LONDON – Margaret Atwood has said “The Handmaid’s Tale” has a new resonance because of threats to women’s rights, particularly in the United States.
Atwood, 79, published the best-selling novel in 1985 and it was adapted into a television series in 2017.
The Canadian author said her dystopian future America, the Republic of Gilead, has got closer to reality in the intervening 34 years.
The sequel The Testaments was published on Tuesday and picks up the story 15 years after the events in the first book.
“As time moved on and instead of moving further away from Gilead we started moving towards it, particularly in the United States,” Atwood said at a press conference in London.
The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a totalitarian society which forcibly assigned fertile women to produce children for the ruling class.
“If you look at the legislative moves made by a number of different states within the United States you can see that some of them are almost there (Gilead),” Atwood said.
“But what these restrictive laws about women’s bodies are claiming is that the state owns your body.
“There is a parallel occasion for men and that would be the draft or conscription in which the state says this body is going to go into the war but when they do that they pay for your clothing, lodging, food, medical expenses and they give you a salary.
“So I say unto them if you want to conscript women’s bodies in this way you should pay for it.
“As it is you’re forcing women to deliver babies it’s enforced childbirth and you’re not paying for any of it, I think that’s very cheap.
“I think that The Testament enters into a conversation that’s already taking place because The Handmaid’s Tale has been a meme in these kinds of conversations for years.”
She continued: “For a society that claims to value individual freedom I would say to them evidently you don’t think this individual freedom extends to women.”
The Handmaid’s Tale has inspired protests around the world over women’s rights, including abortion laws, with campaigners dressing in distinctive red costumes from the story.
“It’s a question of things escaping from a book into the real world and the author of that book has zero control over that,” Atwood said.
“None of this would be happening unless countries were putting people in charge of women’s bodies who are not those women.
“If everything were fair and equitable and government really was by consent of the governed only potentially pregnant women would be able to vote on these matters.”