The Handmaid’s Tale-Inspired Protests

Mass media might be enormously persuasive, but people’s principal main way to engage with mass media is passive receptive. According to Leah A. Lievrouw (2011), exposure to or reception of a message might or might not provoke a receiver to act. 

Pro-choice supporters at a Rosa rally in Londonderry, Northern Ireland

One recent message that has made a powerful impact is The Handmaid’s Tale, which has inspired protests because it does not merely contribute content to a demonstration, it has become a symbol of resistance. People all over the world are wearing red cloaks and white bonnets to protest various injustices, particularly regarding women’s rights. 

A protest organized by

Thomas Poell and José van Dijck (2018), reviewed recent protests and uprisings and pointed out that some scholars, notably, Castells (2012), Bennett and Segerberg (2012, 2013), and Margetts et al. (2016), have proposed that social media user activities are at the heart of a fundamental transformation of activism. Poell and van Dijck mentioned that these scholars perceive social media platforms as enablers of bottom-up types of protest mobilization, organization, and communication. 

This is clearly the case regarding organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, Demand Justice, Unite for Justice, and Refuse Fascism, that used major social media platforms (e.g., Twitter and Facebook) to mobilize and communicate when they promoted several demonstrations, such as the Handmaid’s Tale-inspired protests in the US. 

Just in the past few days, The Handmaid’s Tale protesters have been observed silently standing outside the Congressional confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee US Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

A vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the protesters claim, is a vote against the right to safe, legal abortion; a vote against those who access health care through the Affordable Care Act; and a vote to ignore survivors of sexual violence.

Demand Justice protesters dressed as #Handmaids at Kavanaugh´s hearing (4sept18).

Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual assault by California Professor Christine Blasey Ford. Further, Kavanaugh has demonstrated a lack of respect for women’s rights to control their bodies during his term as a US Circuit Judge (2006-present).

  • Just last year, he tried to block a young undocumented woman from access to safe, legal abortion — even though state law would have permitted it.
  • He ruled to limit women’s access to birth control, arguing that bosses should control whether employees have birth control insurance coverage.
  • He praised the dissent in Roe v. Wade  — and counts as his hero a Supreme Court justice who said Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided.

It’s unbelievable that in 2018, and amid the wave of the #MeToo movement, we have to debate whether accusations of sexual assault are a disqualifier for serving on the Supreme Court. (Planned Parenthood Action)

Protesters wearing outfits inspired by the characters in The Handmaid´s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood

So why are these red robes and white bonnets used to symbolize repressive patriarchy? The answer is that Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) is the story of a religious revolution that created a theocracy named Gilead, where women were dispossessed of their human rights and forced to bear the children of the society’s elites.

“The handmaid’s costume has been adopted by women in many countries as a symbol of protest about various issues having to do with the requisitioning of women’s bodies by the state.” Margaret Atwood

Although most people join social movements based on personal motivations and goals, it does not necessarily follow that collective action does not revolve around “collective action frames,” which require negotiating common interpretations of collective identities. Instead, collective action is driven by the rapid sharing of personal action frames via social media, which is the case regarding The Handmaid’s Tale-inspired protests by women around the world who wear identical clothing to symbolize their concerns about various social issues.

Regarding communication behaviors with respect to the global women’s rights movement, activists can be observed using these media to communicate messages that aim to achieve or attain a goal (Martín-Barbero in A.Mattoni & E.Treré, 2014). It is important to recognize that social activists have “found new pathways to construct shared meanings and narratives, and to articulate identities in a social process that was fundamentally a highly embodied and emotional experience movement” (Tufte, 2017, p.104). These resources have become crucial tools for social movements; activists use media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to organize demonstrations and “actions that affect individual lifestyle and private behavior” (Della Porta and Diani, 2006, p.2).

In this sense, an important point about media is that it is socially, culturally, and politically situated infrastructure that merges with political subjects’ constitutions.

In sum, since the election of Donald Trump as United States President, literary works, such as Atwood’s, which present dystopian worlds comparable to the current political climate by obvious parallels, contribute to raising citizens’ awareness and are excellent sources of inspiration for protesting against extreme politicians trying to reduce fundamental human rights.

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”

2 thoughts on “The Handmaid’s Tale-Inspired Protests”

  1. You have chosen a very interesting topic to discuss in your blog. Wonderful post! I found it fascinating how the TV show has taken off so well, especially considering that the book has already been published since 1980s. It really shows how unacceptable this modern world has become for women (and many other minority groups) not just in the United States, but across the globe, and how they have found a way to express themselves, which will immediately draw so much attention. This blog post could easily be a part of a series of posts, presenting different places where such protests are taking place and how these are being acknowledged (or not).

    1. Thanks for your comment, Marit! You are right about the powerful impact of The Handmaid’s Tale inspired protests. It tells us something about the influence of media. In this sense, it is positive how fiction helps to raise awareness. As mentioned in the text, it has become a symbol of resistance.

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