A Book A Day: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

TheHandmaidsTale(1stEd)

Image Source: Wikipedia

In honor of International Women’s Day, let’s journey a couple decades into the future to visit lovely Gilead, a theocratic military dictatorship.

Gilead was established in the United States after a religious revolution, and afterward the rights of women were severely curtailed and their actions monitored. We meet one woman, Offred, who survived the revolution and was indoctrinated as a Handmaid, a young woman with a healthy reproductive system who is forcibly submitted to sexual intercourse with high-ranking members of government, whose wives are too old to become pregnant. In a highly choreographed, ritualistic “ceremony,” the Handmaid lies in front of the older wife while the husband is having sex with her. Offred’s life is reduced, quite literally, to her ability to conceive.

Offred is in service to someone we only know as the Commander. Although their relationship by law is restricted to monthly couplings, he begins a relationship with her, inviting her to his office where they play Scrabble and he gives her books to read. His wife, a former televangelist named Serena Joy, sets her up with Nick, the family chauffeur, in order to boost her chances of becoming pregnant.

Offred’s life outside the Commander’s house is just as restrictive. Women are separated into classes–Wives, Handmaids, Marthas (cooks), Econowives (for lower-ranking men) and Virgins–and interaction among the different classes is heavily regulated.

We learn of Offred’s life before the revolution, when she, her husband and child tried (and failed) to escape to Canada. After she was captured, she was sent to a training camp, overseen by militaristic Aunts–where she met one woman, Moira, who would eventually escape. Between her relationship with Nick and her meeting Moira again in a club while on an errand, Offred learns of a group called the Mayday Resistance who are planning to overthrow Gilead.

Offred becomes pregnant right around the time Serena Joy learns of her relationship with the Commander. Serena reports her to the secret police, called The Eyes, who come for Offred in a black van. Nick, who knows about the pregnancy, assures Offred The Eyes are part of the Resistance. The novel ends when Offred steps into the van.

Obviously, there’s a lot going on here, from a country being run like it exists in The Old Testament (the relationship between the Wives and Handmaids is said to be analogous to the Biblical story of Rachel and her maid Bilhah), the subjugation of an entire gender, and a healthy dose of paranoia to boot.

The miniseries based on the book is on Hulu, but I’m so terrified by the book–WOMEN ARE NOT ALLOWED TO READ IN GILEAD–that I have no interest in watching it. It makes a strong case for religious freedom and against evangelicalism in government, and although I still think this country has a long way to go toward equality, I’m thankful Gilead doesn’t exist.

 

 

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A Book A Day: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This Is the Craziest Article I’ve Read All Week

I lived in a dorm at college and I went through three different roommates in three years. By the time my senior year came around, I didn’t have a roommate assigned to me and I didn’t go out of my way to let Student Life know there was an opening. I ended up being by myself for my last two semesters. (It was glorious.)

I got along with my roommates freshman and junior years, but it was the sophomore roommate–the one I chose myself–who was not a good match. She was messy; I was neat. Her boyfriend hated me. My boyfriend hated her. My boyfriend hated her boyfriend, who hated him in return. She would put a scrunchie on the door when she and her boyfriend were fooling around and she would leave it on the door after he left. Once I locked her out of the room while she was in the shower. She would run out of space to put her things and end up putting them on my desk. It was awful.

(I do give her a lot of credit: she worked a great deal to repair our friendship after our year of living together. She ended up marrying her boyfriend and invited me to her wedding. I didn’t go; it was after graduation and I had to return home to hunt for a job. My boyfriend broke up with me over the phone about five days before we graduated. She was supportive and made me go out to bars with her to get me back in the saddle. She eventually introduced me to the guy I would end up marrying and even though she lived in Texas at the time and had two small children at home, she flew up alone to our wedding. She sent us Christmas cards–complete with letters–every single year. She had run cross-country in high school and when I told her I was thinking of taking up running she immediately invited me to run a half-marathon with her. She died very suddenly from an embolism a few years ago. She had four children and I wish I hadn’t been so mean to her sophomore year, but mostly because of her we ended up being good friends.)

