Fashion and identity politics can make strange, but highly collaborative bedfellows.
Many little girls love to dress up as princesses. Many big girls love to dress up as political statements.
The fashion industry loves to make money, and makes no moral judgments on their clients’ fantasy lives.
Costume companies can count on a continuing stable market in little girls’ princess costumes. But profits from political costuming can be highly unpredictable: boom or bust.
For a while after the Women’s March of 2017 following Donald’s Trump’s inauguration, it looked like the pussy hat, symbolizing the many ways in which women’s vaginas have been violated by misogynists like Trump, would have staying power as a social-justice vehicle. But who could foresee that the pussy hat would be deemed politically incorrect? As it turned out, being pink, it excludes the vaginas of women of colour, and being a symbolic vagina, it excludes the penises of transwomen.
The latest inspiration for political costuming is Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.
For the past year feminists wearing the red cloaks and outsize bonnets assigned to female victims in the fictional land of Gilead, where a sub-class of women are forced to bear children for a Christian master class, have protested in and around the halls of power: in June 2017 Planned Parenthood against the Senate GOP’s health care bill; this past July against Argentina’s abortion policy; and outside in the hall, earlier this month, for the first day of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The anti-Kavanaugh protest, organized by members of the advocacy group Demand Justice, was a show of dissent against Kavanaugh’s allegedly “anti-women” views.
Folks in the costume business don’t much care whether Brett Kavanaugh is anti-women or not, but they recognize an opportunity to make a buck when they see it. The Yandy Brand costume company featured a “Brave red Maiden” costume – a skimpy, sexy Handmaid knockoff on its Hallowe’en-themed website.
You won’t find it there now though (although you will find it cached elsewhere), because it was pulled after the company was swarmed with opprobrium on social media.
A statement was issued by the company, “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.”
From the indignation directed at this company, you might think that Yandy was mocking a situation that actually exists: that is, that women in our culture are actually oppressed. But they aren’t.
There are no actual Handmaids in America!
Women can wear whatever they want – even underwear – almost wherever they want (see Slutwalk.)
They can sleep with whomever they want, and they can refuse to sleep with whomever they don’t want, including husbands.
They can have abortions whenever they want.
So all this high dudgeon, as if women’s lives in America were akin to, or at risk of becoming, like those of women living under the Taliban or in Saudi Arabia, is ridiculous. And more than a little hypocritical.
Most people will not remember, but at the same 2017 Women’s March where the pussy hats got so much media attention, there was a sideline in another kind of costuming going on. There were women wearing hijabs made out of American flag material.
Some photos show the hijab’d women embracing the pussy-hat women, as if to say that cultures in which women enjoy complete equality to men, and cultures where they don’t, are both inherently feminist and American.
And there were also women wearing faux niqabs. In one image, you see two women wearing niqabs taking selfies. On the front panel of the black robe of one of them is #DamnILookGood. The other woman has what would normally be the robe cut away to reveal most of a black bra. She also sports a slit up the side of her robe that reveals most of her leg.
So it seems that feminists do have a sense of humour after all. But at whom is it aimed?
I am sure women forced to live their lives fully covered would not find it amusing.
Unlike the fictional women of Gilead, who exist nowhere in the West, women forced to cover their entire bodies and faces exist in the millions elsewhere in the world. And unlike the women parading around the Capitol in their Gilead costumes, who can doff their costume and head out for a self-congratulatory cocktail after the protest, those women can’t take their “costumes” off – ever.
The appropriation of the niqab, an actual symbol of true victimhood for a cheap laugh is a far greater offence to women than a costume company’s exploitation of a fictional trope.