There’s some new slang in town, and it doesn’t take kindly to my sort…
Picture it: the sun sets, leaving the world in an orange glow, a horse whinnies in the background, and my Louboutins kick up little puffs of dust as they hit the sand. I’m strollin’ on back into town after a brief(ish) hiatus and, largely, things look the same. The old gang are still down at the watering hole, the General Store still stocks all the essentials, and the malicious drunk is still Foreign Secretary.
It’s like that bit at the end of Dirty Dancing, where Johnny walks back in and everyone is happy to see him (and Boris Johnson is on the stage, pretending to be funny). But then, as I saunter on over to the saloon to tell the Sheriff that nobody sticks Baby in the corner (I think I’ve got my story a bit confused, but tbh I quite like it) everything goes deathly quiet and I hear the click of spurs on parquet flooring and the cocking of a revolver
‘Howdy there, Handmaiden’ says a generic old white woman on Twitter. ‘Let me introduce you to my chromosomes’.
I pause, and my face flashes between a diverse set of react GIFs as I realise that I don’t know what this woman is saying to me. Apparently, there’s a new gang in town, and they don’t take kindly to my sort.
I turn, slowly, reaching for my own 280-character pistol, but then I relax. Obviously, there’s been some mistake.
‘Howdy, friend. I’m thinkin’ you must be mistakin’ me for someone else; I’m a feminist, y’see, and you don’t got no beef with me’.
‘You aint no friend of mine, Handmaiden’ says the old white woman, as her friends emerge slowly from hidden doorways throughout the town.
And at this point I become genuinely confused, and not just because the Old West analogy has started to wear a bit thin. I genuinely, sincerely have been confused recently by people persistently referring to me as a Handmaiden. It seems that I’m a bit behind on my slang terms. For clarification, and in order to avoid a social media faux-pas I asked one of these charming tweeters to explain.
But I didn’t reeeeeally get a response
I decided to Google it. Nada. Zilch.
Ooooh, good, a man to the rescue:
Hm. Ok, so not so much to the rescue, as to the patronising assumption that I don’t understand the point of the reference, rather than explaining why the reference is being directed at me.
To be honest, I’m mostly confused because if someone were to ask me to name my favourite book, there’s a fairly decent chance that I’d say ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood. It’s a beautifully written, terrifying piece of dystopian fiction which highlights that it isn’t the future we have to fear, it’s the now. It is now that women are being coerced into changing their contraceptive choices, it is in 2018 that Ireland are finally having a referendum on the 8th amendment, and it is within the next few months that a woman Prime Minister (however much I dislike her, she is a woman) will accept a state visit from the ‘Leader of the Free World’ who, in case anyone has forgotten, likes to discuss his ability to grab women by the pussy.
So why am I being told to read the book (or watch the show) to understand why TERFs are having a go at me?
***Side note: (I won’t apologise for calling these people TERFs, because they’re the ones who came up with the damn term, and I’m pretty darn sick of them acting as though it’s derogatory when it’s a fair and literal definition of who and what they are; they are Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, the end.)***
If you aren’t familiar, the book is about a radical Christian society where women are categorised by their function, and men are the ones who hold power (being allowed to read and write in public, for instance). The rules within the new system are enforced by brutal police (of both genders), and rule breakers are either hanged publicly or subjected to a brutal death at the hands of the mob. It’s a good book.
The women are categorised, basically, by whether or not they are able to produce children. Women who are post-menopause but married to a successful man become Wives, women who are married to unsuccessful men become Econowives or servants (Marthas), and women who are infertile, unmarried or beyond child-bearing age, or who have had contraceptive (or medically necessary) gynaecological surgery become Unwomen or Jezebels, and are either banished to war zones to clear nuclear waste or offered the chance to become prostitutes.
Women who are young, fertile and unmarried become Handmaids, and are trained by high-powered zealots (Aunts) before being designated to a household in order to become pregnant by the husband and have the baby given to the Wife in a bizarre ritual loosely based on the bible story of Jacob, Rachel, Leah and Bilhah. It’s a good, scary book.
And that’s why I don’t understand why I’m being called a Handmaiden simply because I support trans women. The implication appears to be (I might be wrong – they won’t actually tell me, remember?) that by allying myself with trans women in particular, I am taking on the role of the compliant Handmaid in Atwood’s novel, betraying other women (although who they think are the ones being betrayed is a bit beyond me) in exchange for brownie points.
OK, so I don’t go around telling trans women to kill themselves, or shouting about penises every five seconds but… huh?
Women in the Republic of Gilead are categorised and given value based almost exclusively on their ability to produce children. In my opinion, that is not a good thing. But that, no matter how much TERFs bleat on about how they’re only ‘standing up for women and girls’
categorising and giving value to women based entirely on their ability to produce children is exactly what stands at the core of their movement.
Women who vocally claim to be the core of the fight against misogyny are closing ranks and basing their entire spur for equality around whether or not someone was born with a vagina (or, in the case of some of the more biological-determination minded ones, XX chromosomes). Now, the actual core of my problem with this is the fact that in reality they’re allying themselves with the alt-right and with incels and are shitting all over the lives of trans people everywhere. The symptom of the problem I have with these people is that since I’ve started trying to stand up for trans people as much as I can (I hesitate to use the term ally because I’m not actually having a wank right now, and I do believe people who use that term are in a semi-permanent state of self-pleasure), it has been decided that I’m not a real feminist. I have had my feminist card revoked purely because I just don’t want to be part of their weird, vagcentric cult. So, yeah. I’m a handmaiden.
I’m guessing that these people haven’t actually read the book. If they had, then maybe they’d have noticed that the following quote is not supposed to be actual advice.
“There is more than one kind of freedom,” said Aunt Lydia. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”
I did want to end on that, because it’s a banging quote and a stylish way to end things. However, I wanted to point out at the end of my white, cisgendered rant about how TERFs can be, that the way they treat me is in actual fact the nicest they get. The way they talk to trans women, and particularly trans women of colour, is absolutely abhorrent. They are bullies, and I’m incredibly fucking privileged to only catch the fringes of their hatred.