Date of Thesis

2011

Thesis Type

Honors Thesis

Department

English

First Advisor

John Rickard

Keywords

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, dystopia, sex work, feminism

Abstract

In this paper, I will argue that Canadian author Margaret Atwood uses fiscal and socially conservative dystopias to show how sex work and prostitution are choices that women would never have to make in a world with true gender equality. In these radically different worlds, women have no agency beyond their sexuality and no ability to express themselves as equals within either society. And while the structures of both societies, the society of The Handmaid’s Tale and that of both Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, are inherently different, they both stem from modern conservative philosophies: for example, the country of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale holds Christian conservative beliefs on the role of religion in the state and the culturally designated roles of women. I define social conservatism as the idea that government organizations are used to pursue an agenda promoting traditional religious values such as “public morality” and opposing “immoralities” such as abortion, prostitution, and homosexuality. I define fiscal conservatism as an agenda promoting privatization of the market, deregulation and lower taxes. In this paper I argue that because these philosophies are incompatible with gender equality, they drive women to occupations such as sex work. Women find that they have no choices and sex work provides something to “trade.” For Offred, this “trading” is more limited, because she is a sex slave. For Oryx, this trading allows her to travel to the West, yet not before her childhood is marked by prostitution and pornography. Sex work allows for Ren to reclaim some agency over her life, yet she only chooses sex work because she is presented with few other options. All of these issues stem from the philosophies that define these dystopias.

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