How Feminists Trap Themselves Inside ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

How Feminists Trap Themselves Inside ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Self-inflicted repression is an odd feature of contemporary feminism. In Gilead, the violently misogynistic dystopia of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” women are forced to drape their bodies in red cloaks and cover their heads in bonnets. The draconian mandate is purposefully meant to stand in stark contrast with the freedom of dress we enjoy now.

Nevertheless, the costumes have taken on a symbolism with feminist activists, who lumber around Capitol Hill protesting various perceived injustices in the uniforms of Gilead. As an act of protest, it’s always been somewhat amusing: comparisons between modern America and Gilead are not remotely within the realm of serious discussion, meaning the only people impelling anyone into those robes are feminists, deluded into believing they live in far darker times.

Enter the sexy “Handmaid’s Tale” Halloween costume that sent Twitter into a tailspin this week. Had feminism retained any of its edge, these revealing renderings of the handmaid’s uniform would have been standard issue at their protests all along. Instead, so many feminists were offended by the costume, it was pulled from the virtual shelves. 

“Over the last few hours, it has become obvious that our ‘Yandy Brave Red Maiden Costume’ is being seen as a symbol of women’s oppression, rather than an expression of women’s empowerment,” read a statement issued by the vendor.

Yet it’s Yandy’s version of the costume that’s actually clever, an alien concept to its humorless and dour detractors. The costume’s overt sexuality functions as a direct rebuke of Gilead. Primed to see everything as an attack, and to attack everything, however, feminists failed to recognize that, and eliminated a tool they should have weaponized. 

To some extent, feminists are a victim of their own success. In Me Too’s wake, the consequences of the sexual revolution have been scrutinized by observers on both the right and the left. Aside from the logical point that Yandy’s costume is a more clever protest of sexism than just wearing the silly robes, there is a legitimate question about whether showing all that skin is actually empowering. I suspect most feminists would argue it is, which makes their reaction to the costume funny to the extent that is was a reflexive breath of outrage. 

Feminism has lost its creative energy. Perhaps that’s why anti-capitalist feminists are slowly beginning to raise their voices about the corporatization of the movement, which has probably helped blunt its edges. (Who is this generation’s Erica Jong?)

To the extent that perception is reality, feminists have thought their way into an unfortunate one. From misrepresenting the wage gap to inflating statistics that build the rape culture narrative, the world they live in is not exactly the world that exists. The great irony here, of course, is that feminists inadvertently fought alongside their fictional enemies to keep themselves bound in the cumbersome cloaks of Gilead. 

Emily Jashinsky is culture editor at The Federalist. You can follow her on Twitter @emilyjashinsky .
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