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The Handmaid's Tale on Radio 4's A Good Read

(33 Posts)
rosabud Wed 03-Dec-14 00:17:51

Just wondered if anyone else heard this being discussed on Radio 4 this afternoon? Basically, 2 guests choose a favourite book, read each other's before the show, and then discuss them( along with the presenter) on air.

Today there were 2 women (the presenter and the guest who chose The Handmaid's Tale) and one man (Sean Lock? An actor apparently) discussing this novel. What I found fascinating was that the male guest kept saying "I didn't get it" and seemed to consider the book as just another dystopian novel which he criticised as "more slow-moving" than Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four. The two female guests discussed the novel from a feminist point of view and how the novel made them realise the precarious nature of equality, how women are oppressed by men in society now and how easily what rights we do have could be taken away from us (as they already have been in other parts of the world.) In response, the male guest said that he thought it was very unrealistic and that most people would not go along with such a scenario and so it couldn't really happen.

It made me realise how the male guest is probably very representative of many men who really "don't get" the big deal about women's oppression, they can't see it all, and it all must seem rather dull when women go on about it.

Did anyone else hear it?

venusinscorpio Wed 03-Dec-14 01:08:12

He only needs to look at the recent history of say, Afghanistan to see how specific elements of this particular fictional universe can happen and how most people did go along with it.

Sean Lock, if it's the guy I'm thinking of is a panel show stand up comedian but not, I think, any great intellectual heavyweight IYKWIM. I will listen to the R4 discussion as I have read the book and seen the film several times but yes I think you have a point about men not really grasping the nature of oppression of women by men and the culture which enables it.

MrsCakesPrecognition Wed 03-Dec-14 01:13:39

It simply confirmed my opinion of Sean Lock. The difference between his chosen book and The Handmaids Tale was stark.

EBearhug Wed 03-Dec-14 01:21:14

Didn't Margaret Atwood say there's nothing in THT which hasn't happened somewhere in the world already?

JapaneseMargaret Wed 03-Dec-14 02:15:59

Men don't get it. They never truly will. That's the alarming thing, I think. Even the most liberal, forward-thinking, empathetic man in the world won't truly get it without actually being a woman.

ChunkyPickle Wed 03-Dec-14 06:06:14

Some elements of it (some of the really scary bits for a woman of reproducing age I think) are happening right now -

Surrogate dorms in India.

AnyFucker Wed 03-Dec-14 06:58:02

This is why my opinion is that even the most feminist-allied and enlightened of men cannot ever be described as feminists

Homeriliad Wed 03-Dec-14 15:10:38

@ JapaneseMargaret: I've read THT and thought it was a great book. Obviously everyone has their own interpretations of it, and maybe as a man I can't understand it in the same way as a woman might, but of course I was at least aware of the religious/misogynist themes in the book.

@AnyFucker: I agree!! I support and believe in gender equality and equal rights etc, but I can never describe myself as a feminist because that's not for me to decide. Men can't truly know what it's like to be a woman, and without that knowledge no-one has the right to call themselves feminists.

BuffytheFestiveFeminist Wed 03-Dec-14 15:12:45

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

messyisthenewtidy Wed 03-Dec-14 17:50:25

So true. I often think it has a subtle but real effect on us - the knowledge that our rights have only been recently won and that in so many countries we would lose them in an instant, be married off young, lose rights to our kids, to our bodies etc.

Even though it doesn't affect me directly it certainly makes me feel not so complacent with my freedom. I feel lucky but also insecure. It would be hard for men to accept that not ever having experienced it themselves.

IMO what is great about THT is its pace and the way it slowly reveals the workings of the new world to you. It's much better than say Brave New World which explicitly spells everything out for you. And the epilogue, well the epilogue is genius!

messyisthenewtidy Wed 03-Dec-14 17:54:22

And not just other countries but our own too. The idea that 100 years ago people would have thought me too stupid to vote or study for a degree definitely has an effect on me.

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 03-Dec-14 18:19:42

messy I agree. I find it always at the back of my mind (and sometimes at the forefront when it's really frightening). It is a book that once read cannot be forgotten.

ChunkyPickle Wed 03-Dec-14 18:29:06

Absolutely LordC - THT is scary and chilling.

1984 on the other hand I can take or leave. I found that a bit slow-paced personally (not THT - I thought that was very well paced), and because I've been reading SF for so long, I felt that other books had dealt with the ideas in it better (not that I can particularly name them now)

Surreyblah Wed 03-Dec-14 18:49:56

I heard it and agree that he just didn't get it at all!

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 03-Dec-14 19:32:29

Must read 1984 again at some point to compare.

Quangle Wed 03-Dec-14 19:38:24

I really like A Good Read, partly because it's a good way of identifying total plonkers. People often don't agree on the programme and that's interesting but it's also a good expose of people who have not thought or read outside their own experience. He's not the first man on it to be befuddled by something that is not from the standard male viewpoint.

velouria Wed 03-Dec-14 20:27:33

Is it online? I love THT, although failed to read the epilogue the first time I read it for some bizarre reason grin I think it's because I read it in one session and was very tired.

EBearhug Wed 03-Dec-14 20:55:59

I reread 1984 about 18 months ago. I was struck by how much of it made me wonder if certain elements among my managers had been using it as a "how-to" guide...

The episode can be heard here -

rosabud Wed 03-Dec-14 21:26:53

I've recently re-read 1984, too and, while I can acknowledge that it is a great novel, I agree with the comments above about how didactic and 'explanatory' it is (particularly the bit in the middle when he is reading The Book!!). I think the slow revelation of the circumstances surrounding the society in The Handmaid's Tale makes it a fascinating and intriguing novel to read and, of course, it reflects the slow, gradual eroding of women's rights in the society it is describing and how the gradualness of the process makes it easier to impose on the population. And I agree with what people have said about the epilogue. It's a work of genius that book; I read it first nearly 30 years ago and it made a great impression on me. I re-read it recently and was astonished how I remembered almost every detail!

And it is so moving. Parts of it move me to tears. I think that makes it more astonishing that someone could just not "get it"!

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 03-Dec-14 21:44:01

I think it's Margaret Atwood's best book. I read others on the strength of that but nothing ever hit as hard as THT.

Slavetominidictator Wed 03-Dec-14 21:50:38

I teach THT at 'A' level and often boys and a few girls do not get it at all. I've made a collage of newspaper articles showing evidence of Atwood's claim that she wrote about nothing that hadn't already happened somewhere in the world.

Vivacia Wed 03-Dec-14 21:55:39

I found it chilling to read - full of silent, brooding threat and peril.

cruikshank Wed 03-Dec-14 21:56:04

I personally think The Handmaid's Tale shits all over 1984. They are both excellent books, and both very prescient (I re-read 1984 in the run up to the war in Iraq and was shouting 'yes of course' a lot mentally), but as a pp said, the long exposition in 1984 looks kind of lazy when you compare it to the growing realisation of THT, which makes it all the more terrifying because of all the parallels that you recognise without having it hammered into you. I think that type of writing is much more skillful and very difficult to achieve. I think she is a brilliant writer.

Waswondering Wed 03-Dec-14 21:59:09

I finished THT the night before 9/11. Man, I freaked out the next day!

Amethyst24 Wed 03-Dec-14 23:29:05

I can't remember when I first read THT - more than 20 years ago anyway, and a few years before I got into the man-pleasing phase I went through in my 20s and 30s. It's a remarkable book, but I find Cat's Eye and The Robber Bride almost more interesting in terms of what they say about women and our place and rivalry in society.

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