Could you survive on 100 words a day? As someone who loves to talk and write and read, Vox by Christina Dalcher was a nightmare read for me.
In a near-future U.S. the alt-right has risen to power and put women in their place – in the home, serving men. Women and girls are fitted with counter bracelets trained to the wearer’s voice. If the wearer continues to speak after 100 words a thousand volts of electricity will course through her veins.
Interestingly, the main message of Vox is not that the alt-right are bad (though that’s certainly a message heard loud and clear), but that the blame rests more with those who stood by and did nothing.
The entire set-up of the book bounces off this one famous quote:
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Jean McClellan, through whose eyes the story of Vox is told, was a leading neuroscience researcher trying to find a cure for a specific type of stroke which affects speech. Now she cooks and cleans for her husband, young daughter and three sons.
Jean is no longer permitted to write, read or speak freely. She spends her days trapped inside her own head, cursing herself for not doing more and remembering the words of her hyper-feminist college roommate, Jackie:
All my words ricochet in my head as I listen, emerge from my throat in a heavy, meaningless sigh. And all I can think about are Jackie’s last words to me. Think about what you need to do to stay free. Well, doing more than fuck all might have been a good place to start.
The message for those of us who enjoy the fruits of the past century of fighting for women’s rights is clear: we need to continue to fight to preserve what we have. The equal right to vote and stand for government, get a job and stay in it even if we get married or have children; the right to our own bank account and mortgage; paid maternity leave.
There is a large part of me that would quite like to just chill out and live in my bubble. My bubble is pretty good, thanks. I have a great job, I have my own money and my own debt and I share housework and childrearing with my husband. It’d be nice to not have to rock the boat or be seen as unnecessarily combative.
But I think perhaps the problem for my generation and women younger than me is that we didn’t fight for most of the rights we have today. So we don’t truly understand how readily they can be taken away again. You don’t necessarily have to raise a placard and march in the street. But we do need to stand our ground against those who would try to erode these hard-won freedoms.
Vox is extreme, and it is fiction. But it is also true that if we choose not to sweat the small stuff, there may not be a chance to raise a placard.
They came at us from so many vectors, and so quietly, we never had the chance to assemble ranks. One thing I learned from Jackie: you can’t protest what you don’t see coming.
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