Gilead is a fictional place. Atwood only used content that had already happened in history, for the Handmaid’s Tale. I read it in 1986, not long after it was first published, I was 28 and pregnant with my fourth child (sixth pregnancy) and consolidated many of my early thoughts about women’s rights, women’s bodies, patriarchy as a system. I haven’t been able to watch the television series, the first ten minutes were enough for me. I couldn’t put myself through it. Seems the dystopian Gilead is alive and well in the land of the brave and home of the free. Bravery and freedom being values that exclude at least half the population, to say nothing of those who are not white and not of settler stock.
I like to keep careful watch for possible danger or difficulties and sometimes this has turned out to be prophetic, mostly I think of my approach as proactive. It is so much harder to get rights back when they are taken away, so much harder to dismiss someone before appointing them in the first place, so much harder to escape from Gilead than enter it.
Democracy is teamwork.
Politics is personal.
Mobilising is possible, because change is already in-waiting, ready, willing and able, to be ignited. A fuse is lit, and from that spark, people will and do rise up. There is a trust we inherently hold between us and when it is broken we yearn for it to be fused – it is where hope comes in. When we have a common enemy – a flood, a fire, a pandemic – we grab hold of what we have close at hand – each other. It is a kind of collective evolution that helps us be community, it is a form of inoculation, against Gilead. There is no real form of control, just a concertina-like calibration of collaboration, that breathes in and out (sometimes hyperventilating) to try to redress a wrong.
This way of change-making always comes from the bottom, not the top, from deep roots informed, courageous and with plenty of muscle and fibre attached. Because it has been formed under pressure, there is often steam and some hot spots, sometimes people get burnt or at least a little bruised, but in the end there is change and that arrives with new skin, a little raw and shiny. This is visible and often a teeny bit fragile.
JFK used to quote the old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan. It is still true when things work out there are plenty to take the credit and when they don’t lots of finger pointing ensues. All the invisible help tends to melt away. We would do well to remember those on the journey into and out of Gilead, so we aren’t accidentally one of them.
I think of the recent bevy of small L liberals who lost their seats in the last Federal election who would be seen by many as moderates, who gave it their best shot no doubt in trying to convince their leadership to be more inclusive and more progressive. Yet they were the ones who lost their seats … they were the ones who stayed in the party. The best example of this is Josh Frydenberg. The ones that left like former Mayor Da Li is a good example of this phenomenon.
If it’s your name on leave form, your name on the invoice, your signature on the contract, your quote in the press release, there is every chance you are implicated in the process. Several years ago it was put to me when I made a complaint about a leader and got the “but he’s a nice guy” argument, I still had to stand my ground. He may be a nice guy, but he did the wrong thing. And nice by whose standards? I am sure Josh is a nice guy, but he was hanging out with a bunch who made him look bad.
Progressives in the US will be taking to the streets as they should to make sure Gilead doesn’t take up residency on a map. I will continue to remain vigilant, because if you give them an inch they will take a mile. And to the women who voted to support nice guys, or fail to see through the narcissists presenting with slick and shtick, and the recruitment firms who don’t do their homework because someone said he was a good bloke … you are all on the slippery slope to Gilead.
Hope rises from the bottom up and there are plenty of us out there who will be relentless in trying to nip things in the bud. Let’s keep Gilead to the writings of the prophets and the soothsayers.
With Maya Angelou in our hearts and the instruction:
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
The groundswell of the recent Federal election in Australia and State election in my home state of South Australia, I am hoping will flow over into all the board rooms, classrooms, council chambers and community organisations as our inoculation against Gilead and the forces that enables Gilead to come into being and thrive. This requires a constancy and effort to keep bending towards evolving to our best selves and make ourselves visible.
“What is the difference between a squirrel burying acorns across the forest and humans planting potatoes across the globe? Who is master, and who is the servant? Is it the acorn’s or potato’s idea to be nutritious, or the creature that buries them? Evolution is not about design or will; it is the outcome of constant endeavors made by organisms that want to survive and better themselves. The collective result is intoxicatingly beautiful, rife with oddities, and surprisingly brilliant, yet no agent is in control. Evolution arises from the bottom up–so, too, does hope.”
― Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming