And I say, life is indeed stranger than fiction.
Atwood’s book tells of a dystopic American future where an exponential decline of births— attributed to a dysfunctional mump vaccine as well as the boom of contraception and recreational sex — had led to a new political system. This system is not really new as it smacked of the old Puritan society established in the early American colonies.
In that future, set in the 21st century (our present), the need for children was used to justify the establishment of a new theocratic society called Republic of Gilead.
The new order classified women based on the ranks of their husbands and the usefulness of their ovaries. Childless upper-echelon women were called Wives, house-helps of the state are called Marthas and center expediters were called Aunts.
Others fall into another category. Women of second marriages were classified by the state as adulterous and were punished to serve as Handmaids, the baby-makers of the state. This is while their own children were given to childless and “morally-fit” families and their husbands forced to work in the Colonies (think of Nazi concentration camps).
These Handmaids were trained at the Rachel and Leah Re-Education Center and were brainwashed with a misogynistic reading of the Bible. (Remember Jacob’s two competing wives who gave him their maids Bilha and Zilpah for his love and pleasure?) After being “educated,” a Handmaid will live in the households of Commanders, childless officials, and pray that she’ll get pregnant to avoid being sent to the Colonies.
The book appears to be a first-person account— eventually turning out in the Epilogue as a transcipt of a voice recording— of a Handmaid who identified herself with her Gilead name Offred, literally meaning she was owned by Fred, her Commander. What better way to destroy women’s self-worth than to lower their status to mere baggages of men.
But if we think of it, this is reflected in our naming systems. Many civilizations use patronymics, such as the Eastern and Western use of the husband’s surname or the Mideast and Russian use of his first name as family names.
Coincidentally, I have found an alternative from Frederick Kohl’s sci-fi story where husband and wife join their surnames as their family name. For example, married Fred Dator and Baby Prey become Fred Prey-Dator and Baby Prey-Dator. The children, though, would still choose to take either of their parent’s name, lest we aim to have a long string of family names. Or why don’t women just retain their names?
But let’s talk about our present-day Offred.
Unlike Gilead, we live in society where an exponential rise in births were caused by the boom of contraception and recreational sex. We live in a time where religions cause warfare (unlike in Gilead where it was a unifying force) and were used to meet an end, which in our Commander’s case, was his desire in a child.
And unlike Gilead’s Offred, our Offred was backed by her family, there were no fear of Colonies to push her (or is this her abject poverty?) and the public consternation for this Commander was loud. But then again, what is the world like for a 16-year-old?
I have much respect for Islam and the people who conscientiously abide by its tenets, but I have no respect for their new convert. No, I have lost respect for Freddie Aguilar, who converted to Islam to avoid legal battles and who forced a new religion into his girlfriend’s throat just so she will be his.
If Freddie was truly sincere in his love for the child, then he would have waited until she was 18, he would have pursued an annulment with his wife whom he was only legally separated with, he would have faced the qualified seduction case filed against him, and he would have given more time for his girlfriend to mature.
Isn’t love a meeting of equals and a melding of worlds?
With our present-day Commander and Offred, I don’t really know. We live in a time more complex and a lot crazier than Gilead.
As a friend had put it, “Who knows it was the girl who manipulated Freddie all along?”
He’s 60, she’s 16, He gave his card in Mindoro, She texted after a week, He asked to be hers, She said yes. Then she stayed with him for 12 days, He learned her age, They told her parents, They said yes. He told the media, and got lawsuits and mockery, But he got his loot, Because she’s willing, He said yes.
*The poem could be entitled Offred and the Commander. Details in the poem came from Freddie Aguilar’s interview with Buzz ng Bayan on Channel 2.