Protestors around the world have adopted a new uniform as a symbol of defiance – red robes and white bonnets based on “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, now a series on Hulu. The show’s premiere is the most-watched debut of any show on the streaming service. The shows haunting, dystopian future seems to resonate with women because it depicts a slow undoing of their freedom.
The show is a chilling portrayal of a future U.S., in a place called Gilead that is occupied by religious fundamentalists. Powerless, fertile women are indentured servants or “handmaids,” expected to endure regular sexual abuse in the name of procreation on a planet that has been polluted by dirty energy and nuclear war.
Today, as the GOP threatens women’s health care by seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration attacks renewable energy, and North Korea completes a long-range missile text, the probability of this dystopia has increased, causing women to draw comparisons between the show and the current political climate. An example of this is the recently defeated Senate health care bill, which was concocted by all white men without female participation. In “The Handmaid’s Tale” women aren’t allowed to step foot into men’s offices, let alone play a role in the governing process.
“The easiest way we try to explain it is that the handmaids represent a future where women are nothing more than their reproductive capacity,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, told Mashable. “Unfortunately, with the laws that are being passed, that future is not so unrealistic and not so distant.”
Earlier this year at South by Southwest, a music and film festival in Austin, Texas, Busby spotted a group of silent women dressed in red-hooded robes and white bonnets. When she discovered that Hulu had hired the women to promote the show, she asked herself – what if those costumes helped draw attention to a protest against lawmakers restricting women’s rights?
In March, NARAL (National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws) volunteers, dressed as handmaids, held a silent protest in the Texas Senate during a reading of Senate Bill 415. The legislation would ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure.
The news was shared widely on social media, provoking calls, emails and other contact from people who wanted to organize their own Handmaid’s Tale protests. Soon after, about 30 Planned Parenthood volunteers dressed as handmaids staged a demonstration at the U.S. Capitol to protest the Senate “wealth” care bill.
Since the NARAL protest in Texas, at least a dozen other similar demonstrations have materialized. The protests are not limited to the United States. Earlier this month in Warsaw, Poland, Donald Trump was met by protesters dressed as handmaids on the first stop of his trip to the G20 summit in Germany.
The Handmaid’s Tale dissent ignites profound responses in women regarding their reproductive freedoms. People familiar with the show understand the point of the demonstrations. Handmaids protesting the closing of abortion clinics and the loss of reproductive rights doesn’t seem outlandish in a political climate in which decisions about their bodies are made by men in power.
Anyone who wants to make their own handmaid costume can find the sewing patterns in a private Facebook group called Handmaid Coalition, an organization that New Hampshire’s Action Together launched in April.
Alina Evans is an Account Executive at Spitfire.