On Tuesday, a line of women stood outside the U.S. Capitol, heads bowed, hair covered in crisp white bonnets, long crimson cloaks flowing to the ground. Handmaids, gathered in Washington, D.C., to decry the Senate health care bill.
That protest—organized by Planned Parenthood, which would be defunded for a year under the Republican-crafted legislation—was just the latest instance of symbols from Margaret Atwood’s novel-turned-Hulu-hit-show The Handmaid’s Tale leaking into real life. From Texas to California to the nation’s capital, women have been donning the red robe and white cap this summer in opposition to legislation that would limit their access to abortion or health care.
You can say this for Hulu, they picked a helluva time to release a show about our not-too-distant dystopian future. (Just imagine how differently The Handmaid’s Tale would play with a woman in the White House).
Based on Atwood’s 1985 novel, the series imagines an America post Revolution No. 2. Congress has been slaughtered, and religious fundamentalists are now running the show. Women have been stripped of their rights and those able to bear children are reduced to walking, (barely) talking loaner wombs for the rich and influential. They’re “handmaids.” And they couldn’t have arrived on our TVs at a more fitting time.
— Nicole Cobler (@nicolecobler) May 9, 2017
Activists have seized on the symbol for powerful protests splashed across social media. In March, before the show’s April debut, handmaids sat in the gallery of the Texas state Senate to oppose a pair of measures that would ban a procedure used in second trimester abortions and prevent patients from suing doctors if children were born with serious birth defects (which opponents say would give doctors discretion to not report fetal abnormalities to expecting parents). In May, the handmaids returned to protest further anti-abortion legislation, including a bill that would require the burial or cremation of fetal remains after a terminated pregnancy.
Earlier this month, handmaids visited the Ohio Statehouse to sit in silent opposition to another anti-abortion measure, and red-cloaked women recently took center court at Argonaut High School in Jackson, California, during a town hall with Republican Representative Tom McClintock. On Tuesday, 30 handmaids patrolled outside the U.S. Capitol as part of Planned Parenthood’s “People’s Filibuster” against the Senate health care bill, which would cost 22 million people their insurance coverage over the next 10 years according to the Congressional Budget Office and let states apply to reduce required coverage for things like addiction treatment or maternity care.
— Maren (@MarenMachles) June 27, 2017
In The Handmaid’s Tale, we watch through Offred’s flashbacks as the U.S. transforms into a brutal theocracy not in a single sweeping moment but through small erosions of crucial rights and freedoms. Today, as women watch their access to health care and abortion come under threat in state legislatures and Washington, D.C. handmaids are donning the dress of the oppressed to stand up in dramatic defiance. Offred would be proud.