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  • Kamryn Brandt

Margaret Atwood Was Right! Women's Rights in a Post Dobbs America

In Maragret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale it reads, “Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you'd be boiled to death before you knew it.” This quote encompases the heating political climate in the United States, similarly to the one in the novel.

First published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale has long been the target of book bans in communities and schools everywhere. In response, the author took a stand by creating a fireproof version of the book and putting it up for auction where it sold for $130,000. PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, a collaborator with author Atwood said, “In the face of a determined effort to censor and silence, an unburnable book is an emblem of our collective resolve to protect books, stories, and ideas from those who fear and revile them.”

Although Atwood has been under fire for decades, she still stands by her book’s relevance.

Just a few weeks following the overturn of Roe Atwood's Instagram she is pictured on a porch with a coffee cup with the words “I told you so” printed on it. Although it has been almost forty years since her most popular book was published, just a week after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, The Handmaid’s Tale was back on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list.

Atwood’s novel was published in 1985, twelve years following the ruling of Roe v. Wade. Times where the right to abortion and other reproductive services were permitted on the basis of the right to privacy. Things were looking up for women’s rights. So why did Atwood write a story surrounding a dystopian United States in a totalitarian theocracy at all?

In a July 2017 interview, Atwood is quoted saying, “You write these books so they won’t come true,” and after, “I decided not to put anything in that somebody somewhere hadn’t already done,” American history has deep rooted themes of sexual violence and inequality. Women in minority groups especially are disproportionately at risk for sexual exploitation and abuseand will experience the brunt of the issue in the post Dobbs era, as they have in much of history. Cathy Torres, a manager with a Texas organization that helps pay for abortions, said “Abortion restrictions are racist,” as the proportion of minorites having abortions are much higher than whites. In states where abortion is outlawed, the people that need it the most are the same women that do no have the means for interstate travel.

As of September 23, 2022, most abortions are now banned in at least 14 US states following the Dobbs V. Jackson decision. Half of states are expected to enact bans on abortion and other procedures. As for now, it remains legal as court systems decide whether bans have merit. The country has become a convoluted map depicting a society growing closer to Gilead, the system in The Handmaid’s Tale.

So what does the publishing of a book in 1985 predicting the regression of women’s rights mean for our society?

It means that the systematic disproportionalities of those who face the brunt of political issues have been around since before the dawn of our country, and those individuals have since been under-represented. A novel predicting our future in a post-Dobbs society is unsurprising. With our histories of rape, murder, and exploitation of women, this novel is relevant as violence around women has been repeated historically. Her novel caused disbelief and even termed author Margret Atwood as “Crazy Margaret '' in the years after publishing. She was ahead of her time, but evidently very close to the realities of the reversal of a trademark women’s rights case that is increasing laws on women’s bodies and minds. A novel ahead of its time has received backlash for decades, but has “told us so”, as Atwood’s coffee mug declares.

This story warning the public of injustices that have become a reality after all this time, is a reminder that the work towards women’s rights is a never ending effort that must be reinforced through legal means and societal understanding of the issue.


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