Bear with me on this one, it might seem a bit tenuous and it’s definitely off topic, but here goes.
I went to see the screening of Margaret Atwood talking about her new book, The Testaments, this week. The book is the follow up to The Handmaid’s tale, originally written in 1985, but it’s had a popular resurgence recently, partly due to the TV series but it’s also being used as a symbol to protest the increasing restrictions on women around the world, especially in the US.
Atwood spoke fluently and articulately about the issues in both The Handmaid’s tale and The Testaments, what inspired her to write the sequel now and how it’s increasingly relevant to society (sadly). But when asked what the single biggest concern is, she said climate change.
So why is this a feminist issue?
It’s already been noted that some climate change deniers are using misogynistic language and hate directed towards popular campaigners for change, notably Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Let’s look at the impact of climate change and populations. The increasing amount of extreme climate events and natural disasters we’re seeing has an impact on food production. In turn, this leads to populations moving to find food sources and safety. Fighting over available food and land also causes war, which leads to further population movement.
Where you see sustained increased levels of population migration, you also see a rise of nationalism, as populations seek to ‘defend’ their land and culture. In all of these situations, women and children are often disproportionately affected leading to a reduction in the number of fertile women in the population.
At the start of The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood explains the rise of the state of Gilead as due to increasing problems with a reduction of the fertility rate. This lead people wanting to control women’s fertility and, ultimately, women.
Controlling fertility and birth rates is a popular way of controlling populations. Some religions ban contraceptives, to ensure the religion has an enough people to continue it. The Nazis encouraged the ‘right people’ to procreate but performed forced sterilisations on the people they thought were the ‘wrong’ sort.
Hence, we can see that the current rolling back of women’s rights around the world, particularly in relation to rights over their own bodies, can be linked to the impact of climate change we are already witnessing.
So I don’t leave you all thoroughly depressed, Atwood was keen to point out that her books are positive in that they are written retrospectively, looking back at Gilead as a failed state to learn lessons from the past.
I'll let you know what the book is like!