Handmaid’s Tale of Protest Favorite 

Practitioner: 

Date: 

Jun 29 2017

Location: 

Across United States

In state capitals and street protests, women’s rights activists have been wearing red robes and white bonnets based on “The Handmaid's Tale,” the 1985 novel that is now a series on Hulu.

Silent, heads bowed, the activists in crimson robes and white bonnets have been appearing at demonstrations against gender discrimination and the infringement of reproductive and civil rights.

The outfits are inspired by the characters in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” by Margaret Atwood. The 1985 novel, which was made into a series on Hulu this year, tells the story of a religious coup that gives rise to a theocracy called Gilead, where women are stripped of rights and forced to bear children for the society’s elite.

Some have drawn comparisons between the show and the current political climate. In Vanity Fair, one critic explored whether it was an allegory for the Trump era. In The New Yorker, a reviewer discussed its “grotesque timeliness”; another at the same publication said that already “we live in the reproductive dystopia” the show presents.

As symbols of a repressive patriarchy, the crimson robes and caps — handmade, repurposed or ordered online — have become an emblem of women’s solidarity and collaboration on rights issues, similar to the pink knitted hats worn during the Women’s March after President Trump’s inauguration.

Here are examples of some recent protests:

Washington, D.C.

Supporters of Planned Parenthood protested the health care bill in Washington on Tuesday. Budget analysts estimated the bill could take away access to health care in some areas from about 15 percent of women because of provisions to defund Planned Parenthood. (The bill faced opposition by some Republican senators, and a vote on the legislation was delayed.)

One of protesters, Elena Lipsiea, traveled from Albany by a bus provided by Planned Parenthood. She was one of about 30 women in red robes and paper bonnets who were told by the organization to stay silent with their heads bowed — a posture meant to convey oppression.

“All of the handmaids are subjected to listen to government officials, and they don’t have any kind of autonomy,” she said. “So for us as protesters it was a direct way to show how we are being silenced, and the government is not listening to us, and our rights are under attack and voices are not being heard.”

Ms. Lipsiea said the silent protest attracted attention. “We weren’t verbally interactive, and it pushed people to ask and speak to Planned Parenthood volunteers who were around us and not in costumes,” she said.

Columbus, Ohio

In Ohio on June 13, women in “Handmaid’s Tale” costumes attended a hearing at the Statehouse in Columbus to protest a bill that would ban the dilation and evacuation procedure, the most common abortion method in the state. The Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice said its group sat in “silent solidarity against yet another proposed restriction on women’s reproductive health care.”

“Sitting silently during this hearing really spoke volumes about how women are being disregarded in a conversation being shaped by men legislating women’s bodies,” Elaina Ramsey, the executive director of the coalition, said.

“We were not challenged or asked to leave the hearing,” she said. “But in a way it was very jarring sitting there as a participant. I definitely felt invisible. They just continued on with the proceedings.”

Concord, New Hampshire

In New Hampshire on May 17, protesters appeared outside the Legislative Office Building in Concord to call for the expulsion of State Representative Robert Fisher, a Republican, after news reports of his involvement in the Reddit forum called “The Red Pill,” which is known for its misogynistic content. Mr. Fisher later resigned after a committee voted to recommend the House take no action against him, The Union Leader reported.

Austin, Texas

NARAL Pro-Choice has organized protests at the state capital in Texas against restrictive abortion laws. Heather Busby, the group’s executive director, said that her organization started using the outfits in March, when the State Senate was debating an abortion bill.

“Initially we rented red cloaks from a local shop and rush ordered white bonnets off the internet,” she said. “Now we have teams of seamstresses making the cloaks.”

The cloaks are an effective protest prop, she said, adding: “It is very eye-catching. People are always turning and looking, and a lot of folks get it and how that relates to what is being done on the policy side in Texas.”

This month, activists also dressed up in the costumes to protest a fund-raiser in Houston for Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican. (Separately, a group of them wearing the outfits went to see the “Wonder Woman” movie, she said.)

By CHRISTINE HAUSER
JUNE 29, 2017
New York Times

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