Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale depicts an America ruled by a fundamentalist theocracy where women are used as breeding vessels. Hulu’s serialization of the story, which has struck a chord with viewers in this uncertain era, has won multiple Emmys and Golden Globes.
So of course, people want to get in on this action. The phenomenon of The Handmaid’s Tale has inspired some truly questionable merchandise, but perhaps none so unnecessary as a “sexy” version of its main character’s costume.
Yandy, an online lingerie shop best known for its perennial crop of sexy halloween costumes inspired by famous characters but in no way infringing upon any copyrights, backtracked its “Brave Red Maiden” costume after widespread criticism in feminist circles. Not surprisingly, many saw a difference between dressing as an enslaved woman forced to bear children to protest for abortion rights and dressing as a sexy version of an enslaved woman forced to bear children to look hot on Halloween.
In a tweet last night, Yandy said they had become aware it was “being seen as a symbol of women’s oppression, rather than an expression of women’s empowerment. This is unfortunate, as it was not our intention on any level. Our initial inspiration to create the piece was through witnessing its use in recent months as a powerful protest image. Given the sincere, heartfelt response, supported by numerous personal stories we’ve received, we are removing the costume from our site.” (If you had your heart set on being a sexy handmaid, we might suggest instead the Shining Bright Pope or the Sexy Rabbit’s Lover costumes.)
The Yandy controversy is reminiscent of the Handmaid’s Tale wine announced in July by MGM that was off the table by the end of the same day. At the time, Rachel Withers wrote for Jezebel: “If there’s one thing women love, it’s immersing ourselves in a nauseating post-autonomy dystopia, imagining an increasingly plausible future of forced pregnancy and torture chambers, in which women are nothing but chattel and rape is state sanctioned. If there’s another, it’s wine!!”
And sleepwear company Lunya named a red silk lingerie set after the main character, Offred. Huffington Post pointed out: “In the book and show, Offred is a woman who is kidnapped and forced to have sex with a married couple in order to produce a child for them. She wears red so that she is easily identifiable as someone’s property.”
Red-washing to cash in on a currently popular TV show while seemingly supporting women feels a lot like the pinkwashing so prevalent in the past decade, Laura Bogart writes for Vulture. As she notes, raising awareness for breast cancer by making products pink has made a lot of money for companies who want to align themselves with women, but it has done less for actually advancing research for a cure.