The world with which Atwood presents us is a fait accompli
- the overturning of modern US society for a militaristic theocracy, where most women are reduced to their value as virtual incubators for wealthy/powerful but infertile couples, has already taken place and become the norm, although the chronological gap is apparently not that long. Their pasts, even their previous identities, are taken from them as they are indoctrinated to the new order, after which they are placed in the home of a man whose status warrants such a reward, and where they will be repeatedly raped by the master of the house until they become pregnant or are replaced with another breeder. An infertile women will be permitted to stay with her husband or other male relative, although those without a male "protector" are designated as "Marthas" and put to work as housekeepers or cooks in those wealthy homes.
It makes me sick to even write that. I know it's fiction, but how could women allow themselves to be turned into cattle in that way? With the social hierarchy established and no way to flee her situation, "Offred" ("of Fred", the name of the man to whom she is assigned) can only exercise small rebellions and watch for an opportunity to escape, but social upheaval like that doesn't happen in an instant - how could it come about without the clear signs being seen and an outcry by every woman in the country, refusing to submit?
And then I realize: every time a further restriction is placed on a woman's right to do with her body as she pleases, we are one step closer to this day. Every time a law is passed that allows religious zealots to refuse to fill a prescription written by the woman's doctor. Every time a rapist's charges are plea-bargained down to simple assault because the woman's sexual history is suspect. Every time a young woman's complaint against a classmate for unwanted touching is met with a request that she "not make such a big thing about it" because the young man is "from a good family." Every time a woman is told that she has to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term because she chose to have sex. Every one of those chips away at women's autonomy, at their ability to see themselves as valuable for reasons other than their reproductive organs.
And that's why this is an important book.