“When they go one after the other, this line is difficult to ignore and disregard.”
Photo: Saeed Qaq/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
They take to the streets in the United States, England, Israel and Poland. “Handmaids” – in Margaret Atwood’s world they could not read, write or own anything, they were servants, walking “incubators”, and their clothes were dehumanizing. In our non-fictional reality, it is – as the fashion sociologist says – a sign of solidarity and the fight for women’s rights: “if we have many women dressed as handmaids and they go one after the other, this line is difficult to ignore and disregard.” Dawid Rydzek writes for tvn24.pl about the intertwining world of fashion and protests on the 3rd anniversary of the Constitutional Tribunal’s judgment.
Warsaw, Aleja Szucha. October 21, 2020, the eve of the verdict in the abortion case. Ten women line up in front of the building of the Constitutional Tribunal. “The regime was designed by excellent architects. For the totalitarian system to work well, it is necessary to provide some benefits and freedoms to a few privileged groups from whom something was taken away,” reads Agnieszka Czeredecka from the National Women’s Strike, which sounds ominously sounding description of the world. Then, an exact quote from the book gives way to a paraphrase and a comparison between Gilead and the Polish reality: “The best and most effective way to control women in matters of reproduction is to entrust this control to women themselves. Hence the aunts’ shock troops, headed by Aunt Godek and Aunt Przyłębska.” The second wave is just starting coronavirus, so the person saying the above words and the other nine women are wearing masks. They feature the lightning symbol, commonly known since the Black Protest four years ago. What attracts the most attention, however, is the fact that they all wear a slightly less recognizable red cape and a white bonnet.
– We had already gone to demonstrate dressed like this in another place, but we felt that this was the moment again. We wanted to make people aware of what awaits us if the Tribunal issues the judgment it did. There would probably have been more of us then, because the topic couldn’t be more important, but the anti-Covid regulations in force at that time allowed only ten people – he recalls today. He adds: – I really feel that we are close to Poland becoming Gilead, all it takes is a spark and it will go from there.
Three years ago, Poles took to the streets in droves to protest against the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling on abortion. And although nothing has changed legally on this issue since then – theoretically mitigating the effects of the ruling, the proposed presidential law, allowing termination of pregnancy in the case of lethal defects, has not left the parliamentary freezer, just like some opposition projects that would further liberalize the abortion law – are still issued every time. anniversary of the Court’s judgment. This happens every time after a high-profile event, most often unfortunately related to the death of a pregnant woman – Dorota from Nowy Targ, Izabela from Pszczyna or after a peculiar police interrogation Joanna from Krakow. Each time, among the demonstrators, you can also see people wearing characteristic costumes from the world of Margaret Atwood, presented in the series “The Handmaid’s Tale” based on the novel of the same title. “The costume has been adopted by women in many countries as a symbol of protest against the state’s appropriation of their bodies” – the author herself told the Guardian in August 2018.
“Our Poland is not Gilead” – said one of the banners warningly during the famous protests of October 2020. However, it can also be read literally. The fictional Republic of Gilead, established in place of the United States, is a country at first glance that bears little resemblance to today’s America and Poland (although it so happens that abortion laws have been tightened in both of these countries in recent years). In Atwood’s dystopian reality, the social roles of men and women are revolutionized, while the rule of law is turned upside down in the background in favor of distorted biblical principles.
American democracy in the novel therefore turns into Gileadian totalitarianism, which resembles a theocratic state in the mold Iran, but with the Old Testament, and not with the Koran at its base. Men rule the world, they are in power literally and metaphorically. Women are relegated to the lowest social class, and the fact that they are forbidden to write, read or own anything is just the beginning of a misogynistic nightmare. As a result of the common problem of women’s infertility, those who can get pregnant become the title “handmaids”, whose sole purpose is to give birth to children for high-ranking “commanders”.
These are the handmaids in the series, known from Polish – and not only – the streets, which will be discussed in a moment – who wear scarlet dresses with capes and cover their faces with white headgear, called “wings” in the presented world. Protesters’ costumes are often close to the original, although of course not identical. Meanwhile, the reverence of the series’ creators can only be matched by the degree of enslavement of the women of Gilead. Ane Crabtree, the costume designer responsible for the costumes of the first two seasons of the series, in an interview with Vulture in April 2017, described the shade of red she chose as “lifeblood”, which can be translated both as “blooded”, but also as “a factor necessary for life “.
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