“Don’t let the bastards grind you down” or "nolite te bastardes carborundorum” becomes a battle cry for Offred in Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s a phrase that is regaining momentum with the release the new TV show under the same title now available on Hulu. I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of the first episode the night before the show was released. Margaret Atwood was among the audience members, and it overwhelmed me to think that she was sitting there thirty years after the release of her novel, watching it and witnessing the relevance it plays on so many of our lives today. Now, I’ve heard a lot of fans of the book exclaim that they don’t want to watch the show because they are such fans of the written version and don’t want to taint it with something else. To those, I say, get over it. I’m a fan of the book as well. I had "nolite te bastardes carborundorum” glued on my graduation cap from college because those words struck such a cord in me. This TV show is something that reflects a great deal of what’s happening in today’s society. And it’s scary as shit.
At the end of the first episode, the credits roll with a remixed version of “You Don’t Own Me” by Grace. Instantly (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this), I was reminded of the film First Wives Club, where Goldie, Bette, and Diane traipse around in their beautiful white outfits singing this song. It was their battle cry in the 90’s, and yes, it still resonates with us today. And yes, that movie was also based on a book.
We have these iconic moments that stick with us. These phrases and songs that dig their nails deep into our souls and remind us we want to break free from all the bullshit that is keeping us down. We want to smash the patriarchy, (and now for the big question) do we have any idea of want we want to rebuild in its place?
Patriarchy has been this looming thing over us, representing those bastards telling women what to do, how to think, and what we should do with our lives. As feminism has struggled with its own identity over the years, and looking at where it stands today, I wonder have we actually become that which we are fighting against. Jessa Crispin mentions this in her book Why I Am Not a Feminist: “In order to succeed in a patriarchal world, we took on the role of patriarchs ourselves. In order to win in this world, we had to exhibit the characteristics the patriarchal world values and discard what it does not.” As you may tell (if you read my previous blog Feminism for Sale), I have serious love/hate relationship with Crispin’s book. Reading it is making me question a lot about how I identify as a feminist. But I like the questions it’s making me ask myself.
I love using the phrase “smash the patriarchy” or “topple the patriarchy”. Either of those are known to be my battle cry. But do I actually know what I’m saying with it? Do I have any intention of bringing change to the world after we topple it? The answer I’m learning, is no, I don’t. I know I strive for equality, but what does that mean? For me, as a white cis feminist, that means something totally different to me than to you. And it’s so easy for us all to blame that which we don’t understand. It’s easy to jump on the feminist bandwagon and shout some cheers, screaming out against the man, but what else are we doing? We saw this with the Women’s March. There were SO MANY people who showed up for that, but how many people are continuing to keep the work going? How many joined just to be a part of something cool? If the feminist movement wants to stand strong, we have to keep these people engaged and actually know what we’re wanting to achieve.
We say it’s equality, but haven’t we as women been building ourselves up to be equal to men? What have we been doing to help men be equal to us? Feminism has left out a lot of people and turned a blind eye to race and gender fluidity. Maybe it’s getting better though. Maybe the Women’s March in January was the start of something great. In my heart, I think it was. But I also think a lot of people wanted to shout out their battle cries against the bastards and the patriarchy (I mean, yeah, it makes me feel empowered as hell when I do that too!). The empowerment is good. We should feel strong with who we are, but we need to be careful that we don’t actually become the bastards we’re accusing of grinding us down.