“We Cannot All Succeed When Half of Us Are Held Back”: The F-word and the Struggle of the Female Emancipation

The Republic of Gilead is the authoritarian, theocratic regime that takes over the United States in The Handmaid’s Tale, a Hulu original series based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel. The TV series portrays a world overrun by misogyny and radical Christianity.

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The residents believe in their patriarchal society, which involves the oppression of women by erasing their rights. In fact, women are no longer allowed to drive, walk alone, own property, receive an education, or even read. Since the population has been dwindling due to high rates of infertility caused by environmental pollution and sexually transmitted diseases, the few remaining fertile women in Gilead—the Handmaids—are assigned to the homes of the ruling elite, where they must submit to ritualized rape by their male masters to bear children for them. Other women in the society are the Aunts (who train the Handmaids), Commanders’ wives, and Marthas (housekeepers).

The men are also divided into groups: Angels, who are soldiers, Eyes, the secret police, Guardians, and Commanders. Based on a strict hierarchy, the Republic of Gilead does not allow anyone to escape the society. Public executions are implemented to remind everyone what happens when people break the rules. Residents must also use certain expressions such as, “Blessed be the fruit” as the standard greeting, and the traditional reply is, “May the Lord open.” Rather than saying hello and goodbye, residents say, “Under His eye.”

As a woman, watching The Handmaid’s Tale is scary as it shows how a Western and developed society may slowly change, ending up as a type of hell for the female population. But the scariest part is that many of the dystopian elements can be found in the real world. For instance, the modest dresses worn by Handmaids recall the habits of Catholic nuns. Imposing certain dress codes for women such as headscarves in Islamic nations remains common. In Saudi Arabia, most women are banned from voting, driving, and interacting with the opposite sex unsupervised. Women are not allowed to travel or study without the permission of a male (typically the father, husband, or son), and they have little to no financial independence. Public executions have also taken place recently in Iran, North Korea, Somalia, and Saudi Arabia.

Margaret Atwood once declared that in totalitarianism such as Nazism, there has always been family planning measures taken as in “who shall be allowed to have babies and what shall be done with babies.” In the US, Christian fundamentalists have committed atrocities such as bombing of abortion clinics and murdering doctors who perform abortions—the most recent murder to have occurred in 2015 in Colorado (The Telegraph). Moreover, under the Trump administration, the US has seen new regulations on abortion rights, for instance, cutting of NGO funds that provide abortion services.

Apart from the new policies about abortion, President Trump has never been respectful with women. Fat, pig, dog, slob, disgusting animal. These are just some of the ways in which Donald Trump has called women. His attitude and his governmental projects caused a spontaneous rallying cry via social media. On January 21, 2017, a huge protest called the Women’s March first took place in Washington. The aim of the protest was to advocate legislation and policies regarding human rights and other issues, including women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, environmental issues, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and workers’ rights. The revolt has given rise to a worldwide movement for the empowerment of women and for gender equality. As such, “Women’s rights are human rights” was one of the most famous slogans of the Women’s March. On International Women’s Day, March 8th, the feminist movement also joined “A Day Without a Woman”, a worldwide strike campaign. On that day, many women took the day off from paid and unpaid labor, they avoided shopping for one day (with the exception of small, female- and minority-owned businesses), and all wore red in solidarity with the project.

2017 had been the year of yet another huge campaign.

In October 2017, when The New York Times and The New Yorker reported that dozens of women accused Harvey Weinstein, one of the biggest American film producers, of sexual abuse over a period of at least 30 years, more than 80 women in the film industry subsequently accused him of similar acts. After that, using the hashtag #Metoo, millions of women shared on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram their own personal experiences of sexual harassment and abuse.

More recently, in January 2018, Director Ava DuVernay, Producer Kathleen Kennedy, and dozens of actors, including America Ferrera, Emma Stone, and Constance Wu, laid out the mission of the Time’s Up campaign, a movement against sexual harassment born in response to the Weinstein scandal and #MeToo. Time’s Up has already raised $13 million in funds to subsidize legal support for “women and men who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace,” according to the CNN.

Time’s Up also encouraged women to wear black for the most recent Golden Globe Awards in protest against gender and racial inequality and to raise awareness for the initiative. During the ceremony, Oprah Winfrey, who became the first ever African American woman to win the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, said: “A new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say Me too again”.

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Without a doubt, 2017 was the year of women’s voices, at least for Hollywood. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for those of some other nations. In Italy, when actress and director Asia Argento said that she had been assaulted by Weinstein, she was criticized by members of the public and some media agencies for reporting the abuses “too late”. Many, even till now, do not believe her. Instead of condemning Weinstein’s behavior, they criticized Argento’s response; effectively turning the victim into perpetrator and vice versa. Many women were actually on the frontline of the criticism, highlighting lack of female solidarity in the nation. Sexist culture in Italy remains powerful and the word, “feminism” provokes controversial reactions; most do not understand or believe that there is yet a long way to go before gender equality is achieved. For many, the book-length essay We Should All be Feminists written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and campaigns for gender equality such as HeForShe are useless and a waste of time.

In this messy frame of voices for and against the “F-word”, there are elements that must be taken into account: almost quarter of a million American girls under 18 were married between the years 2000 and 2010; in Nigeria, husbands can hit their wives if they do so in “correcting” them—whatever that means. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, sexual violence and rapes are daily practices, and in Russia, more than 16 million women experience domestic violence each year.

Are we sure that the need for feminism is still debatable?

 

By Alessandra Bonanomi, Reporter for The AsiaN

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