International Symbol of Protest

Margret Atwood’s handmaids have become a global symbol of protest:

When US vice-president Mike Pence visited Philadelphia on 23 July, he was greeted by a now familiar sight: a wall of women dressed in scarlet cloaks, with oversize white bonnets obscuring their faces.

The outfit worn by Margaret Atwood’s handmaids in her 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale and its recent TV adaptation has been in evidence from Argentina to the US, the UK and Ireland, and has emerged as one of the most powerful current feminist symbols of protest, in a subversive inversion of its association with the oppression of women.

Margret Atwood says to The Guardian

“The handmaid’s costume has been adopted by women in many countries as a symbol of protest about various issues having to do with the requisitioning of women’s bodies by the state,” she told the Guardian.

“It has even been used on posters in the context of the Trump-Putin relationship, with Trump as the handmaid. Because it’s a visual symbol, women can use it without fear of being arrested for causing a disturbance, as they would be for shouting in places like legislatures.

This is an interesting example of how popular media are creating a symbol of protest that can be readily understood as such across the world.

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