21 January 2009

Censorship: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

This situation seem so contrived! Based on one complaint, by one person, the appropriateness of the book A Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood, is to be investigated by the school board. Surely it's not the first time someone has 'complained' about it, or laid a complaint. Most formal complaints to school boards wouldn't receive the attention this book has, nor would the man who laid the complaint usually receive so much attention. Are the complaints procedures that public, rather than internal to the organization? Secretaries in such organizations are usually very good at protecting their bosses. And others in the organization are usually very good at covering up what they want covered up. So I suggest that this complaint, formal or otherwise, was permitted to surface because it was the right time and the right place, and the right person doing the complaining.

In this case, the complainant is a man, and he has three sons for whose lives he obviously takes much responsibiity. There's nothing like an all-male family, one with an absent female presence, to reinforce the main claim of the Handmaid's Tale, published over 20 years ago, that an oppressive gender division was in the works for the future, and that it would be men doing the oppressing. At the same time, attention would be deflected from the idea that it's not really gender that is the problem in the world today, it is class. For the most part, women in the book, The Handmaid's Tale, were sorted according to their social class, and one could probably say that marital status was just as important, just as it is today. Men's lives, in the book, were also inhibited and controlled, although just how much they would have felt their sexual situation intolerable, perhaps dependent on class status, is debatable. Having to have sex with another women lying between his wife's legs just might have appealed to some of these fictional characters, even if they were forced to deny it to conform to society's norms.

Is it denial that leads the main speaker to speak of unecessary brutality and sexism, or do his views, and the fact that he is the speaker, serve a political purpose? Robert Edwards is not a popular person at the current time, not among censorship objectors, lovers of Atwood or, apparently, feminists. But someone has allowed this case to surface. Is it really against feminists' interests to have him speak out so openly against the book? He has managed to distract readers from thinking about class differences and alliances in the book itself, and also to distract them from thinking about social class in society today. Making a book such as this appear unworthy for his sons to read, he surely will endear himself to feminists everywhere, who stand to benefit from the false notion that, because of this book our citizens are more aware of the negative aspects of such patriarchal, controlling attitudes in society.

It's been a long time since I read the book, while a student at university, and at the time I was both impressed and appalled at the suggestions that came through the reading of it. I see that Atwood's fictional storyline displayed some truth, that the control of sexuality would be a large part of domination in society in the future, as it always has, in some way or other, although how much married women would really regret missing out on motherhood in real life is questionable. In our world today, careers for women are considered practically essential, for fulfillment in life and independence. So, while Robert Edwards seems to be taking a stand against feminism and the liberated female writings of Margaret Atwood, I wonder if he is actually doing feminism a favour, and if he will be rewarded for doing his bit.

Kristin Rushowy
TO Star
Atwood novel too brutal, sexist for school: parent
16 Jan 2009

Added May, 2012

School panel backs Atwood novel
Debra Black Staff Reporter
TO Star
Feb 12 2009


Unknown said...

i just posted this on another blog with this same subject.

i find it disturbing that this book has faced criticism due to anti-christian content.

does this not mean that the bible should then be banned for anti-homosexual content?

the logic is just ridiculous.

if you do not agree with the subject matter in a book, don't read it, put it down.

Sue McPherson said...

That's nice that you, i3aker, are able to find a simple solution that you find acceptable - replacing one voice of authority with another. I thnk the idea was that the book was a curriculum book, in other words, required reading for the class, and thus could not simply be put down by the student if his parent wanted it that way.