Overheard in line at a Denver supermarket: “Yeah, I’m seeing them all the time on the TV news — the ladies dressed like Little Red Riding Hood.”
They are indeed becoming a staple of Colorado news coverage — on TV, in print, online — though, of course, they’re not going for Little Red Riding Hood. They are depicting characters from the 1985 Margaret Atwood novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which later was made into a movie, an opera and most recently, a critically acclaimed TV series on Hulu. One part futuristic dystopian drama, one part cautionary tale, the story involves a male-dominated theocracy that has overthrown the government and subjugated women.
And now, it has become the visual meme of the moment in American politics, as well, with women in the requisite red robes turning up at assorted events across Middle America to register their solemn, silent protest. It was only a matter of time, really, given what liberal critics of the Trump administration and the GOP Congress see as eery similarities between the Atwood storyline and the Republican right’s reputed war on women.
Which is why they were on hand in Colorado Springs last week to greet Vice President Mike Pence when he stopped by to visit the Springs-based, influential conservative ministry, Focus on the Family. And this week, the handmaids were back in Colorado’s second city protesting the pending GOP rewrite of Obamacare outside the Colorado Springs office of Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. Now that’s a gimmick with staying power.
It’s a maxim of politics: If a message seems to work, use it early and often.
But where did it all start? We rummaged around the Web and found a recent Boston Globe story that shed some light; it turns out the phenomenon’s origin was a promotional event rather than a political one:
It started in Austin, Texas, in March, when women costumed as handmaids gathered ominously near the South by Southwest festival, as a publicity stunt for the upcoming series launch.
“Please tell me they’re going to walk around inside the Capitol,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, joked on her Facebook page, where she posted a photo of the handmaids Hulu recruited for its guerrilla marketing effort. “It would be such a missed opportunity if they don’t. Related: Who wants to make a bunch of handmaid costumes for use this session?”
Thus, a movement was born.
The Globe recounts the movement’s first steps:
At first, the Texas activists rented costumes. Then, they began stitching — as others had months earlier, crafting pink “pussy hats” for the Women’s March on Washington. (Emily) Morgan — the executive director of Action Together New Hampshire, a political group that was formed after the November election — began networking with chapters from other states. Recently, she created a private Facebook page, called the Handmaid Coalition, to share patterns for stitching and strategies for protest with women across the country.
… In most states, women are using the costumes to protest individual bills on reproductive rights — creating a funhouse mirror image of what women’s lives might look like if their rights were stripped away.
If art imitates life, politics sometimes imitates art. Over and over again, as needed.