The Experience of Women

Last evening, I finished reading Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. It won the 2019 Oregon Book Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction and the Neukom Award for Speculative Fiction. And for good reason, I think.

The story is a dystopian future in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. In many ways, I prefer Red Clocks. This is mainly because it is much more accessible and hits much closer to the world we live in today. Atwood’s story takes place in a future where a conservative Christian coup has taken place and overthrown the government of the United States. The result is a society that subjugates women in the name of protecting them. It is certainly a scary prospect but feels a bit remote.

Zumas’ tale could take place any time in the next decade, should things go in that direction. No date is given but it feels like today with a few twists.

Two years ago the United States Congress ratified the Personhood Amendment, which gives the constitutional right to life, liberty, and property to a fertilized egg at the moment of conception. Abortion is now illegal in all fifty states. Abortion providers can be charged with second-degree murder, abortion seekers with conspiracy to commit murder. In vitro fertilization, too, is federally banned, because the amendment outlaws the transfer of embryos from laboratory to uterus. (The embryos can’t give their consent to be moved.)

Chapter 10, Red Clock by Leni Zumas

The story is about four women that are each dealing with challenges in their lives that are made more challenging by these laws. The magic is in the storytelling; the author never goes into a lengthy exposition about why these laws are wrong. The strength of the novel is in simply showing how these laws affect the women, individually and personally.

The girl slumps down against a green filing cabinet. Holds her head in both hands, knees up to her chest, rocking a little. “I just want it out of my body. I want to stop being infiltrated. God, please get this out of my body. Make this stop.” Rocking, rocking.

She is terrified, realizes the biographer….

Mattie is a kid, light boned and soft cheeked. She can’t even legally drive.

Four and a half months.

Of swelling and aching and burning and straining and worrying and waiting and feeling her body burst its banks. Of hiding from the stares in town, the questions at school. Of seeing the faces, each day, of her parents as they watch the grandchild who won’t be their grandchild be grown. Having to wonder, later on, where is the someone she grew.

Chapter 100, Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

This story helps to break the illusion that difficult questions like these are black and white. They affect real people whose welfare and future need to be taken into account.

The characters are compelling and fully human. This is exactly the kind of speculative fiction that I like most, taking a current possibility and extending it into a near future to explore what the consequences might be. The result is both entertaining and thought provoking. Thank you, Professor Zumas.

Women Focused Reading

Without intending to consciously, I find myself reading what I think of as feminist literature. Years ago I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’ve started to get back into science fiction and decided to read it’s sequel, The Testaments. I started reading it on Saturday and just finished it.

On Saturday, I read about another feminist speculative fiction novel entitled Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. It’s about a future where “abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo.” This dystopia seems a little closer and a little scarier. I’m looking forward to reading it.

I don’t remember where I learned about it, but yesterday I started reading Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez. It’s already eye opening. The ideas aren’t all that new to me, but it is giving me a perspective I didn’t have before. Here is an example from the introduction.

The presumption that what is male is universal is a direct consequence of the gender data gap. Whiteness and maleness can only go without saying because most other identities never get said at all. But male universality is also a cause of the gender data gap: because women aren’t seen and aren’t remembered, because male data makes up the majority of what we know, what is male comes to be seen as universal. It leads to the positioning of women, half the global population, as a minority.

Obvious, but somehow I had never realized how ridiculous it is to refer to women as a minority as they are half of the population. I’m looking forward to learning even more as I read.