Activists in Red Capes: Women's Use of The Handmaid's Tale to Fight for Reproductive Justice

Madeline Yu Carrola


This paper examines women’s use of the notable red and white handmaid costume from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale at political demonstrations following the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Drawing on ten in-depth ethnographic interviews with women who participated in handmaid chapters, my study finds that interviewees began to wear the handmaid costume at political protests because they increasingly saw parallels between the United States and Gilead—the totalitarian society in Atwood’s novel—as a result of the 2016 election. Participants viewed the costume as a feminist symbol that enabled them to increase awareness about women’s issues, particularly related to reproductive justice. Additionally, interviewees saw the anonymity of the costume as a way to represent all women, especially those who were unable to participate in such protests. This study extends existing scholarship on social movements and women’s activism in the United States by exploring women’s reasons for involvement in this new form of protest and their use of dystopian popular culture as the basis of their performance activism.



handmaids; performance activism; reproductive justice; 2016 presidential election; Margaret Atwood

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