'The Handmaid's Tale' Is Economic Development

In Europe, women are valued for their fertility, not productivity.
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In Europe, women are valued for their fertility, not productivity.
Olive trees, Greece. (Photo: lornet/Shutterstock)

Olive trees, Greece. (Photo: lornet/Shutterstock)

The Rust Belt celebrates immigrants as saviors. Fearing extinction, parochial cities begrudgingly become more welcoming. They desire numbers. A population obsession, various initiatives intend to attract foreign-born baby factories.

I interpret the campaign to arrest demographic decline as a dehumanizing way to re-populate working-class neighborhoods struggling with residential vacancies and blight. An immigrant from Nepal might be a clever medical doctor. All the locals see is +1 in the next Census.

"+1 in the next Census" is the answer to a question author Margaret Atwood posed in a newspaper article reflecting on her book The Handmaid's Tale:

Stories about the future always have a "what-if" premise, and The Handmaid's Tale has several. For instance: if you wanted to seize power in the US, abolish liberal democracy and set up a dictatorship, how would you go about it? What would be your cover story? It would not resemble any form of communism or socialism: those would be too unpopular. It might use the name of democracy as an excuse for abolishing liberal democracy: that's not out of the question, though I didn't consider it possible in 1985.

In the Rust Belt, the cover story for a dictatorship is depopulation. In Europe, the cover story for a dictatorship is depopulation. The cover story for a dictatorship (or a boondoggle) is brain drain. Much ado about procreation:

The Italian health minister described Italy as a “dying country” in February. Germany has spent heavily on family subsidies but has little to show for it. Greece’s depression has further stalled its birthrate. And in Denmark, the birthrate has been below the so-called replacement rate needed to keep a population from declining — just over two children per woman — since the early 1970s.

“For many, many years, we only talked about safe sex, how to prevent getting pregnant,” said Marianne Lomholt, the national director of Sex and Society. “Suddenly we just thought, maybe we should actually also tell them about how to get pregnant.”

If not for the nation, do it for the GDP. The hysteria about plummeting birth rates is hysterical. Was liberalizing sex education only about defusing Paul Ehrlich's population bomb? Europe has moved from passive sterilization to promoting the career track of an Econowife. Concerning young women, don't learn maths. Fornicate for the fatherland.

In what Atwood calls a "liberal democracy", the dictatorship takes on the form of a tech company. The Handmaid's Tale, starring Peter Thiel and Marissa Mayer:

Everyone has their theories about why there aren’t more women in technology. Some say it’s that women aren’t studying computer science and therefore aren’t applying for jobs in the field. Others say it’s due to a certain degree of bias in an industry where predominantly male leaders hire predominantly male employees because they see similarities between themselves and their hires.

But Katharine Zaleski and Milena Berry say there’s another reason, which is that tech companies aren’t giving women—particularly mothers—the flexibility they need to raise a family and pursue their careers at the same time. “There are two bad choices for women: go back to the office full-time or slowly lose your career because you can’t go back to the office full-time,” Zaleski, a former editor at The Huffington Post, explains.

In Atwood's fictional world, there are two bad choices for women. You may stand a step below the most powerful male or you may stand a step below the most downtrodden male. To lean in is to enjoy the best a man will allow.

In tech's non-fictional world, there are two bad choices for women. Have a family and lose your career or have a career and lose your family. To lean in is to enjoy the best a man will allow.

Jim Russell, a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development, writes regularly for Pacific Standard.