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“Ecosystem Services” in The Handmaid’s Tale

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It could be argued that in Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale, women become the fifth category of “ecosystem services.” The ecosystem (or nature) services report was published back in 2005 by the United Nations. It organizes ecosystems into four categories – provisional, regulating, supporting, and cultural services. Provisioning is – Food, wood, fresh water, etc. Regulating means – climate regulation, water purification, disease regulation, etc. Cultural includes – educational, aesthetic, spiritual, etc.; and Supporting describes – primary production, nutrient cycling, soil formation, etc.

*The United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has been substantially developed as a way to ascertain the current health of natural resources due to the rising degradation of (population) demands and human-caused effects that threaten to cripple the quality of life for future generations.* In particular, members seek to subvert the ecosystem degradation expected during the first half of this century (2000); and are evaluating legal and appropriate actions needed to secure human resources endangered as a result of human-caused activities. One of the main points in the Millennium report, for example, explains that interventions specific to food provisioning, due to the continuous growth of demand, have degraded other ecosystem services – and cites losses and degradations that are “substantial and growing.”

What would a radical, religious Right commitment to environmentalism look like?

The Handmaid’s Tale, written by author Margaret Atwood, depicts the religious Right’s attempt to rectify environmental disasters, which has led to the suppression and degradation of all women. The novel is generally referred to as dystopian science-fiction; written during a period of feminist-backlash occurring during the early 1980’s; and following, what some considered to have been, the extreme feminist activism of the 1970’s.

Neuman (2006) discusses the dystopian environment of the Christian fundamentalist Right in the novel; the returning of women to their homes to fulfill their biological duty and partake in Handmaid reproduction. In her review, she refers to the need for critical examinations of “determinant relations” that will alert women to the elements leading to this particular type of victimization.

Ketterer, (1989), offers a male’s perspective of the story, and notes Atwood’s historical development of what lead to the dystopian establishment of the society of Gilead. He states that The Handmaid’s Tale boils down to one big question of survival – how long will humans survive? He also mentions Offred’s question at the novel’s conclusion,“who knows what the chances are out there of survival, yours?” which highlights the absence of choice – women must survive the way they have been forced to survive.

In an identification of determinant relations, it may be required to go beyond the “seeds of sexism,” as Ketterer surmised, to an analysis of how morality prevails in general. It is entirely possible that, similar to the way the abolition of slavery was championed by the religious sect back in the 19th century, a catastrophic degradation of the planet’s resources may be destined to fall, once again, into the hands of the Christian establishment. Indeed, we have begun hearing from the Pope on this matter, and as in The Handmaid’s…, Biblical references and stories are sure to follow.

So where does that leave women?

The extinction rate of species back in 2005 when the Millennium Assessment was published, was 1,000 times higher than the fossil record, and was expected to increase ten times more in the near future. The report also stated that 60% of evaluated ecosystem services were degrading and being used unsustainably. Could it be possible that The Handmaid’s Tale points to the potential drawbacks of demonizing ecological offenses and related policies? On the other hand, what if women were to find themselves caught in some type of over-socialized (and ‘religiously-informed’), left-wing harassment of services? Hopefully, survival is not an utterly misogynist proposition in the secular world…

Written by: m.wilson

3 thoughts on ““Ecosystem Services” in The Handmaid’s Tale

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