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September 21 2019
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A scene from the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Imagine a country where women have no jobs, no rights and are valued only for reproductive success. Imagine a country where girls aren’t taught to read in case they get ideas. Imagine those women and those girls having to cover themselves head to toe in restrictive red dresses and white bonnets in case men get ideas. Imagine public stonings and hangings of deviants to terrorise the populace into a state of paranoid purity. Welcome to the Republic of Gilead.

It is almost 35 years since Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. The book envisaged the United States becoming a theocratic dictatorship, its byzantine cruelties leavened by folksy Puritan homilies: ‘Praise be!’ With fertility in decline, elite couples in the regime had fertile females assigned to them as ‘handmaids’. The wretched brood mares took the name of their Commanders. Atwood’s heroine was called Offred — literally ‘of Fred’.

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