Blessed Be the Fruit
When reading narratives of the future, one characteristic I have noticed is that reproductive health plays a critical role in the outcome of a society. Fertility influences mental health, the laws that govern us, and the role of women. These relationships are not only evident in literature, but also in studies that have been conducted on the topic.
One significant work of literature that depicts this is Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. With reproductive health rapidly dissipating in the novel, the United States becomes “Gilead,” a patriarchal society where the “handmaids”—the few fertile women left—become enslaved, raped, and devalued. In Gilead, any inability to procreate is blamed on the women, as even “sterile” is a forbidden word, which leaves the wives feeling shameful and helpless. The reproductive health crisis in this novel leads to the oppression of women and regression of society as a whole, as the elite men in this society decide that equality and moving away from God is the reason for this, and use that to justify controlling women. Handmaid’s Tale was written as a warning for many issues present that could lead to the downfall of our society, including reproductive health, which is often taken less seriously by many in the medical community.
This is verified through the reports of women, as well as various studies on the topic. Kiesel (2017) reported that “70% of the people [chronic pain] impacts are women. And yet, 80% of pain studies are conducted on male mice or human men. One of the few studies to research gender differences in the experience of pain found that women tend to feel it more of the time and more intensely than men.” This discrepancy is supported by numerous sources, and seems to be especially common when discussing reproductive health, one example of such being that it takes an average of seven years to get diagnosed with endometriosis (Arruda, Abrea, Benetti-Pinto, and Petta, 2003), a condition that often causes chronic pain, abnormal menstrual cycles, and fertility issues. This may be one contributing factor to the rising infertility rates—according to Premier Health (2018), up to one in seven couples trying to conceive may struggle with infertility. Another concern is the cost of treatment for infertility, as the “cost for one cycle as a percent of the average annual disposable income of a single person with no dependent children [was] over 50% in the US and Mexico.” The cost of fertility treatments make it so that only the wealthy have a decent chance of success, which parallels the role of socioeconomic status and having a handmaid in Handmaid’s Tale.
Though there are no great examples of infertility in literature we examine in our course, there is some work worthy of examining. In Parable of the Sower, we read that women seem to have children pretty easily, and often at a young age. However, considering the lack of access to food and water, it is surprising that women are able to conceive and deliver healthy babies, which is not what we would expect, since “because preservation of female energy expenditure for reproduction is essential, appetite and the reproductive axis are closely linked to nutritional status. As a safeguard against untimely reproduction due to undernutrition, ovarian activity is suppressed…” (The ESHRE Capri Workshop Group, 2006). Since the reproductive system is non-essential for survival, it is unexpected that the undernourished women from this novel would be able to reproduce so easily. The only other connection I could potentially make to the course texts is The Time Machine. In the novel, there is no evidence of pregnancy or even biological sex differences in the Eloi or Morlocks, which could indicate an inability to reproduce, which could have long-term negative implications as they all inevitably die. Not having children also may be part of why the Eloi struggle to care for others, since they may have no desire to nurture and ensure the wellbeing of another being.
As we continue in the course, I look forward to more opportunities to explore this topic and learn more about how it can influence our society.
Arruda, Abrea, Benetti-Pinto, and Petta. “Time Elapsed from Onset of Symptoms to Diagnosis of Endometriosis in a Cohort Study of Brazilian Women.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Apr. 2003, academic.oup.com/humrep/article/18/4/756/596537.
Atwood, Margaret. Handmaid’s Tale. Jonathan Cape LTD, 1985.
Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. Grand Central Pub, 1993.
Kiesel, Laura. “Women and Pain: Disparities in Experience and Treatment.” Harvard Health, Harvard University, 7 Oct. 2017, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/women-and-pain-disparities-in-experience-and-treatment-2017100912562.
Klitzman, Robert. “How Much Is a Child Worth? Providers' and Patients' Views and Responses Concerning Ethical and Policy Challenges in Paying for ART.” Plos One, Public Library of Science, 16 Feb. 2016, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0171939.
The ESHRE Capri Workshop Group. “Nutrition and Reproduction in Women.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 31 Jan. 2006, academic.oup.com/humupd/article/12/3/193/554114#8787238.
Wells, H. G. The Time Machine. Legend Press, 1895.
“What’s Up with Rising Infertility Rates?” Premier Health, 23 Jan. 2018, www.premierhealth.com/Women-Wisdom-Wellness/Content/What-s-Up-with-Rising-Infertility-Rates-/.