Full Surrogacy Now

Jenny Turner writes:

Atwood fans, does it matter that The Handmaid’s Tale is at bottom ‘a deraced slave narrative’, as Sophie Lewis calls it in Full Surrogacy Now? In the novel, as Lewis says, people of colour – ‘Children of Ham’, in Gilead language – are resettled in ‘Homeland One’, somewhere in North Dakota. In The Testaments, a sequel set 15 years later, Gilead’s ‘ridiculous Certificate of Whiteness Scheme’ has collapsed.[*] The TV show got round such awkwardness by dint of hardly mentioning race at all, casting black and brown-skinned actors colour-blindly as the heroine’s husband and daughter, and (as in Hollywood convention) as the heroine’s brave – in some ways maybe too brave – best friend. But the situation of the fertile handmaid in Atwood’s novel – forcibly separated from her own child and made to live in the house of a rich man who hasn’t managed to produce babies with his chilly, blonde wife and who regularly rapes her – clearly borrows, as Lewis says, from ‘the historical experience of … the American plantation’ while deftly, silently adapting it ‘for the purposes of a colour-blind – white – feminism’. ‘This Is How It Starts,’ we read on cards round the necks of red-robed, white-bonneted protesters, standing, so they claim, for the reproductive rights and bodily autonomy of all women against Trump and Harvey Weinstein and the abortion-banning state government of Alabama. But there are, in the US and across the world, many, many populations for whom ‘it’ could be said never to have stopped.

(LRB 23 January 2020)