Decree 770

Atwood based The Handmaid’s Tale on reality, including recent history. Shannon Quinn gives some examples:

During her research process in the 1980’s, Margaret Atwood found an article about a fundamentalist Christian group in New Jersey called The People of Hope, who wanted to return to the old ways of society spelled out in the Bible. The group was started in 1975 by a New York stockbroker and ordained Catholic priest named Robert Gallic. They called the women “The Handmaidens of God”. Atwood took a pen and circled the word “Handmaidens” with a pen. She found the name for her dystopia’s subservient female characters, and the inspiration for the fictional religious group who would take over the government.

Women in The People of Hope were subservient to men, and children were not allowed to date. Marriages between young adults were arranged by their parents.

And of course you don’t even need to look to a New Jersey cult: the Amish have been fetishizing The Old Ways since before the ways were old. There are pockets of fundamentalism all over the US and there are some in Canada. Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quiverfull, Haredis, Islamists – throw an apple core in any direction and you’ll hit one.

One of the specific events that Margaret Atwood found during her research process was “Decree 770” in Romania. This was a law that passed in 1967 that made abortions and all forms of contraception illegal. This had nothing to do with religious beliefs. It was an action that the government believed was necessary for the future of their country.

They wanted more people, see, so they enslaved women to get them.

The Communist Party wanted the population to increase from 23 million to 30 million in a single year, so they enacted Decree 770. After the change of law in 1967, and women no longer had access to birth control, the number of babies born that year skyrocketed to roughly double what they had been the year before. Thousands of new preschools and nursery schools had to be built. Orphanages were overflowing with children whose parents could not afford them.

Aside from making abortions illegal and taking contraception off of store shelves, women’s bodies were literally policed. Decree 770 forced women to visit the gynecologist once a month to check for pregnancy, and police officers stood in the halls to make sure women complied. If a woman was pregnant, the doctors followed her progress very closely.

Jeezus. There I was thinking that idea was fiction…

In the world of The Handmaid’s Tale, one of the biggest problems in society that lead to the cult’s political takeover is pollution. One of the missions of Gilead was to clean up the environment and un-do the damage done by mankind with toxic dumping grounds and locations of radiation spills. In the show, they clean carbon emissions by 78%, but it comes at the cost of women’s lives. The “un women”- mostly lesbians, radical feminists, and adulterers, are forced to clean up radioactive materials in a place called “the colonies”. They literally work themselves to death, as their bodies fall apart from radiation-related disease.

During the 1970’s, prisoners in the Soviet Union were forced to do manual labor in uranium mines to gather enough material for their arsenal of atomic bombs. Obviously, prisoners were exposed to extremely high levels of radiation. The average lifespan of a prisoner in these mines was just two years. Everyday, trains filled with new prisoners would arrive at the mines. They estimate there were roughly 5,000 men who died working there. It was common for prisoners to collapse, and die on the spot. Their overseers would smash their heads in if they fell, because they did not want anyone to escape by faking their death.

Dystopian fiction is superfluous; humans have already thought of it all.

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