For readers who are unfamiliar with the novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood — to which the following allegorical pastiche by JLH pays non-hommage — here’s the Wikipedia entry for the book.
The Handyman’s Tale
Margaret Atwood meets Quentin Tarantino
Birth of a Nation
It happened in a place once called California. There was a surprising change of leadership in the national government, which had, until then, pursued a reasonable policy of social benefits for the poor to offset the incredible wealth amassed by the governing class and its consiglieri, and a sensible foreign policy of financial rewards for countries most likely to dislike and attack us. With the unexpected shift in leadership came a fanciful desire to improve an economy that successive bipartisan leaders had shown could not be improved; and a wrong-headed insistence that this country — like any other — should stand up for itself.
The final straws were perverted, “fundamentalist” interpretations of the 1st and 2nd Amendments. A brush-fire revolutionary movement formed, led by a retired power politician named Barbara Wrestler (known to friend and foe alike as “Barbie Bananas”). 10-term Governor Lunagleem was persuaded to declare the Feminist Nation of Westland, with the Golden Teddy Bear as its symbol. Its ready-made rallying cry was the title of the runaway bestseller, Cherchez la femme puissante. A widespread and visceral distaste for “flyover fundamentalism” among the elite of Westland was the impetus for a decree that the official philosophy of the new nation would be based upon principles outlined in the sociological milestone 50 Shades of Pink. The defining motto on the Teddy Bear seal of the new nation would be “allectio privus puellae” — To each her own.
Governor Lunagleem — in recognition of his long and faithful service in government, and his unflagging advocacy of women’s rights — was retired with great honors and offered, by way of exception, a passport that would not expire, should he ever decide to leave Westland and seek the presidency of that other country.
Our tale of life in the Feminist Democratic Republic of Westland is largely contained in the life of Offal. We first encounter him in the exclusively female- staffed public pre-school (there was no private schooling, except for the few daughters of highly placed officials), where he learned that a dispute between boys was decided on the basis of which boy was perceived to be the aggressor, who was then punished by being sent to an isolation corner for a while. A dispute between girls was resolved by a serious talk with an advisor, who would mediate an agreement between them. A dispute between a girl and a boy was regarded as Right versus Wrong or Good versus Evil. The girl was Right and the boy was Wrong. He was required to stand alone, as all the girls circled him and slapped his face — some angrily, some more kindly and softly. If he resisted — which became increasingly rare — he graduated to being Evil. He was made to lean his elbows on the teacher’s desk; and each girl was given a willow switch to strike his buttocks as she passed by. Offal and his classmates learned two lessons from this: 1)Never argue with a girl within view of any authority; 2) Never wear shorts to school — some girls will choose to whip the bare legs.
Bathroom facilities in schools, as in all public institutions, were of two kinds: Female and General. Offal’s introduction to this system was witnessing an outraged 7-year-old classmate complaining to their teacher that there was a girl standing at the urinals, observing and commenting. “Of course, dear,” the teacher told him kindly, “How else will she learn? She aspires to be a urologist.”
After the conditioning of pre-school, Life Entry School offered more substantive knowledge in arithmetic, reading, writing and the History of the Golden Teddy Bear Republic. All classes were issued waterproof helmets for their required, weekly depilatory shower. Boys were observed, to decide when they should be issued facial depilatory. The goal was no visible hair below the eyes. Everyone alike. There would be no returning to the era of “hairy-chested men.”
A companion program in the summer found every boy at “Summer Camp” — a more social than pedagogical training. Instead of a recorded version of Reveille, the day began with a loud call of “Soo-ee, Soo-ee, Pig! Pig! Pig!” Breakfast was sugarless oatmeal served in lengthy wooden trenchers referred to as “troughs” and a thick slice of bread. After eating, each boy carried his trencher past an open spigot, rinsing it off as he passed and stacking it upside down on the large drainboard. Lunch was beans with some salt pork in the same trencher, and bread. Supper was meatballs in tomato sauce, and bread, with a suety chocolate pudding for dessert. Each meal was presided over by watchful female counselors, who roamed between the long tables, noting when a boy seemed not to be eating, and rapping him across the back with a bamboo stick, saying, “Eat, Piggy, Eat!”
Activities during the day were various kinds of manual labor: moving boulders, leveling paths and roadways, gathering firewood from the surrounding woods. The great advantage for both “campers” and “counselors” was that this regimen facilitated an exhausted sleep. Nonetheless, the older boys were pulled — one by one — out of their bunks during the night and taken to one of the counselors’ cabins for what the counselors laughingly called, “Sex 101,” where they learned all the ways in which a woman could be pleased.
Offal never did know what the girls’ Summer Camp was like, but he noticed that with each end-of-summer return to school, the girls seemed to become more distant and contemptuous of the boys.
The final levels of public education — before girls went to one of the plethora of Westland universities, and the boys went to either blue- or white-collar trade schools — were also the closing phases in the treatment of male toxicity. Boys were separated into algorithmically selected groups and pulled from class twice a week to attend “de-masculinizing” clinics, where they were electronically connected to monitoring devices. Conducted by therapists working in pairs, the clinics featured 50-minute videos of young people at various activities. Blood pressure, pulse and skin temperature often spiked with one of three things: dangerous activities like cliff diving or dirt bike racing; warlike confrontations between males; the sight of an unexpected expanse of female skin. Every boy who registered a spike received an instantaneous electric jolt high inside his thighs. By the end of the second year, the attraction of danger, physical conflict and sex had dwindled to such an extent that images that had once caused a spike now barely registered. Many of the boys just closed their eyes or looked away.
Boys’ credits for graduation — aside from the masculine detoxification sessions — included the ability to read a newspaper, math through plane geometry (algebra and beyond were considered too intricate), a comfortable acquaintance with a computer and keyboard, and at least six credits in gardening/farming, tool-handling and crafts.
Thus well-trained in the necessary rules and attitudes of the Feminist Republic of Westland, Offal matured into a shy, comely young fellow. He was appointed to be a Domestic Worker, and was given a multi-year assignment as a handyman for three of the leading Wives in his designated community, doing yard work, animal husbandry and carpentry.