A parent in Canada has asked a school board to take The Handmaid’s Tale off the reading list for seventeen year olds. He doesn’t like the bad language, the brutality (esp against women), and its anti-Christian-ness.
Never mind that the book won The Governor’s General Award (Canada’s Pulitzer) or the fact that it remains one of the most taught books in the world. Let’s think through the three objections.
Bad language: if we took books with “bad” language out of the curriculum, we’d have to lose most of the curriculum. Even Shakespeare makes “cunt” jokes. (P.S.–you’d have to take the Bible out of Sunday School curriculum, too–it also contains “bad” words.) And if this guy thinks his kid hasn’t heard or said the word “fuck” before, he’s a moron.
Brutality: This guy can try to pass himself off as a sympathizer to women all he wants, but there is brutality against women in the world. This book talks about some of that. I’ve had students get upset at Oryx and Crake for similar reasons. One student said that because Atwood had a character who’d been victimized by being forced into prostitution as a child, Atwood was a pornographer. There is a difference between kiddie porn and a work that criticizes those who perpetuate it. (Unless reading about that poor girl gets you hard–and in that case, you shouldn’t be mad at the book, you should be thinking about yourself.) When I read The Handmaid’s Tale in high school (an event I consider one of the most important in my life), I remember a girl coming in and saying she didn’t like the book because it was disturbing. The teacher said it was supposed to be. There are bad things out there. How are we going to stop them and prevent them if we don’t know about them?
Anti-Christian: I am so sick of this argument. First, the rulers of Gilead are not Christian. Though they quote (and intentionally misquote) the Bible, there is no Jesus here. Salvation in this society comes not through Christ, but through accepting the new status quo of the theocracy. The “brutality” against women here all comes from the Old Testament (and is, by the way, sanctioned through a literal reading of that text–Old Testament “family values” leave much to be desired). Even if you view the rulers as Christian, none of the rulers actually follow the rules–this is a critique of hypocrisy as much as anything else. Finally, it should not escape notice that all of the “good guys” in the book who are fighting this regime are Christian–they are Catholics and Quakers and Baptists–they are Christians.
Oh, and book banning is wrong, even if this guy’s claims were true.