Sunday, July 22, 2007

"Protecting women"

Twenty years later, The Handmaid's Tale is just as relevant as ever, if not more so.

From an excellent online study guide:
The sub-theme of this tangled debate which seems to have particularly interested and alarmed Atwood is the tendency of some feminist anti-porn groups to ally themselves with religious anti-porn zealots who oppose the feminists on almost every other issue. The language of "protection of women" could slip from a demand for more freedom into a retreat from freedom, to a kind of neo-Victorianism. After all, it was the need to protect "good" women from sex that justified all manner of repression in the 19th century, including confining them to the home, barring them from participating in the arts, and voting. Contemporary Islamic women sometimes argue that assuming the veil and traditional all-enveloping clothing is aimed at dealing with sexual harassment and sexual objectification. The language is feminist, but the result can be deeply patriarchal, as in this novel.

There is nothing new, much less revolutionary, about infantilizing women in the name of "protecting" them. It's a tactic used by fundamentalist religions around the world, and one feminists should be able to spot a mile away.