Monday’s front page news contained an unprecedented case of literary lese majeste. A parent of a Grade 12 Toronto high school student petitioned for the removal from the school’s reading list of The Handmaid’s Tale, a 1986 novel by the queen of Canadian literature, Margaret Atwood.
A review board concluded that the book should remain a classroom text. No surprise there. It is hard to imagine the venerated Ms. Atwood being effectively “dissed” by a mere parent.
The parent thinks the novel, a futuristic fantasy of a totalitarian society—American, not Canadian!—in which women become the reproductive slaves of conservative patriarchs, is “fictional drivel.” Well, of course it is, and so is much else in the gifted Ms. Atwood’s diverse oeuvre, but the parent misses the greater point.
The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t drivel because of the sex and violence that concerned the parent. It is drivel because it is a paranoiac fantasy whose principal purpose and effect is to stir up hatred of men.
Hatred of any other identifiable group in a novel would normally render a book unfit for school curricula (situational selection should not be confused with censorship). But inciting hatred against men in the guise of art is neither an aesthetic nor ethical crime in educational circles. Rather it is a virtue, borne aloft in a misandric cultural zeitgeist that Ms. Atwood was herself influential in shaping.
The setting of The Handmaid’s Tale is “the recent future.” The United States has morphed into the Republic of Gilead, dominated by Christian fundamentalists, who have conscripted fertile women into a program of forced breeding.
Dystopian fiction deserves critical respect when its premises are grounded in psychological or historical reality. That sexual relations in the West on a collective scale ever did or ever could descend into Ms. Atwood’s ideologically self-indulgent nightmare is—well, fictional drivel.
History does of course provide horrific examples of experiments in eugenics: Urged on, ironically enough, by “progressive” women, Alberta once permitted sterilization of the intellectually handicapped, a blot on Canada’s rights landscape. But generally speaking, Western conservatives, religious or not, are the most likely to resist any government intrusion into citizens’ private—let alone reproductive—lives.
Mass eugenics coincides historically with anti-religious collectivist visions run amok. The Chinese program of forced abortions came from the atheist, utopian left. The Nazi Lebensborn program, which seems to have been Ms. Atwood’s inspiration, in which fertile young women were lodged at breeding farms, there to be impregnated by SS officers in order to improve Germany’s Aryan stock, grew out of anti-religious paganism allied with fascism.
On its face, Lebensborn seems like something of a harbinger of Ms. Atwood’s vision. But a crucial distinction makes a mockery of Ms. Atwood’s alarmist projection: Unlike Ms. Atwood’s fictional victims, German women were never forced to breed.
Quite the opposite: The Lebensborn “handmaids” were willing volunteers, seduced by the perks of higher social status, nutritious food and high quality medical care, luxuries ordinary Germans could only dream of at the time.
On the other hand, German men were pressed into battle, millions of them to die ghastly deaths. For history’s real forced sacrifice—forced gendered sacrifice, that is—look to the millions of young males in the First and Second World Wars who were maimed, shell-shocked and blown to bits to satisfy or subdue the bloodlust of tyrants and ethnic revanchists. By comparison, having sex with fit, virile men, living in luxury for nine months and earning the plaudits of your nation would seem an enticing alternate to an odds-on grisly death.
But in Ms. Atwood’s conspiracy-theorist feminist universe, women are victims, men masters of their fates. Women cannot be seen as opportunistic or exploitative, and men cannot be seen as themselves victims or objects of pity. Theory demands that her fictional women emerge as innocent dupes of warring control freaks.
There exist warrior cultures, where courting death and subjugating women are virtues, but America’s isn’t one of them. Even in warrior cultures, boys must be brainwashed into compliance (as anyone who has seen Hamas “motivational” videos can attest). In Nazi Germany, love for war was inculcated into boys with Teutonic efficiency and persistence, and yet conscription was still necessary. Left to choose freely, men will fight to protect their loved ones, defend their country or uphold their honour, but few men love war for its own sake.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a nasty, anti-American trifecta of bigotry: a cheap thrust at men, conservatives and religious Christians.
It is not a “cautionary tale,” as one Atwood admirer characterized it in Monday’s news story. For here we are 23 years later. Forced-breeding camps? Hardly. Politically and culturally, women’s issues rule; abortion is rampant; fatherlessness is pandemic. It is men—insofar as their traditional roles as providers, progenitors and protectors are concerned—who are the endangered social species.
The Handmaid’s Tale is merely a tale told by a feminist, and like so many other such heavy-handed ideological screeds, it is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.