"Well, we are just hooked!" my conservative, Republican mother exclaimed. Just days earlier, I had convinced her and my conservative, Republican stepfather to watch The Handmaid's Tale, a show based on the novel by Margaret Atwood. We briefly discussed the characters and plot; I tried not to let any spoilers spill, and she concluded our conversation by commenting on how eery the show feels to her in our current political climate. "It's kind of scary, isn't it?" she mused. "It feels like it could happen, even though it seems so extreme."
This is the first election in which my parents voted for a Democrat. And while I was relieved to finally see my parents open their eyes to the very things I've been tirelessly explaining to them for years (i.e: rape culture, discrimination towards women and the LGBTQ community), it horrified me that it took a combination of watching a hit tv series and the viral news story of a completely inhumane loophole in a North Carolina law to open up their eyes a bit.
Currently, in the state of North Carolina, a woman cannot accuse a man of rape if she initially gave consent. Meaning, if she changes her mind at any point, she can ask the man to stop, but if he does not stop, it is not considered rape since she initially consented.
State Sen. Jeff Jackson is highly disturbed by this law (thankfuckingGod) and has proposed Senate Bill 553, which states that "a person who continues to engage in intercourse after consent is withdrawn" has committed rape. The bill may not be inclusive and is pretty damn heteronormative, focusing mainly on vaginal penetration, but it gives women the right to withdraw consent even after it has been given and "even if the actual penetration is accomplished with consent and even if there is only one act of vaginal intercourse."
Jackson explained he and many other legislators frequently hear of women being raped and then denied justice due to this loophole. "North Carolina is the only state in [the] U.S. where no doesn’t mean no," he said in an interview. And while we've become
numb accustomed to hearing about a woman who initially consented to intercourse then withdrew being completely dismissed by the court in other states, North Carolina is the only state with a precedent stating that this situation isn't considered rape.
We can't really run off celebrating that there's a man in office working against this loophole, yet; Jackson's Senate bill is still in committee and needs to make its way through the state Senate and House before it can even be considered for a signature from the governor. Jackson-- and, well, every woman in the state, I'd imagine-- are hopeful.
"There’s no reason for this to be partisan," Jackson said in an interview with The Observer. "It’s about doing what’s obviously right."
Call me a pessimist for being nervous as hell. It's 2017 and women are still not seen as equals in many, many states in this country-- not just in North Carolina and other conservative states and areas. We can gawk and gasp at shows like The Handmaid's Tale all we want and go to bed at night thinking, "That would never happen!" But how far from fantasy are shows such as this one when we know the country voted a known sexual predator as its leader?
“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it,” our leading lady says in Margaret Atwood's novel.
Sure as hell sounds like the very same things we are saying today, to each other, in regards to every political battle we are facing under a Trump presidency. The Handmaid's Tale is not just a well-done show to many of us; it is a terrifying look into what many are fearing is happening right now. Extreme as it may seem to some, to those of us who have been immediately dismissed after being raped-- yours truly included-- it's a grim glimpse of how powerless so many women feel right now.
Jackson's words reverberate in my head as I write this: "It’s about doing what’s obviously right." Well, I sure as hell hope legislators in North Carolina share the same sentiments.