In Argentina, a coordinated group dressed up like characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale.” It wasn’t a team of fans in cosplay but protesters rallying to support for a bill to legalize abortion before it goes to a vote on Aug. 8.
Margaret Atwood, the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” sent a letter of support to protesters, which they read aloud.
A report put out by the health ministry of Argentina in 2016 estimated that 370,000 to 522,000 women in Argentina undergo illegal abortions each year. Abortion-related complications are the leading cause of maternal death in the country.
The TV adaptation of Atwood’s book has proved to be wildly successful – although perhaps not for the reasons the creative team had in mind when they began working on the series.
Set in a dystopian future where fertile women are enslaved as handmaids, raped and forced to bear children of their country’s leaders. June, also known as Offred on the show, (Elisabeth Moss) remains a defiant voice in a society that has taken away her rights, her child and her husband.
Weeks before the show premiered in April 2017, the first protesters to wear red robes in Texas took cues from Hulu’s promotional South by Southwest event, which featured silent actresses clad in scarlet and white. The images of protesters wearing the same costumes as characters whose rights had been stripped away went viral, and soon abortion rights advocates started wearing floor-length robes and face-shielding bonnets.
Argentina is only the latest in a long list of a scarlet robe movement.
Ane Crabtree, the costume designer for the series, told ThinkProgress she was surprised to see the outfits take on a life of their own. “I don’t think there’s ever been a moment bigger in my whole career,” she says.
The show makes clear parallels from our times to what led to the formation of the hellish Gilead, the theocratic state that supplanted the United States. Flashbacks remind us that before horrible public executions and draconian military police, people lived and worked as we did with chaos in the background but not affecting our daily lives – until it was too late. Back in 1985, the book drew on the rise of fundamental Christianity and America’s conservative swing in the ’80s.
When the show was released, viewers may have related the handmaid’s loss of bodily autonomy to the palpable fear over the threat of women losing their abortion rights in the United States.
As a book and a failed movie adaptation, “The Handmaid’s Tale” story had been in the cultural ether for decades. It accidentally became relevant again with the timing of the TV series and President Trump’s election. Atwood said in an interview on Nightline, “We’re not living in Gilead yet, but there are Gilead-like symptoms going on.”