The Handmaid’s Tale is a grim story. Watching the appropriately dark and terrifying Hulu series adaptation of it is not something I would normally think of as a “party”, but I did organize an event to watch the first 3 episodes the week that they premiered with several friends. The purpose of the party was twofold: to provide mutual emotional support and validation for each other while we absorbed the trauma onscreen, and to raise money for the Center for Reproductive Rights in the hopes that what we were seeing would remain forever fiction. I think it was a success on both counts.
Though it’s a bit inaccurate to say that the extreme oppression in The Handmaid’s Tale is wholly fictional, as author Margaret Atwood herself has said that there is “nothing in the book that didn’t happen, somewhere.”, she has also said, when asked what her message for young fans is, “They think this is the very, very worst thing that has ever happened. But trust me, it isn’t. Your mission is to keep this from not being any wose than it is“. So I think it is safe to say that Margaret Atwood would approve of this purposeful Handmaid’s Tale party. Resistance through party-planning!
The reason I chose the Center for Reproductive Rights is that they act globally fighting against all manner of reproductive injustices, including child marriages and female genital mutilation. And as we saw in episode 3, this turned out to be much more terribly appropriate than I had anticipated.
The snacks were all themed to match the red dresses and white bonnets of the handmaids. Least creatively, this was executed with chips and salsa, but on the other hand the salsa was evocative of menstrual blood which is why the handmaids wear red in the first place, so, doubly thematic. I also arranged a platter of Vermont white cheddar cheese and summer sausage so that the cheese was meant to signify the wings of the handmaids’ bonnets around their faces, and piped whipped cream atop whole strawberries in an attempt to visualize the bonnets atop wide red dresses that sadly turned out less artistic than it looked in my mind. (Whipped cream doesn’t hold it shape very well…at least that is my excuse…)
But obviously the best part were the cupcakes. Creepy, pregnant handmaid cupcakes! A portion of them had actual, little plastic babies inside, and after frosting them I really didn’t know which ones, so it was a surprise to everyone. An unpleasant, I-didn’t-have-a-say-in-whether-there-was-a-baby-in-my-cupcake-or-not surprise that was just as unsettling to my guests as I intended it to be and that was another motivating factor to donate to the cause. (I also hid some babies in the hollowed-out center of some of the larger strawberries.) The cupcake toppers were made from cardstock mounted on toothpicks, and the bonnets were mini-muffin liners. I also used an “extreme red” food coloring (purchased at a craft store) on the frosting to make sure it would match the paper.
Guests were encouraged to make a donation comparable to the amount they would normally pay for a night at a movie theater, and add to that amount however they chose in response to the show. One person donated a dollar each time the show made her want to cry. I donated $5 for each person who came (and for one who wanted to come but was unable to last-minute) and for each time someone found one of the babies in their cupcake or strawberry. I also added some extra dollars when things on the screen felt too close to home or just too unbearable.
It wasn’t exactly a “fun” party because the content on screen was so disturbing, but my guests were great and we all agreed that it was therapeutic to be able to watch together and decompress after each episode. Having a purpose to channel our emotional reactions into was helpful as well. The show is definitely worth watching, very well made, and very faithful (at least so far) to the themes of the book, but it is also quite traumatic. I recommend watching with supportive friends if possible rather than by yourself, but if you have no one to watch with, or the means to channel outrage into financial donations to resist such tyranny, know that you are not alone.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.