It didn’t even hit October this year before the first Halloween controversy of 2018, with online store Yandy selling a ‘sexy’ Handmaid’s Tale outfit. The website has now taken down the costume due to online outrage. This is understandable, as it completely misses the point of the handmaid’s role and struggle. But we should not ignore the fact that for most, the very first instinct upon seeing the dress – before annoyance or anger – is to laugh. This is not bad. This is not guilt-inducing. This is crucial.
Let’s be honest, the costume is hilarious. It is so very, very wrong. For those unfamiliar with the book or television show, the cautionary dystopian tale depicts a future in which fertile women are a commodity and live a bleak existence of sexual slavery. The handmaid’s outfit within the novel itself is a symbol of oppression – it is a full-length dress with the distinctive white bonnet shielding the face from the male gaze. The entire point of the dress is to strip away the sexuality of the handmaids, to somewhat dehumanise them. With this in mind, Yandy’s tiny red mini-dress is outrageously laughable… but laughable nonetheless.
Let us not forget the comedic power of Halloween costumes. Skeleton Christmas is a truly wonderful time of year. And because it is 2018, and because of the culture we live in, costumes have emerged from the shackles of merely ScaryTM or SexyTM to become a genuine joke in their own right. 2016 was a year of horror, but it was also the year of Sexy Harambe, Sexy Donald Trump, and Sexy Ebola Nurse. Halloween is the most acceptable time of year to become a walking, talking meme and it is fantastic.
And perhaps in no other dystopian world has laughter been so important. In a significant chapter, protagonist Offred is asked to play Scrabble with the Commander, the man whose actions control every aspect of her life. It is horrifying, it is dangerous, but it is also funny. Offred’s laughter is volcanic: it gives her power over her situation. She regains control through her ability to see the humour of the request. It is a tiny victory to the hyper-controlling culture of Gilead, a land where mirth has died a death alongside women’s rights. It is, without doubt, a good thing.
Laughter is an underrated tool of resistance and always has been. If we cannot laugh at our oppressors, what truly can we do? The costume has been pulled down now, but the joke is still there. It is unclear if the satire was intentional from Yandy, but like the beloved penis-shaped rock in Norway, not all humour has to be planned. Besides, if you laughed, the work is done. If you laughed, you got the irony – and therefore the message – of the Handmaid’s Tale. If you laughed, it is okay.
And we do, truly, need to laugh. Finding the funny is not only useful in our times, it is a necessity. Unlike Gilead, we can – as women – wear what we like. Unlike Gilead, we can laugh at what we like. As women, we deserve both. Halloween is a time to embrace both your sexuality and sense of humour. We should be celebrating that. And if we cannot dress however wild we want, perhaps we should all be wearing the full-length habits of the real handmaids, because that is where we are headed.
Image: Elena Raines via stories.cooler.tv