Halloween outfit declared ‘offensive’ by the internet. Of course
Yandy duly removed the costume from sale, saying: “Over the last few hours, 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.”
In the true spirit of Halloween, removing the costume from sale was a misstep. The costume casts one of the spookiest images possible for modern women. The spectre of a handmaiden is truly haunting, more so than a ghoul or ghost or zombie.
For those unfamiliar with Atwood’s nightmarish world, a handmaiden is a woman who has an intact reproductive system in an era of increasing infertility. Handmaidens are forced to carry the offspring of the ruling class. They wear distinctive red dresses and white bonnets that obscure their faces.
The handmaidens are women who are valued only for their reproductive function, they have no autonomy, and are essentially raped each time they are assigned to bear a child. In Atwood’s dystopia, women in general aren’t allowed to read or write and are stuck in domestic roles.
As Yandy points out in their apology, handmaiden’s costumes (albeit canonical, non-sexy versions) have been donned around the world by protesters demanding greater rights for women. The costumes were used both in Ireland and Argentina to campaign for abortion rights, they were used in Britain to protest Donald Trump’s state visit, and they’ve been used around the US to protest a number of bills, such as funding cuts to reproductive health centres. The point is to draw a parallel between the way women are silenced in dystopian fiction and the way women in today’s political climate feel silenced on matters relating to their own bodies. To some extent, the dystopia is here.
The Yandy costume takes this iconic handmaiden image and propels it into the absurd. It shortens and tightens the figureless red robe and adds fishnet stockings and very high heels. Not only does it connote an (all too real) world where women have no say over their reproductive health, but it also brings to the fore the reality that women are overtly sexualised.
It’s not hard to see why so many people wrote into Yandy saying that it was offensive, but surely there’s also something darkly humorous about it too. It’s bizarre that somehow the world of retail is able to spin a story about rape and misogyny into an empowering garment. The original item description read: “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.” The irony astounds.
Beyond the laughter, whether they intended to or not, Yandy sold the perfect Halloween costume. It mixes the puritanical reproductive coercion of The Handmaid’s Tale with the objectification and commercialisation of female bodies. It displays a dystopian reality that may be in our future, and may even describe our present. It’s a truly scary way to observe Halloween.