Amy Coney Barrett is America’s Serena Joy: Lessons from the Handmaid’s Tale

I was watching snippets of the confirmation hearings earlier this week between classes, trying to collect my thoughts while completing my term paper. Amy Coney Barrett sits behind a desk, her stiff purple collar sitting underneath a blank expression as she stares at the Congress members interviewing her. I’m reminded of talking to a friend’s mom or an English teacher with the way she looks. Benign. Plain. Innocent, almost. As she refuses to offer opinions on cases, she stares eerily ahead, her eyes intent on giving away nothing, aware that everything about her is being scrutinized. Minus the blank stare, it’s not hard to picture her as a PTA member.


I want to make a note; Barrett isn’t chilling for some vague, abstract reason (a-la “I just don’t trust Hillary Clinton” sexism.) Misogyny permeates class and political affiliation and these remarks aren’t directed out of a spite for the stand being occupied by a woman. 


My gripe is not that Barrett looks like an average white woman--it’s the way that we’re expected to ignore the way it allows her to get away with saying so little. White privilege wraps her around her; a cloak of assumed authority. Barrett has the advantage of being presumed competent, concerned with the Senate’s questions. Some particularly naive might assume that she cares about interpreting the Constitution correctly. 


But here’s the thing: Amy Coney Barrett is aware of the nomination she is accepting, who’s seat she fills and how she is disregarding RBG’s dying wish. She is aware of how being a woman makes her an ideal candidate. How her name, presence and status as a white woman legitimize rulings that roll back civil rights for everyone that isn’t her.


Amy Coney Barrett represents America’s weak link in the chain preventing authoritarianism. And she’s not the only one--she continues a trend of white women who blatantly support Trump. When I wasn’t watching the confirmation hearings, I was watching Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and one sentence struck me in the face. 

For some context, The Handmaid’s Tale is based on a novel written by Margaret Atwood, in a dystopia where women called Handmaidens are enslaved and forcibly impregnated to repopulate the country. The new government wouldn’t be possible without Wives, women who are married to high ranking government officials who receive the children the Handmaidens bear for them. In this new society, wives like Serena Joy learn quickly that they will be at the top of the hierarchy if they help oppress other women, especially those of other faiths and races. In an interview, a woman asks Serena Joy about the society she and her husband are creating, asking “how do you feel about being part of a world where women can’t read your book?” to which she says something about preserving traditional values. 


Much like Barrett, Serena Joy is faced with questions about other women’s fate. And much like Serena Joy, Amy Coney Barrett seems content to close the door behind her, depriving others of the opportunities and rights that she didn’t play a part in paving.