A Feminist Call to Arms

by Diane Nivens about a year ago in activism

Donning our uniforms to make ourselves visible.

A Feminist Call to Arms
The National Mall in Washington DC while filming for season 3 of The Handmaid's Tale. Photo courtesy of Washington Post

The news lately is rife with five states that are proposing anti-abortion laws dictating that abortions cannot be performed past the six week mark. These laws have been dubbed "Heartbeat Bills," because an embryo develops a heartbeat around the five-week mark. (Please note that I said embryo, and not fetus, or baby. In the stages of development, an embryo is considered a fetus around the eight-week mark.) Many women don't even know they're pregnant until after six weeks. Furthermore, Georgia is proposing laws that would criminalize women that plan to go out of state to get an abortion, and cause this act to be a punishable offense that could result in imprisonment. This also makes women that experience a miscarriage vulnerable to possible murder charges.

Women's rights are under attack in these states, and we must fight back. Allowing laws like these to take root in a handful of states will cause the surrounding states to adopt similar laws. It will spread. Unfortunately, for many of us, fighting back is a pipe dream, because we have families and careers, and responsibilities that we can't leave in order to go protest. We do not all live a short drive from government buildings.

Women protesting in a government building. Photo courtesy of The Weekly Standard

One of the most disturbing aspects of The Handmaid's Tale is the color coding of women going about the mundane tasks of their day. It makes them, and their station in life visible. You know exactly what they are ordered to do in their lives. Handmaids are the ones that are raped on a monthly basis by the husband of an assigned couple, so that she may carry his child and then give it to the wife upon birth. While all women in Gilead (the fictional country that was once the USA) are considered property, and none are allowed basic rights like autonomy, or education, handmaids are by far the worse off category of women. They are known for their fertility, and are forced to breed. Where other women are punished by death for grave infractions of the law, handmaids are tortured and punished in worse ways. Death is a release from their life, and that is not allowed. They have body parts cut off for punishment. They are regularly beaten, and kept in line with a cattle prod. It sounds like all this would make it difficult to carry a child, but that is the only part that isn't actively tortured. You don't need two hands or two eyes to make babies. What's more, the entire household is run in accordance to their menstrual cycle. They don't even get to bleed in peace. They are the walking example of a fate worse than death. Their existence is used as a threat to keep other women in line.

Currently, Alyssa Milano is calling for women in these five states to boycott having sex entirely, because it is the only way to ensure that women don't get pregnant. This is an interesting thought, but it does nothing to make protesters visible. There are also filmmakers currently threatening to pull productions out of Georgia. This call was also lead by Alyssa Milano. While no one has yet made good on this threat, it has the potential to negatively impact the state, as there is a major movie industry there. Most of our favorites are filmed in Georgia, from the Marvel movie franchises to shows like The Walking Dead, much of our entertainment comes out of Georgia these days. The downside is that this would largely hurt lower level employees that work on those entertainment projects, because it would decrease their employment opportunities, and income.

I am calling for women to show solidarity with the women that are able to protest in person in our government buildings, and to make a statement by wearing red shirts, and white hair accessories. It isn't feasible to spend money on a full handmaid costume, and to go about your life in it. However, wearing mundane clothes in a color coded uniform makes us visible, is realistically viable, and affordable for normal daily function, and bands women together wherever they go. What's more, it doesn't hurt the employment or income of innocent people that are only trying to support their families.

Offred says "They should never have given us uniforms if they didn't want us to be an army." Women make up over half the population. We cannot sit idly while a fraction of the population dictates our lives. They can only take the power we give them. It is time for us to take our power back. By dawning a uniform, we show the opposition that we are everywhere, and we are aware of what they are trying to do. We cannot vote on issues daily, unfortunately, but we can raise awareness as we go about our lives, and inspire others to join our ranks. One person speaking out, and making a stance inspires others to join them. Clothing has been used as a tool to raise awareness, and band people together for centuries. Most recently, Congresswomen wore suffragette-white pantsuits in solidarity at the State of the Union address. Women showed up to the 2018 Golden Globes in all black to raise awareness about sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. Whether it's pussy hats, dashikis, headscarves, leather jackets, or red and white outfits, fashion has been used for ages to make social issues and the people they effect visible around the globe. By wearing red shirts or sweaters with white headbands, hats, and scarves, we draw a parallel line between our current reality, and the possibility of living in a dystopian novel.

The Handmaid's Tale is the perfect novel and show to draw these parallels, besides the fact that it is a popular Hulu series. They live in the not too distant future, and show just how those extremists rose to power, and overthrew the American government. The methodical way it was done was slow and subtle for decades, until the time was right for them to make their big moves. The number of similarities between the rise of the Trumpian-right, and the rise of Gilead are alarming. The religious radicals didn't come out of nowhere, and they weren't a foreign invasion. They were regular people working regular jobs, and they used the cover of religious freedom to get as far as they could before they completely overtook society. They had coded speech, protected meetings, and militarized themselves.

In a perfect world, we'd all be able to go protest at will. Unfortunately, we have families, jobs, and responsibilities that need us daily. We can't do things that put the daily function of our lives at risk. We need our jobs to pay our bills, feed our families, and keep roofs over our heads. I propose using fashion, yet again, to show solidarity, and to keep these issues at the forefront. These unreasonable laws do not only effect women in those states. Whether you realize it or not, there are politicians in your state that agree with these measures, and are waiting to propose similar laws. We cannot sit by and assume they won't come for our rights, while they strip others of theirs.

We are all sisters in the same fight.

Now is the time to band together.

Photo from @HandmaidsOnHulu

Diane Nivens
Diane Nivens
Read next: The State
Diane Nivens

Just trying to find my place in this big world. I've got a lot to say if you've got the time to listen.

Twitter: @DianeNivens87

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