Anyway, I thought two 19-year-old women were experts in passive-aggressive behavior but we had NOTHING on this guy. (Worst Roommate Ever is NOT an exaggeration, it’s the most apt headline ever.)

Jamison Bachman, who apparently went to law school solely to become an expert on arcane tenancy issues, would move into someone’s apartment and eventually become a legally sanctioned squatter. Among other things, he would:

  • Take his roommates’ things, put them in his room and refuse to give them access or return their belongings
  • Clog up toilets by throwing kitty litter and argue that toilets are for disposing shit, so it’s OK
  • Refuse to pay rent because he was inconvenienced and offended when his roommates left dirty dishes in the sink
  • Dropping off his roommates’ pets at kill shelters.

Every time he got taken to court he would eventually lose but he seemed to thrive on the drama and tension that arose when people who don’t get along live within close proximity.

Read and then, if you’re like me, think back to your worst roommate experience and comfort yourself by telling yourself that you weren’t as bad as Bachman.

This Is the Craziest Article I’ve Read All Week

The Biggest Racket: Airline Travel

As someone who’s studied a bit of psychology, I know that many people crammed into an enclosed space rapidly can become unruly. And I know from first hand experience that traveling in an airplane is a miserable experience, start to finish.

Since the government bailed out the industry in 2001 with $15 billion in compensation and loan guarantees, the industry has thanked the taxpayer by not only imposing ludicrous fees on everything from reserving a seat to carrying on luggage, but also designing narrower seats with vanishing legroom.

For two summers in a row, we traveled out west, to Arizona in 2015 and to California in 2016. Here’s how our experience with air travel went:

1. Because of various bankruptcies and mergers in the industry, we’re quite limited in choices of airlines. We always go to a smaller airport because it’s not as crowded and closer to home. (We would have a greater selection if we used a larger city’s airport, but it’s much more of a hassle to get there.) 

2. When we check in, we always find that we have to rearrange our seats, despite selecting them online ahead of time. My children are too young to travel without my husband or me next to them.

3. The flight has been overbooked. The boarding procedures are time-consuming and asinine.

4. The first leg of our trip always is to the “hub” of the airline. Most often, there are delays at the hub because the plane for the second leg of the trip hasn’t arrived yet, or something’s broken, or there’s inclement weather, or we’re waiting for the crew.

5. Repeat #3, but with an honorable mention: the crew on the first flight can do nothing about connecting flights. Amazon recommends stuff for me before I need it, but an airline can’t flag passengers who are going to potentially miss connecting flights because of unforced delays and log it so personnel can already work on accommodating them by the time the passengers reach the gate?

6. Despite the second flight taking at least four hours, there is no movie and all the airline offers is free soft drinks. Do you know how happy my kids would be if they got to see a movie on a plane? They wouldn’t even fight over any of the selections, something that takes up a good 30 minutes of our “family movie night” now. Because the airlines prioritize profit over comfort, long flights are terrible. I have to shift every 10 minutes to stave off potential cramping in my legs. Getting to the restroom is a feat of ingenuity because the aisle is so narrow.

When staff ask for volunteers to give up seats on overbooked flights, my price is an upgrade to first class for my family and me for the entire trip. (When we were discussing an overbooked flight from Flagstaff to Phoenix, I was willing to forgo the flight entirely for a kickass rental and first class the rest of the way home.) No one has taken me up on it yet.

As of late this afternoon, United CEO Oscar Munoz, after two failed attempts, completely apologized for forcibly dragging a passenger off a plane who did not volunteer to give up his seat. You know, creating more stress and havoc over a process that does not seem to go easy, ever. I’d love to see some rules in place preventing airlines from overbooking, but given our president’s penchant for eliminating regulations that help consumers–and his lack of experience in flying coach–I don’t think he’ll help any time soon.

