Local women join in protest

Photo by KATHY CLEVELAND Three of the five women and one man dressed as characters from the “The Handmaid’s Tale” sit in the gallery during a session of the N.H. House of Representatives last week.

CONCORD – The sight was spooky: Five women and one man dressed in blood-red gowns and big white bonnets that partly obscured their faces walked up the Statehouse stairs and settled in the gallery of the House of Representatives amid schoolchildren and other spectators.

Their costumes were inspired by the new Hulu television series “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The leader of the small group was Emily Morgan, of Milford.

Before they entered the Statehouse on the morning of Thursday, June 1, the six gathered outside and agreed they were there to protest what they called a misogynist attitude among lawmakers.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is set in a future when the United States has been taken over by fundamentalist Christians after a terrorist attack on Washington. Most women are infertile, and the rest – the handmaidens – are forced to have babies for them.

To compare New Hampshire lawmaking to this bleak dystopian fiction may be an exaggeration, Morgan said, but “equal rights are being attacked – women are being attacked,” and “they are sweeping people like Robert Fisher under the rug.”

Fisher is the former state representative from Laconia who last month was revealed to be the creator and moderator of a notoriously misogynist online forum called “The Red Pill.”

According to the Daily Beast, in April 2014, eight months before he was elected to the House, Fischer posted this comment on the site:

“Feminists are obsessed with rape because we live in a rape fantasy culture, where feminists wish they were hot enough to be rape-able.”

Fisher resigned May 17, about three weeks after the story broke.

In a phone interview Monday, June 5, Speaker of the House Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, called the protestors’ charges “ridiculous.”

“I called for his resignation very early on,” Jasper said. “They were horrible, but they didn’t actually have anything to do with” Fisher’s work in the House. “But we felt he should resign.”

With Morgan at the Statehouse was Beth Powers, of Amherst, who said she began paying attention to the state Legislature at the suggestion of New Hampshire’s four congressional delegates.

So she reached out to state Reps. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, and Joelle Martin, D-Milford, and learned about Senate bills they said would adversely affect women, including one that would restrict access to food stamps and the “fetal personhood” bill, which passed the House on June 1 and is expected to be signed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

The way the bill would restrict women’s autonomy “really speaks to the metaphor of the handmaid,” in which women are stripped of their autonomy, Powers said.

This was the second handmaid protest event for Morgan, who has a 7-year-old daughter. At the Statehouse for her first protest was Kate Binder, of Nashua, who said she also has a young daughter and is “done with sitting down and shutting up.”

Under the Trump administration, she said, “It’s our obligation not to let anything go. The political climate is hostile toward women, the poor, children, disabled and queer people of all kinds.”

Binder’s mother, Barbara Hauckbinder, of Nashua, was there, and she said she is concerned about her grandaughter being disenfranchised.

“I’m retired,” she said, so she wants to speak for those who work and “don’t have the luxury” of protesting what is a “simple matter of human rights.”

The one man in the group, who would only give his first name, Aaron, 25, said he is part of the LBGT community and sees women’s rights linked with LBGT rights.

Jessica, a nurse who also didn’t want to give her last name, said the state budget will result in barriers to access to medical care, especially for the elderly. She said it’s a “slippery slope” from the fetal personhood law to the outlawing of abortions.

“I am here for Sherry Frost and against the old-boy network,” she said, referring to the Democratic state representative from Dover. Frost was the subject of a House inquiry along with Fisher after she made comments on Twitter that men telling her to calm down make her feel “homicidal” and that white, Christian men represent a terrorist problem.

Morgan said she agrees with state Rep. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, who recently said there is a “misogynist undertone” in the legislative body. When Altschiller gave a speech on that topic, Morgan said, many dozens of Republican men walked out of the House session.

But Jasper said many people walk out during that part of the House session when their work is done, and that it didn’t have anything to do with Altschiller and her speech on House decorum.

“I have a much higher percentage of Republican women in leadership positions than men,” he said, “although the total number of women in the House is unfortunately low,” and many of them are Democrats.

Former House Speaker “Donna Sytek was my mentor in the House,” he said. “I look at women as my role models.”

Morgan is executive director of Action Together New Hampshire, a group that “popped up after the election,” she said. She moved here from Alabama 10 years ago.

“When someone from Alabama says you have a problem” with your government, pay attention, she said, because “we’re backward.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.