Jun 12, 2017

Inside the real-life Handmaid's Tale cult where women are barred from having email, bank accounts and leaving home without permission

Handmaid's Tale
Handmaid's Tale
Three women who lived in religious cults like "Quiverfull" - where men are dominant and women treated as subservient - have written about experiences eerily similar to the dystopian novel now a hit TV show


The Mirror
June 12, 2017

You are a baby making machine whose role is serve men, and the only job available is to move toxic waste - employment that will ultimately kill you.

That's the reality for women in The Handmaid's Tale, the iconic Margaret Atwood book and now a new TV series.

In the story, if you don't marry a man of high social calibre, but you are "fertile", you become a "Handmaid", subject to rape, torture and even murder.

Channel 4’s chilling adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, staring Elisabeth Moss, is shocking viewers with its depiction of a puritan cult, whose members set out to cleanse and save the world.

They overthrow the US government and set up a new totalitarian society, stripping women of their rights and organising them into categories depending on their usefulness.

Based on Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, the series is set in the future but to many it will feel like taking a step back in time where equality and choice disappear from existence.

Atwood has in the past insisted the story is an anti-prediction, based on what humanity has already done before, a scary-thought that makes you think back on the actions of humanity, both past and present.

While the concept of ‘handmaids’ may seem like an impossible concept to us, this type of reproductively driven cult-culture actually exists.

And is very real for these three women who have blogged about their experiences.
‘You were created to help meet the needs of men’

Hannah Ettinger is the eldest of nine and was expected to help her mother raise her siblings, cook and clean, from a young age, while her father went out to bring home the bacon.

Her duty as stated by the Quiverfull community that she was born into, was to provide her husband with children.

An alarming concept that makes Atwood’s anti-prediction from the 80’s ring rather true.

Hannah was a member of the Quiverfull movement whose rules are based on King James’ version of the bible and Psalm 127 which claims that God blesses a man whose ‘quiver is full’ - basically meaning that having a lot of children meant you rank higher in God’s good books.

Hannah belonged to a Quiverfull community, in the US, who upheld ‘traditional’ family values, were anti-abortion and didn’t allow women to have an email or bank accounts, or even leave the house without their husband’s permission.

In her article on The Establishment , she says the command of her community was: “Have children and raise them in this aggressively conservative faith, and then there will be more “true” believer Christians in the world to bring about cultural revolution in the name of Jesus Christ.”

They took a terror-based approach of conceiving children to serve in the front line of the culture war they faced, trying to ‘bring back Christian greatness to America’.

Sounding worryingly Trump-like.

On a day to day basis, Hannah attended a small, far-right Christian college in Western Pennsylvania where she was taught the will of God, the role of women and that she very much lived in a man’s world.

In 2010 her teacher told them to read Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, warning them that it went against everything they stood for and would probably offend and shock them. Instead it showed her possibilities and that women can have rights and lives of their own fulfillment, and why shouldn’t they?

Atwood’s novel sparked a chain reaction in Hannah’s life, fueling her with the courage to break free from her cult-community.

Firstly she divorced her husband, after he suggested he could love her again if she were a mother.

When he invited to her to lunch after their divorce was finalised, she turned down the offer as she was already running late to her appointment to have a contraceptive IUD fitted.

She defiantly left her Quiverfull cult, ceased to have a relationship with her father in the process and got a powerful tattoo in tribute to Atwood’s poignant phrase; ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’.

Hannah now researches economic policy, writes an online blog and is taking a Masters degree. Although she admits it was tough getting used to being allowed to have your own ideas as you don’t even know what you like, it is better than living a half life.
‘Because you are a woman, you are not as important’

Kaya Dawn is another survivor of a Christofascist cult-culture.

She was trained to be a ‘Helpmeet’ - a woman whose sole purpose was to help meet the needs of her husband and reading Hannah’s story prompted her to write about her experience on her blog.

Like Hannah, Kaya was home-schooled and her education was controlled and led, again, by the right-wing preachings of the King James bible, that reminded her daily of her place as man’s helper.

Her everyday routine involved attending a women’s group led by her mother, where the girls of the community were herded up and told that this was the only way of life for women and they had a job to do.

In her preparation for marrying ‘a Kenyan man of God’ she was instructed by her mother to read Debi Pearl’s Created to be his Helpmeet .

In her book Pearl tries to promote a ‘righteous way of life’ and tell girls how to serve their man as they are an accessory to him achieving the will of God.

Kaya questioned the concept of the book and the role of women in her community, and was given a 4 hour lecture on her role in society, forcing her to accept it.

In her blog on WordPress , she says: “They did not stop until we demonstrated, honestly or not, our content and understanding of our helpmeet statuses.”

However, this backfired, with Kaya understanding the text to mean that because she was a woman, she was not as important - she was just created to complete man, that was her whole purpose.

This epiphanic moment sparked her fleeing from the cult confines she was born into.

An everyday ritual for Kaya had been to pray for her future husband she was yet to meet.

But after reading Pearl’s ridiculously oppressive book, Kaya claims she could no longer sincerely do this, and started to pray for herself instead.

She asked God to make her ‘the woman she needed to be’ and ended up breaking free from the chains of this cult-culture, becoming her own helpmeet.
‘Your role in life is to breed’

Kieryn Darkwater claims that she too was trained in preparation for ‘the culture wars’.

Like Hannah, she was brought up in cult that also belonged to the Quiverfull subculture and was told that her role was to breed.

Their violent mantra states that they must take the US back for Christ and outbreed, outvote and out-activate those whose beliefs do not align with theirs, saying “they must not be allowed to continue”.

In her article on Autostraddle, she says: “I was taught by every pastor I encountered that it was our job as Christians to outbreed the secularists (anyone not a far-right evangelical Protestant) and take over the government through sheer numbers.”

Kieryn recognised that her cult’s agenda comes from a place of ‘passion and dedication’ and acknowledges that they are part of a movement based on fear of newness.

She describes them as resilient and in it for the long haul and says they believe that there is no room in America for anyone who believes differently to them.

She has since escaped her cult-community and now voices her fears that Trump’s far-right foot in the door of American democracy, will serve the purpose of the Quiverfull movement and their desires for a Christofascist takeover of the US government.
The future?

In The Handmaid’s Tale women are not allowed to read in case it gave them ideas - here, the reason all these three women have broken free from their bonds to a Christofascist cult is because they have been able to access a world outside of what they are contained to.

Maybe the totalitarian uprising in The Handmaid’s Tale was so successful because they eliminated any trace of a life outside of a Christofascist life.

But is that not what the Quiverfull movement is seeking to do right now?

Turning women into breeding-machines in their attempt to permanently repair American politics and culture, convincing them there is no alternative life for them that God would approve of.

The Handmaid’s Tale continues next Sunday on Channel 4 at 9pm.


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