The Biggest Racket: Airline Travel

Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and a Toxic Work Culture

My first, very cynical thought when reading this thoroughly reported New York Times story about Fox News settling harassment claims–to the tune of $13 million–against mega-star and cash cow Bill O’Reilly was, “how can anyone be surprised.”

After all, it’s been, what–nearly nine months?–since the cable channel’s founder, Roger Ailes, was ousted after creating and fostering a toxic work culture that thrived on misogyny, paranoia and corruption. To reward all his years of service and for his pesky habit of demanding sexual favors from his female employees in exchange for career advice, Ailes departed Fox News with a $40 million severance package.

Many predicted the channel would implode, but then Donald Trump won the election and despite having the highest security clearance in the nation, he chooses to get his news from–and live-tweet–Fox News programs. (To say nothing of the numerous sexual harassment claims filed against HIM.)

Bill O’Reilly’s response was that he’s a target because he’s famous and successful, and that none of the women–whom his network determined had serious enough causes to settle their claims–had followed proper procedure and documented their concerns with human resources or called a hotline specifically created to address sexual harassment complaints. Indeed, the network has doubled down on its star and extended his contract.

Lots of men in the network news business are famous and successful: Jake Tapper. Anderson Cooper. Scott Pelley. None of them have had to field sexual harassment complaints. And if you work for a company whose founder and CEO has encouraged a culture of sexual harassment, how comfortable are you going to be going through official channels at said company?

(And to be inclusive in all the nasty, here’s a woman at Fox News, an employee for two decades, who was fired for saying completely inappropriate things.)

How far do we have to go to believe women at face value when they claim they were harassed? A lot of the media world right now is bending over backward to accommodate O’Reilly’s response so the reporting is perceived fairly. How long do you think those employees had put up with the innuendo, the unwanted advances, the leers, before they had enough and filed suit? In those situations, women are subtly encouraged to just suck it up and deal for the sake of their careers.

Someone, somewhere had to do the math and risk analysis to come to the conclusion that O’Reilly is worth so much to Fox News that paying out $13 million worth of settlements was a necessary expense. That’s what makes this whole episode so sad and strange to me. Brian Stelter, CNN media critic, in his email newsletter compared O’Reilly to a troublesome sports star whose off-field antics begin to distract fans from his success in the game. But that analogy doesn’t work for me. I can’t think of many sports stars who were accused of harassing their colleagues in their work environment, like O’Reilly. (The only example that comes to mind is Richie Incognito.)

Finally, Fox News is one of the most successful networks, despite its toxic work environment. At this point, owner Rupert Murdoch is willing to look the other way as long as the channel makes money. How depressing.

Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and a Toxic Work Culture

On Leggings and Michael Pence

My 11-year-old daughter, on the cusp of puberty, is rapidly transforming into Lady Longlegs. She is uncomfortable in denim and wears dresses maybe twice a year, mainly because she can’t stand tights.

What does that leave her? Cotton pants, jeggings and leggings. (A post for another time: girls’ clothes aren’t nearly as sturdy and well made as boys’ clothes.) 

Her school has a dress code and since my daughter is a conscientious person it’s always at the back of her mind. Like most dress codes, it’s mainly written for girls and/or women. I imagine it’s similar to the dress code United Airlines has for people flying on buddy passes. 

My point here is not to argue about the dress codes in and of themselves, but how they perpetuate the assumption that girls and women need to be modest and cover themselves up. Otherwise, they become wanton temptations for boys and men. This argument not only does a disservice to girls and boys, reducing them to objects and urges, but also reinforces rape culture, a term I hate but is the most accurate in a society’s way of blithely assuming that women and girls are “asking for it” when they are sexually assaulted.

