Here is a link to Sherronda Brown’s essay, “White Women in Robes.”
Here are some of my thoughts about the piece: As a historian, I think it’s important to note that, while Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist as well as a birth control pioneer in the early twentieth century, many advocates for contraception did not share her eugenicist views. Beneficiaries of access to contraception included immigrant working-class women for whom multiple unwanted pregnancies were often a life-or-death issue, not merely a “choice.” Conflating the birth control movement with women’s participation in the KKK is also misleading. Brown critiques The Handmaid’s Tale for focusing only on the plight of white cisgender women in Gilead’s pronatalist regime. Her point that the novel is preoccupied with white cis women’s experience is well-taken. In Atwood’s novel, African Americans (referred to as “the Children of Ham”) have been expelled from Gilead. Gilead is a white supremacist, pronatalist state, but Atwood hardly endorses its racial politics.
It’s true that The Handmaid’s Tale is in dialogue with white feminist politics of the 1970s and 1980s. Atwood engages the white feminist anti-pornography movement, the embrace of a separate women’s culture by some radical feminists, reproductive politics, and so on. I think we can acknowledge the novel’s limitations, as Brown prompts us to do, while critically engaging the novel’s formal and political features. I chose to teach The Handmaid’s Tale because I think it is a valuable literary mediation of important debates in second-wave feminism. The novel also dramatizes other historical developments, such as the rise of the Religious Right in the 1970s and 1980s. I hope we won’t dismiss Atwood’s narrative for its political shortcomings when we can critically engage the text instead. Those are some of my thoughts. I am interested to hear what you think.