Women's Rights: Why the Handmaid has Become a Symbol of Anti-Trump Resistance

Handmaid's Tale protests
Women dressed as handmaids from the novel, film and television series "The Handmaid's Tale" demonstrate against cuts for Planned Parenthood in the Republican Senate healthcare bill at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 27, 2017. Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

They are eye-catching protests. A procession of women in pairs dressed in red robes and white bonnets—most recently leading a Planned Parenthood protest in Washington against a Republican-sponsored bill intended to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Tuesday's protest was part of a bigger action organized by Planned Parenthood to filibuster the Senate vote on that health care bill. The vote was eventually postponed because some Republican Senators remain unconvinced by the bill, putting in question its passage.

The @PPact #handmaids are on their way to the Capitol #StandWithPP @PPESActs @UHPPANY @PPGenAction pic.twitter.com/YkvkU0albI

— PPGen at UAlbany (@PPGenatUAlbany) June 27, 2017

Women have taken to wearing the outfits inspired by the dystopian novel-turned TV series The Handmaid's Tale to protest legislation restricting women's access to reproductive health services.

On Tuesday, the handmaids also protested in Ohio, where the House passed a bill banning a common procedure used in most second trimester abortions, now landing the legislation for a vote in the Ohio Senate. The red-clad silent protesters were at also at the statehouse on June 13, during the bill's reading.

Handsmaid Tale protestors in Ohio Statehouse rotunda. pic.twitter.com/PqhS9e0zOF

— Jo Ingles (@joingles) June 13, 2017

The dramatic uniforms were also spotted last week in California, at Republican Tom McClintock's Town Hall, as well as in Colorado, to protest a visit of socially conservative Vice-President Mike Pence. In May, women staged similar protests in Missouri, where a new bill allows employers to discriminate against women who take birth control.

One of the first states to embrace the protest formula was Texas, where feminist group NARAL Pro-Choice Texas organized the silent demonstration against anti-abortion regulations at the statehouse in March.

"I'm here for women's healthcare," said Handmaid protester Deb Reardanz. "I don't like his stance on birth control." #penceCOS @csgazette pic.twitter.com/SNNEaKQl3q

— Caroline (@claganas73) June 23, 2017

In The Handmaid's Tale, a theocratic regime calling itself Republic of Gilead takes over parts of the U.S. and has imposed severe limits to freedom and women's rights in a bid to control society and increase fertility rates.

Under the Gilead regime, women have limited roles in society. The handmaids are considered to be fertile women whose sole function is to have babies, and are forced to undergo regular, strictly-regulated intercourse with the men in the families they are assigned to, in presence of the men's wives.

The Handmaid's Tale author Margaret Atwood took inspiration for the novel's plot and the handmaids' iconic outfits from the Puritans, the English Reformed Protestants who established East Coast colonies in the 16th and 17th centuries.

"The Republic of Gilead is built on a foundation of the 17th-century Puritan roots that have always lain beneath the modern-day America we thought we knew," Atwood wrote in an article for The New York Times describing the novel's relevance in the age of President Donald Trump.

My sign for the @womensmarch (and sentiment for the next four years.) @MargaretAtwood #whyIMarch #WomensMarch pic.twitter.com/R1cIwCsorK

— Liz Skoski (@lizskoski) January 19, 2017

Its adaptation for the small screen resonated powerfully with many modern-day American women, who fear that they could be stripped of their reproductive rights, much like the women in The Handmaid's Tale.

Even before the Hulu-produced TV series was released, references to The Handmaid's Tale could be spotted at the January's anti-Trump women's march. "Make Margaret Atwood fiction again" one sign read. And another one, with a drawing of the red-hooded handmaid: "The Handmaid's Tale is NOT an instruction manual."

"Dressing up as a handmaid gives a clear message to our administration and the Senate about how seriously we take their decisions and how radically it can affect our lives," Elena Lipsiea, one of the women who dressed as a handmaid on Tuesday, told The Hill.

It's unlikely that Tuesday's protest will be the last of its kind.