When other parents tell me they’re teaching their daughters to be modest, I immediately ask them what they’re instructing their sons. That girls have brains and feelings? That they should be respected and be considered persons in their own right, regardless of how many piercings they have or how their clothes fit? That they’re not objects of temptations, but the sum of more than their body parts, and future colleagues and bosses? 

When my son tells me he has a crush on a girl, he usually tells me it’s because the girl is cute, but I try to make him understand, even though he’s only 8, that girls can be attractive because they’re smart and funny, too. After all, those qualities have nothing to do with what clothes the girls are wearing.

There’s still a lot of work to do, because women (including me) have been harassed while fully clothed and wearing a winter coat. But I think it’s an important first step, to teach and reinforce these ideas in boys starting when they’re young and as they become teens.

To illustrate my point, we have Vice President Mike Pence, who considers women other than his wife to be such a distraction he won’t eat alone with them or attend functions alone with them where alcohol is served. Again, I don’t want to criticize his marriage. You do you, Mike and Karen! But I am concerned about how this affects Pence’s view of women in government and in places of power? Will Pence dine with Angela Merkel or Theresa May to discuss sensitive political matters without his wife? Nancy Pelosi? Elizabeth Warren? Does this policy mean he won’t hire women as high-level staffers in his own office, because there’s a chance he might have to dine with them alone? I mean, according to Pence, women are such distractions and objects of temptation there’s no way men can have platonic relationships with them. They’re not more than the sum of their parts. They’re solely objects.

On Leggings and Michael Pence

I Missed the Biggest Story of Spring Training


In what was surely inevitable, Major League Baseball is teaming up with Game of Thrones for a big promotional hootenanny.

I came across this story this afternoon on the Twitters, where I first learned Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard will have a walk-on role on this season of Game of Thrones. (He was available to film in November because the Mets lost their sole play-off game hahahahahaha #soblessed.)

As a surprise to no one, I have some ideas on how to incorporate the Game of Thrones world into baseball games.

1. Introducing the players and their positions. Use the GoT music and title sequence to announce fielders, with each player having his own sigil and his position having a construction similar to places in GoT.

2. Quotes for different situations:

  • Bottom of the ninth inning: “What is dead shall never die.”
  • Substitutions, especially during the game: “His watch has ended.”
  • Refer to a particularly brutal inning as the Red Wedding.
  • Referring to the umps: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

3. Recite lineups like Arya Stark’s list of revenge. 

4. DRAGONS! (I haven’t thought this one through yet.)

5. DIREWOLVES! (Ditto.)

I Missed the Biggest Story of Spring Training

Spring Training Update: Let’s Check in on the Phillies

When we last left our intrepid heroes, a quick start to the 2016 season had slowly but surely sunk into a listless and dispirited limp come October.

Interestingly enough, pre-season baseball in Philadelphia right now is competing with the NHL trading deadline (even though, as I understand it, the Flyers are out of playoff contention), a devastating injury to a 76ers player and the NFL … offseason, I guess? There are lots of “trade discussions” and “cuts” headlines floating around.

But in Clearwooder, spring training is a breath of fresh air. John Kruk, he of the 1993 National League Champions (Team Mullet) fame, joins the booth! Roy Halladay, a player on the enormously popular Golden Age of Phillies baseball teams, might be an instructor! Matt Stairs (also on those teams) is teaching Odubel Herrera how to hit, but whether this ability can manifest when the games actually count is up for debate! Brock Stassi is coming out of nowhere to hit massive dingers in an appeal for a bench job!

But friends and neighbors, Aaron Nola, whose promising 2016 season was cut short when nearly every part of his pitching elbow became messed up, stepped on the mound today. His elbow did not disintegrate while in use. His control wasn’t there but the speed was. Everyone is cautiously optimistic.

Nothing else is really happening, except this seems to be the last season for the bar to be so low, and the hope is the prospects will start to deliver next year.

Spring Training Update: Let’s Check in on the Phillies