal-rights amendment

I know this is painful for the ladies to hear, but if you get married, you have accepted the headship of a man, your husband. Christ is the head of the household and the husband is the head of the wife, and that’s the way it is, period.
The 700 Club, Jan. 8, 1992 Trends and Turning Points First Wave (cc) image by jantik on Flickr Mid 1800s - 1920 Suffragette movement
Focus on political rights 1960s - 1980s Moved beyond political rights to equality at home, at work and in education Second Wave 1980s - present Critical of second for its lack of attention to the differences among women Third Wave Married Love World War II Marie Stopes
Scandalous sex manual published in 1928
Stopes pioneered family planning
Controversially an advocate of eugenics Women’s contraception had been a controversial issue with Margaret Sanger a vocal advocate.
First oral contraceptive became popular in the 60s. Reinforced the ability of women to make choices about their own sexuality.
Women could adopt attitudes to sex akin to those of men. The Pill Roe vs Wade In 1973, the US Supreme Court made abortion legal under the 14th Amendment, which established a right to privacy.
This case still polarises the left and right of US politics.
The case legally empowered women over their own bodies as a matter of privacy - even Supreme Court Justices are divided on this. Sandra Day O'Connor First woman on the Supreme Court
Appointed by Reagan in 1991
Made the notion that America might one day elect a woman as President all the more plausible.
Retired in 2006 "An impersonal and scientific knowledge of the structure of our bodies is the surest safeguard against prurient curiosity and lascivious gloating." Women required to leave the home and enter the factories to aid America’s war effort.
Following WWII women were forced back into the home as the men returned from war.
Despite this, female participation in work has increased.
Feminism and "The Handmaid's Tale" Atwood resists ideological hard-lines.

"The Handmaid's Tale" is certainly a feminist novel insofar as it creates a dystopian vision of a patriarchal caste system.

Atwood's position, however, points to the schisms within feminism. That is, there are many feminist positions that are at odds with each other, and Atwood critiques this by giving us a dystopia in which women are a key part in their sisters' subjugation.
Full transcript