The Handmaid’s Tale was originally a novel written by Margaret Atwood which tells the story of a handmaid living in the theocratic and totalitarian state under the name the Republic of Gilead which replaced the United States somewhere in the future. This dystopian story has since inspired a television series which is going on its second season.
Within the story; the handmaid and main character named Offred serves a commander and his wife as a subservient surrogate. This is due to dangerously low birth rates caused by pollution infertility, which forces elite couples to use handmaids to bear their children. Thus, Offred is forced to copulate with a commander while her freedom is completely restricted and her every move is under scrutiny.
Throughout the television series the handmaids are also forced to wear white caps and red capes as symbols of their oppression.
The costume designer, Ane Crabtree, who also dressed the actors and actresses of The Sopranos explained to Vanity Fair that the work she did was conflicting.
“It was kind of twisted to think about how I would hinder women—their body shape, and also their movement and their freedom with the clothing. I had to do it to make it realistic, but also to help the actors,” she said.
She chose “handmaid red” for the shows most tormented characters after studying the dress wear of real-life cults and religions that controlled the public en masse and to represent their purpose in the show.
“There’s a tiny percentage of women who can have babies in Gilead, and those are the Handmaids,” says Crabtree. “That’s their menstrual flow; that’s their lifeblood. You can see them coming a mile away, flowing down the street, like a river of blood.”
With all of the thought put into the creation of the handmaid’s costume for the show, it was only to be expected that a Halloween costume might be born out of it. This was the what the US retail and online site yandy.com decided to take on — however, it wasn’t well received.
The site shortly removed the costume after the outfit was negatively branded amidst accusations of “sexualizing misogyny and rape” while being labelled “tone deaf.”
The costume was referred to as the “Brave Red Maiden” with the minidress version bio of “an upsetting dystopian future has emerged where women no longer have a say. However, we say be bold and speak your mind in this exclusive Brave Red Maiden costume.”
The product consisted of the staple red cape and white hat, but the sexualized version of the handmaid’s outfit quickly received backlash on social media forums. Through a post on Twitter after the products removal, the retailer explained that the designers wanted to use the costume to portray feminine empowerment, rather than what the costume represents within Atwood’s novel.
Yet even with the backlash received in regards to the “Tribal Trouble Native American Costume,” of which there is a lot, the costumes depicting sexualized indigenous women are still up for grabs on yandy.com.
It seems like the removal of fictional costumes that fictionally represent the oppression of fictional women is more important than the removal of unrealistic costumes that perpetuate the existing and long-standing sexual oppression of real life women, of which thousands have been murdered.
I’d say it’s selective hearing.