- The Iona Institute - http://www.ionainstitute.ie -

Fans of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ ignore the real handmaids of our time; surrogates

Critics are outbidding each other to see who can lavish most praise on the series one Irish Times writer calls a “dystopian masterpiece [1]” about a “religious fundamentalist government who deal with the decreasing birth rates by forcing lower-class women into sexual slavery as reproductive servants for the infertile elite.” The series is The Handmaid’s Tale and it is based on the 1985 book of the same name by Margaret Atwood.

Feminists have always loved this tale as it tallies with their dark vision of religion and how religious zealots if they had a chance would turn women into wombs, and nothing more, vessels to bring the next generation into the world.

There is an irony here, however, and it is this; in the real world, the women who most resemble the ‘handmaids’ in the series are the surrogate mothers in poor countries like India, but also in rich countries like America, who literally turn themselves into vessels for nine months so that infertile couples, gay couples, and single men can have children of their own.

Refer again to the quote from the aforementioned Irish Times article. It describes how The Handmaid’s Tale depicts “lower class women” becoming the “reproductive servants for the infertile elite”.

You could not get a better description of surrogacy than that. In India, poor women are literally housed in dorms for much of the nine months and carefully regulated and monitored for the sake of the well-off Westerners who have paid for this service.

In the West, surrogate mothers are not actually placed in dorms, and nor are they are poor as their Indian counterparts. But they are almost invariably poorer than those who hire them (“lower-class women” to borrow that quote from The Irish Times again), and their customers are the “infertile elite”, elite because they can afford to pay the huge amounts involved.

So, these are the real handmaids of our day. But a few exceptions aside [2], where is the outcry from among feminists? There is near total silence from Irish feminists at the undoubted exploitation involved in surrogacy. Can we please hear an explanation for this? Can we hear why they are more outraged at the fictitious handmaids of The Handmaids Tale, but not the real world handmaids of India and elsewhere?