When the state controls your body, sex is rape. The “ceremony” scenes in Season 1 of “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu (based on the 1985 seemingly evergreen novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood) made that clear: when a fertile handmaid’s male “master” penetrates her in the presence of his infertile wife, there is no consent, no pleasure, no contraception, no choice.
Season 2, which premiered last night (praise be!) and picks up where the book left off, continues its tradition of pre-revolution flashbacks which reveal just how the United States went from modern democracy to misogynistic Christian theonomy in the blink of an eye. Pre-fall, we see protagonist June Osborne — a full-time professional with a husband and a young daughter — ask her spouse to sign her birth control renewal form: “There’s a line for the husband’s signature now.” In a loving and somewhat amorous exchange, the two decide together not to refill her prescription in the hopes of having another kid — a sharp contrast to the brutal world awaiting them just around the corner.
It’s this kind of insidious chip-chip-chipping away of women’s sexual and reproductive rights in “The Handmaid’s Tale” that so eerily reflects our own Trumpian dystopia. In his first year as president, according to the Guardian, Trump:
- rescinded the Obamacare requirement that employers provide contraception coverage
- rolled back a rule introduced by Obama to close the gender pay gap
- reinstated the “global gag rule” that restricts the US from funding international family planning orgs that provide abortion-related services
- said he wants to defund Planned Parenthood
- signed Republican-passed legislation that enabled state & local govs to block federal funds to abortion clinics
- banned the CDC from using the words “fetus,” “transgender” and “science-based” in its budget docs
- filled federal courts with conservative white males, include Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch who could help overturn Roe v. Wade
- appointed Scott Lloyd to head the Office of Refugee Resettlement, who tried to prevent a pregnant teenage undocumented immigrant from obtaining an abortion
- has not had to answer to the myriad accusations of sexual assault made against him
And according to Mashable, he also:
- reversed on-campus sexual assault guidelines
- disbanded the White House Council on Women and Girls
- pulled back federal protections for transgender students
- reversed a law that guaranteed sexual assault victims their day in court
Apparently, we’ve got our own Gilead on the horizon — let’s not wait until Trump requires our husband’s approval to get our Pill refills! Because once they get those ear tags on, getting them off — as June makes painfully clear in the premiere of season 2 — is a real bitch.
Grassroots activism to increase votes for progressive values is the number one priority for preserving women’s rights in our world. But if the personal is political, then there are other fun ways you can also contribute to the cause: namely, by making like the newly liberated June and having the kind of sex you want and deserve.
While on the run, hiding out in the abandoned offices of The Boston Globe (the site, she discovers, of mass executions), June reunites with her household’s chauffeur, Nick, the man she was forced by her mistress to have intercourse with in order to compensate for the master’s infertility. June and Nick carried on rendezvousing in secret in Season 1, holding their own mini-counter-revolution of two above the garage. But back then, June was still a handmaid. Now, she’s a fugitive, out from under the red cloak and the white wings (and the ear tag!).
Filled with feminist rage and an insatiable lust for freedom, June takes the initiative, grabs Nick by the hair, gets rough with his junk, and has animalistic intercourse with nary a conservative care for their fetus — standing up against the wall, getting it from behind, her on top — again and again until they’re covered in sweat and he is spent. “I can’t,” he says. But filled with a hunger to live and to express that vitality through sex, she insists, “Try.”
For such a feminist powerhouse of a tv show, the sex scene last night was pretty focused on the almighty peen — no cunnilingus, no orgasms for her by any means necessary, no masturbation — acts that would be the embodiment of female empowerment. But perhaps the producers were hoping intercourse would be a metaphor for making love in a world so filled with hate, in a D.H. Lawrence kind of way. (A pro-sex feminist can dream.)
Whatever the case, the main takeaway was that powerful women can and should initiate sex, enjoy sex, be unabashed about a libido bigger than his (if and when that happens to be the case), and be unafraid to ask for what they want. Maybe making that kind of love will help us keep the red capes at bay with a blue wave this November.