This past weekend I sat down to watch Alias Grace on Netflix; if you are not familiar with it, it is a miniseries based on the book by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. I’ve not had opportunity to read all of her work, but of what I have read so far, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Robber-Bride, and Oryx and Crake, I like her work a lot. I’ve not yet seen Hulu’s version of The Handmaid’s Tale; I will at some point I hope.
I don’t know what I am more grateful for exactly. that women in Western countries are no longer forced to live in such a way; wholly dependent on the resources and dispositions of the men around them to the extent they were up to about 100 years ago (arguably longer than that) or that Atwood is so capable of capturing the essence of what it must have been like to live as both an object of desire and also of apathy and scorn.
I can only think of one other author who can capture that as well as Atwood; Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple and Possessing the Secret of Joy among others. Both are in my opinion important authors to read no matter who you are. Men should read them too, maybe it would do them some good to know what is it like to be the object of desire, apathy, or scorn by everyone around them. Or at least watch Alias Grace.
Women today, especially Western nation women are still in many ways the objects of desire, apathy and scorn, subject to high rates of domestic violence, rape, and murder, but we have still managed to make a lot of progress from the days where women were treated as little better than children; permitted to work as household servants only if their circumstances demanded it.
For more about Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood and the original story about Grace Marks, this is pretty good explanation: The Mysterious Murder Case that Inspired Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace
How long have women been trying to win equality in at least a legal sense? According to this, since the 1600s: A Timeline of Women’s Legal History in the United States by Professor Cunnea. Women in the United States have been allowed to vote for 98 years; it will be 100 years in 2020. It wasn’t until 1961 that it was nationally established that women had the right to sit on a jury.
Women were studying and practicing law in some capacity decades longer than they were allowed to vote. The Equal Rights Amendment however, drafted in 1923 never passed. A 1943 version did pass Congress but failed ratification by 3 states; continued attempts have continued to fail ever since. Equality in the workplace was established in 1964 courtesy of the Federal Civil Rights Act (and Title XII).
Married couples were granted the right to birth control in 1965 and all people, regardless of marital status since 1972. For a more updated version of Professor Cunnea’s timeline, go here: A Timeline of Women’s History in the Legal Profession By Angela Nicole Johnson1
Today, I was able to get an education, work outside of the home, not be forced to have a husband or children, I can sit on a jury if called (and I have been called even if dismissed), I have the right to vote, and I have access to contraception if I want it. But for how much longer will this be the case? The attacks on women’s rights being what they have been lately, I’d not be surprised to see the progress lost during my own lifetime.
Though men should fear that as much as women. With the middle class shrinking like it is, most of us really can’t afford comfortable lifestyles and decent food (costs for which will only continue to go up as resources dwindle) on only one income. Low wage working men couldn’t afford to marry; if they did they lived in extreme poverty made worse by lack of birth control. And women died more frequently in child birth.
Incidentally that is on the rise again; women dying in child birth. Current trends will likely see a reverse on abortion rights and subsequent recriminalization of abortion which will cause even more women to die. Alias Grace was not at all fictional in the depiction of what happened to the character Mary Whitney. Regardless of how one might feel about abortion; it was legalized because too many were dying from illegal abortions.
I’m just grateful that my opinionated, mouthy female self isn’t getting tossed into lunatic asylums because I’m an opinionated, mouthy female. Or because I’m not wanted around or useful enough to keep around. I am not forced to do immoral things to survive; nor am I being harassed, stalked, molested, or raped simply because I’m physically available and males can’t keep their hands and penises to themselves.
Sexual exploitation still happens, but not like it did then. I don’t depend on the good will of a male family relative. I still depend on the good will of an employer but that doesn’t include physically or legally defending my breasts and vagina from an employer just because the employer knows I depend on the job to keep a roof over my head and my stomach full. We have more protections now than we ever had before.
Thanks for reading 🙂