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  • By Jayne Flores

Five steps from The Handmaid’s Tale

I was glued to “The Handmaid’s Tale.” It’s a new series on Hulu, based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, about a dystopian fundamentalist society in the former United States, where infertility is such a huge problem that young women are rounded up and forced to be “handmaids” who bear children for their infertile commanders and their wives. The biblical reference in the series and the book is to Genesis, Chapter 30; where Rachel cannot conceive a child and has her husband Jacob have intercourse with her maidservant, who then bears a son for him. In the book and the series, they read this passage right before a “ceremony” wherein the commander and his wife rape the handmaid monthly in order to try and get her pregnant.

I had my daughter watch it with me, and I kept telling her that I feel like we are about five steps away from The Handmaid’s Tale in the United States right now. My rugby champion who has yet to encounter a real gender struggle in her young life, dismissed my alarmist attitude as that of her crazy, activist mom. Vindication came in the form of a conversation about the series with my nephew’s very pregnant wife, who told her, “Yes, it’s frightening, what with them defunding Planned Parenthood and everything else.”

My daughter just looked at me, because everything I had warned her about, her cousin was reiterating.

It’s true. Under President Trump, we’ve begun the slide down that slippery slope toward a fundamentalist, religious society. Think I’m nuts? Here are a few examples.

First, under Trump, the Republicans want to defund Planned Parenthood. They claim it is because of abortion, but only a small percentage of Planned Parenthood funding pays for abortions – and it’s not federal funding, because there is a law that prevents federal funds being used to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape or where the life of the mother is in danger. More of the funding, according to various sources, goes to treatment of STDs and to contraception – actually preventing pregnancy, which would eliminate the need for abortion.

Then, there were Betsy Devos’ meetings with men’s rights groups in her quest to examine Title IX sexual assault procedures on college campuses. In Devos’ partial defense, there is something to be said for getting both sides of the story. But really, Betsy? In the grand scheme of things, how many men are falsely accused of sexual assault, versus the number of women who ARE sexually assaulted on a college campus? The Journal of Violence Against Women reports that somewhere between two and 10 percent of sexual assault allegations are false. It would’ve been one thing to quietly meet with such groups on the tail end of her quest, but meeting with them right out of the block might lead one to suspect a predisposition toward the “it’s her fault” theory that women have been trying to combat for decades.

Trump has also cut over $200 million from teen pregnancy prevention programs around the country, according to the non-profit Center for Investigative Reporting. Teen pregnancy in the United States has been on the decline in the last two decades, except among the poorest in our country, who need these programs the most in order to climb out of poverty. The CIR article by Jane Kay notes, “Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and other top Trump appointees are outspoken opponents of federal funding for birth control, advocating abstinence rather than contraceptives to control teen pregnancies.” It’s one of the reasons the far-right Republicans hate Obamacare – because health insurance companies are required to provide contraception for women.

If we eliminate access to birth control, what, pray tell, do these men (because it’s mostly a group of rich old white men here, let’s face it) think is going to happen? That people will “abstain” from having sex? Yeah, right. This, from our leaders in Washington D.C. – the land of Sodom and Gomorrah. In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” lust is a sin, yet in one episode, a commander takes his handmaid to an illegal brothel packed with other commanders – a nod to the fact that while these men are public proponents of the strict interpretation of the Bible, in private, they’re as lustful as people were 2,000 years ago. Perhaps art is imitating life here?

And don’t get me started on the White House restrictions on press briefings. Since June 29th, reporters have not been allowed to cover the briefings live, although a brave few have defied the order and livestreamed audio from some briefings. That’s unheard of in our free press society. At least it was until Trump became president.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, the heroine, Offred (her real name is June, but in this insane society, the handmaids take on the names of their commanders, in that she is “of Fred”) recalls that no one paid attention while the leaders quietly chipped away at the constitution until one day the women were all fired from their jobs, their bank accounts were frozen, and then they were rounded up and tazered into compliance.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Well don’t get too complacent. The restrictions and the cuts to programs that help empower women have already started.

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