Margaret Atwood, the Canadian author of the dystopian novel-turned-TV show “The Handmaid’s Tale,” has tweeted approvingly of women utilizing the themes of the book in mass anti-government protests across Israel.
Over the past 12 weeks, many of the protests across the country have included an eye-catching display of dozens of women silently marching with their heads down and their hands clasped, wearing the red robes and white caps made iconic by the story.
Those participating are seeking to drive home the fear that the government’s plans to massively overhaul the judiciary will leave minorities and women unprotected, referencing the futuristic novel where subjugated women are forced to bear children for male leaders of a patriarchal society.
“I have never seen so many ‘Handmaids’ protesters marching like this except in the @HandmaidsOnHulu tv series!” Atwood tweeted on Sunday in response to followers alerting her to such protests.
Two days earlier, Atwood shared a video of hundreds of identically clad women marching uniformly in Tel Aviv, writing: “Astonishing.”
The 83-year-old author has also retweeted many messages of support for the protest movement in Israel as well as criticism of the government’s current plans to her two million followers.
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) March 18, 2023
One message the author retweeted from a follower suggested that Atwood would be “astounded and proud at how your literary masterpiece is informing a generation of young and old as we continue to counter these very difficult days.”
Women in Israel taking part in “Handmaid”-style protests say they are seeking to drive home the potential consequences of such far-reaching changes to the system of governance.
“This display is a representation of the things that we fear,” said Moran Zer Katzenstein, founder of the women’s rights advocacy group Bonot Alternativa, or “building an alternative,” which is behind the Handmaid’s protest.
“Women are going to be the first to be harmed” under the overhaul, she added.
Ahead of one demonstration last month, a group of women rode the train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in costume, transforming the cars and the platform into what could have been a scene from the Hulu series. Another time, they encircled a central fountain in the seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv, a site that typically abounds with kids in strollers and dogs on leashes. They have also blocked intersections, staying in character during the protests and keeping quiet as they walk in formation.
Atwood’s 1985 novel about a futuristic patriarchal society where the robed handmaids are forced to bear children for leaders has reemerged in recent years as a cultural touchstone thanks to the popular TV series. Its themes of female subjugation and male domination have resonated with women today who see threats in limits on abortion rights, or in Israel’s case, in the rise of its conservative, religious government.
The government, Israel’s most right-wing ever, is overwhelmingly male. Only nine out of 64 parliamentarians in Netanyahu’s coalition are women. Ultra-Orthodox parties, which are key components of the coalition, deny inclusion to women members entirely.
The costume, which has come to embody the threat to women under the patriarchy, has been used in protests elsewhere. American women opposing former US president Donald Trump’s conservative Supreme Court nominees have donned the garb, as have Iranian women demonstrating in Britain in support of the protests in Iran, and Polish women calling to preserve abortion rights.