Inside the real-life Handmaid’s Tale cult where women are bred to serve their husbands.

Video by https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/program/the-handmaids-tale

If you’ve read or watched The Handmaid’s Tale then you were likely startled by the brutality of it, and perhaps even saw it as an ominous prediction of what could happen if this post-Trump world shifted even further to the right.

But when Hannah Ettinger read the novel for the first time in her early 20s in 2010, she had a different reaction. For Hannah, this was not a terrifying work of fiction, but a mirror of her own reality.

You see Hannah grew up in an ultra-conservative Christian community, who followed what’s known as the Quiverfull movement – which could accurately be described as a cult.

No rights for women.

Hannah was the eldest of nine children. As she describes in her piece for The Establishment,  her mother had very few rights.

“Women in this world were treated much like those in The Handmaid’s Tale — most, like my mom, didn’t have their own bank accounts, didn’t have their own email addresses, and couldn’t leave the home without permission from their husbands,” she wrote.

“Just like Offred, women existed within the community to serve higher purposes than our own desires.

“Young girls who led the congregation wore white dresses and were stripped of identifying features — no jewelry, no nail polish, hair tied back and not in the face — while wives were submissive helpers to their husbands, with my mother used as the fertile ground for my father to breed a quiver full of Christian culture warriors.”

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Listen: We dive deep on all things The Handmaid’s Tale…

Even more disturbing and reminiscent of the book is that wives were referred to as “helpmeets” – a word that comes from the King James Bible which describes wives as being created to “meet the needs of their husbands and be helpers to them”.

“I was raised to be a helpmeet in a world like Offred’s,” Hannah wrote.

She was also in a conservative church dance group called ‘His Handmaids’, which comes from the same bible verse that inspired the word in Margaret Atwood’s fictional world.

Growing up Quiverfull

Hannah says she and her brothers and sisters were raised to think the world was approaching the apocalypse and they needed fight to make the USA Christian.

As the eldest child, Hannah was expected to help raise her younger siblings alongside her mother.

“When she had twins shortly before my 13th birthday, it was me who got up with her during the nighttime feedings, not my dad.”

She says she was relied upon to do the family’s laundry, ironing and dishes.

“Like Offred, my life’s purpose was subsumed into serving the ‘greater good’ of my far-right Christian community.”

Breaking free.

Hannah says it was only when she was introduced to The Handmaid’s Tale at the Christian college she attended in Western Pennsylvania that she began to question and make changes in her life.

“I had to read this book. And so I did, unwittingly cracking open the beginning of the end for meek, conservative Christian me,” she said.

“As I read the book for the first time that cold morning in 2010, the fictional world sounded a whole lot like my real life.”

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The Handmaid's Tale wasn't just fiction for Hannah. (Image via SBS On Demand.)

Soon after she divorced her husband, who'd suggested they have a baby to fix their problems.

Next, it was her relationship with her father that crumpled, as he chose "ideology" over her and "continued to use it to manipulate and mistreat myself and my mother and my siblings".

Now, Hannah is undertaking a master's degree and continuing to carve out her own life. She says she hopes the TV production of The Handmaid's Tale serves as an "anti-prediction" and deters society from devolving into a world like Offred's.

You can read Hannah's full piece here.

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