Following the tried and true Halloween formula of “__, but make it sexy,” this look features a red mini dress, cape and white bonnet, clearly inspired by Hulu’s hit television show, The Handmaid’s Tale—in which the titular handmaids are routinely forced to have sex against their will. Even worse? The accompanying description: “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.”
In other words, as one social media user sums it up: “All women are sex slaves. However!!!”
Great description on this bad costume. ‘All women are sex slaves. However!!!' pic.twitter.com/Mt2B2rFwlL
— Katherine Krueger (@kath_krueger) September 20, 2018
Unsurprisingly, the costume faced such intense backlash that Yandy has since removed it from its site and issued an apology, emphasizing that its mission statement is “rooted in female empowerment and gender empowerment overall,” and the decision to remove the costume came because it was “being seen as a symbol of women’s oppression, rather than an expression of women’s empowerment.”
— Yandy.com (@Yandy) September 21, 2018
What is The Handmaid’s Tale?
For those of you who don’t have Hulu or slept through your high school English class, The Handmaid’s Tale began as a novel published in 1985 by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, and features characters in a dystopian world called the Republic of Gilead where women have lost almost all their rights—from voting to reading.
In Gilead, handmaids are women who serve infertile elite married couples, having “ceremonial intercourse” (which, by the way, is how the society normalizes rape) with the husbands in the hopes of having a child for the couple. The titular handmaid, Offred, describes the handmaids’ role as “two-legged wombs, that’s all.”
I can't decide if this misses the point of The Handmaid's Tale, or encapsulates it completely. https://t.co/nSDeKpJN8T
— Petra Starke 🌟🗝 (@petstarr) September 21, 2018
Why are people so mad over this Halloween costume?
While some social media users have characterized the outcry over “Brave Red Maiden” as political correctness gone overboard, most people seem to realize that sexualizing a costume associated with sexual assault is *pretty* off the mark.
A sexy sex slave is not empowering tho. It's sexualizing a victim which is really inappropriate.
— mbj as clark kent 🏳️🌈 (@AussieRavenclaw) September 21, 2018
In the statement, Yandy says that its “initial inspiration to create the piece was through witnessing its use in recent months as a powerful protest image.” For context, over the past year, the red cape and bonnet has become an international symbol of resistance among women’s rights activists, with activists dressing up as (non-sexy) handmaids to ominously signify what could happen if policies strip women of their rights, particularly those dealing with women’s bodies. As Atwood herself said about the original costume in an interview with The Guardian, “What the costume is really asking viewers is: do we want to live in a slave state?” Not exactly the best choice for “__, but make it sexy.”
Wait—this isn’t Yandy’s first controversy, is it?
Absolutely not. As swift as the backlash for the handmaid costume was, the outcry over Yandy’s sexy Native American costumes has been going on for years.
In a Cosmopolitan article on the costume retailer published last year, Yandy’s vice president of merchandising noted that its Native American costumes receive the most negative feedback—but that it had no intention of discontinuing them.
The Cosmo article also noted that, at that point in time, Yandy had never removed a costume from its site before, which makes its removal of “Brave Red Maiden” a double-edged sword, with some people calling out the effect of white feminism.
Responding to the most recent controversy, one Twitter user wrote, “@Yandy you want to talk about women’s oppression, let’s talk about the 5100 #MMIW. In case you don’t know what that means… 5100 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Because our bodies are seen as commodities thanks to the “sexy squaw” trope.”
@Yandy you want to talk about women’s oppression, let’s talk about the 5100 #MMIW. In case you don’t know what that means… 5100 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Because our bodies are seen as commodities thanks to the “sexy squaw” trope.
— Weezie’s BOOks 👻🕸🎃🍁 (@WeeziesBooks) September 21, 2018
Clearly, the fight against the company’s offensive costumes is far from over.