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The Handmaid’s Tale has held audiences in its grip for four seasons. The dystopian thriller in which crimson-garbed women are held captive and subjected to all manner of atrocities broke Neilsen records for the streaming service Hulu, perhaps as a means of escapism from the last four years of political turmoil and the last two years of a pandemic. I mean, things could always be worse.
At the root of the policy positions that thrust the fictional Gilead into the forefront and brought down the United States as we know it was a bit of reality that we are currently facing as a nation: Birthrates are declining sharply, and people are concerned.
For a growing number of people, life without children is a choice. As a 36-year-old Florida entrepreneur described her decision, “I do not want to bring a kid into this crazy world. I would be constantly worrying about my child! Having a baby would mean giving up my freedom as I know it now - I wouldn’t be able to pick up and go as I please. They are so expensive - and my husband doesn’t want one either.”
The current rate of births is the lowest it has been since the 1930s. Considering the shortage of available affordable housing, escalating carbon emissions, student loan crisis, and the rising cost of living, it seems a logical choice to opt out of adding children to the mix. However, research indicates that there are strong opinions on those who live child-free - considered both less moral and less fulfilled than those who procreate.
Sometimes this leads to badgering by friends and family. Even when it’s well-meaning, it can be frustrating to have your choices questioned or belittled by those who you care about most. “You’ll change your mind” or “One day you’ll live to regret (not having kids)” have been playing on a constant loop for my close friend since she announced at 15 that she had no intention of adding to the family tree. “They don’t want to hear anything I have to say about it, even though I have been saying the same thing for 13 years. I do what I want, I’m not beholden to a relationship ‘for the sake of the kids’, and I don’t struggle to pay bills. Honestly, it feels like a control thing - it’s like society can’t handle the idea that as a woman, I made this choice for myself. I don’t know any men who have this kind of pressure.”
This leads us back to The Handmaid’s Tale. At the center of the obsession with this series is the reversal of women’s rights, and subjugation of women to provide future generations as a primary function of existence. In Gilead, change was incremental; the loss of access to banking and laws barring women from employment eventually escalated to work camps, rape and forced childbearing.
Just days ago, SCOTUS refused to block legislation in Texas banning abortions after 6 weeks. All U.S. Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act intended to address the gender wage gap in June of this year, including electeds from our fair state. The Violence Against Women Act passed reauthorization, but not without opposition from Reps. Ashley Hinson and Randy Feenstra. We anxiously await the next bill related to Womens’ Rights the same way we anxiously await the next episode of June’s crusade for woman and country. Will June save the day? Will we?
Sofia DeMartino is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org