There is nothing sexy about female objectification in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

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Cady Heron said it best: “In Girl World, Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” What Cady didn’t anticipate, however, was that those “slutty” costumes would resemble those of the oppressed sex slaves from the popular show “The Handmaid’s Tale.” A symbol of the enslaved woman in a post-apocalyptic society has now been trivialized into a sexy Halloween costume, giving way to even more objectification.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is fantastic for more than just its well-crafted, sadistic storytelling; it also closely follows the struggles of the female protagonists — struggles including sexual slavery, religious obedience and, in some cases, murder. Conversely, the Halloween retail site Yandy is known for its sexy costumes for young woman. The television show highlights the struggles of the oppressed woman, whereas the website highlights the freedom of the modern one. But when these are combined, Yandy comes across as the type of website that doesn’t encourage women to show off their figure but rather sexualizes rape and female objectification.

The costume titled “Brave Red Maiden Costume” is minimally different from that used on the show. Both outfits include a white cap and red cape, but Yandy’s version features a much shorter dress than those donned on the smash-hit TV series. Yandy’s outfit, in typical sexy costume style, is a much bolder, brighter red, which only makes its misunderstanding of the show more obvious.

The caption accompanying the costume claimed, “An upsetting dystopian future has emerged where women no longer have a say. However, we say be bold and speak your mind in this exclusive Brave Red Maiden costume.” While the women in “The Handmaid’s Tale” are bold and speak their mind, the outfits they wear are symbols of their subjugation and not of their brave fight for freedom. So when Yandy creates a sexualized version of these outfits, which represent imprisonment and inequality, the company’s intention to empower women turns into simply sexualizing oppression itself. This costume goes directly against the values the show aims to promote. It doesn’t encourage women to speak up and be bold but rather represents characters who can’t stand up against violence toward women.

Yandy isn’t the only one trying to make misogyny and female servitude hot. Kim Kardashian also posed in a racier version of the ensemble, although she received little critical feedback. Halloween is apparently a time when retailers and celebrities not only have the opportunity to trivialize cultures but also to promote ignorance about what feminism truly means.

To make up for its mistake, Yandy did remove the costume and issued a poignant statement saying, “It has become obvious that our ‘Yandy Brave Red Maiden Costume’ is being seen as a symbol of women’s oppression, rather than an expression of women’s empowerment.” This indicated that the company was actively reading and listening to criticism. But the statement ended with this: “Our initial inspiration to create the piece was through witnessing its use in recent months as a powerful protest image.” Public apologies after a mistake of this magnitude are both accepted and supported, but Yandy shouldn’t pretend that a sexy Halloween costume would in any way be seen as a form of protest. The costume was made because of ignorance of the subject matter, not with the intention of becoming a political symbol.

Margaret Atwood’s novel not only makes a great television show but also tackles topics such as feminism, gender inequality, female genital mutilation and much more in a sophisticated and informed manner. The designers at Yandy would do well to approach their costumes with this same level of informed sophistication. And for women looking for an empowering costume this Halloween, please don’t veer toward those that sexualize the oppressed.

Samantha Banchik covers fashion. Contact her at [email protected].