Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale: Why You Can Dress Sexy for One Show but Not the Other

Over the summer, an article detailing the latest Kardashian/Jenner controversy caught my eye. Normally, I try to ignore that drama as best I can and I usually forget about it within seconds, but this incident has stuck with me.

So, what happened that made me finally take interest in this exasperating family?

Kylie Jenner faced backlash after hosting a Handmaid’s Tale themed birthday party for her friend, complete with red cloaks and show-inspired cocktails. A dumb move, in my humble opinion, but nothing I’ll remember.

Until I read two tweets criticizing the critics. They defended Kylie on the grounds that people held Game of Thrones themed birthday parties, a show filled with “rape...murder, and incest,” as one Twitter user pointed out. Why, then, is it okay to have Game of Thrones parties, but not Handmaid’s Tale parties? As an avid viewer of both shows, the question made me think about why I don’t cringe internally every time I see a sexy Daenerys costume, and why I do when I see a sexy Handmaid.

The answer is far simpler than those who defended Kylie want to believe: The Handmaid’s Tale is about rape, and Game of Thrones isn’t. That’s not to say rape isn’t a part of Game of Thrones—it just isn’t the main focus. The whole goal of the Game of Thrones mythos was for George R.R. Martin to create a fantasy world that felt like it could have existed in real life, save for the dragons, magic, and ice zombies. In creating a realistic world, he delivered a fascinating political system, religion, and various cultures in the Seven Kingdoms and beyond.

One has to take the bad with the good, though. In Game of Thrones’ case, that includes rape, which has, historically, been a problem in the vast majority of societies. If Martin had excluded this aspect from a “realistic” fantasy series, it wouldn’t have been accurate. That being said, Game of Thrones doesn’t revolve around rape’s role in Westeros’ society, rather, it revolves around Westerosi society as a whole. Its rape scenes aren’t meaningless, but they don’t carry the same weight as those in The Handmaid’s Tale do, since rape remains a punishable offense in Westeros.

The Handmaid’s Tale is centered around a government that normalizes ritualized rape in an effort to keep the human race from extinction. Depictions of the rape, called “The Ceremony” in Gilead, occur frequently and serve to portray the oppression the handmaids face at the hands of those who believe that the ends justify their means. It’s holding a mirror up to society today, forcing viewers to think about rape culture and women’s reproductive rights. The handmaids’ red uniform has even become an important image in the recent protests against anti-abortion bills.

Ultimately, throwing a Game of Thrones-themed party doesn’t deserve the backlash throwing a Handmaid’s Tale-themed party warrants. Dressing in revealing Game of Thrones costumes isn’t necessarily altering how female characters are depicted on the show. Characters like Daenerys and Margaery wear revealing clothes, especially in their earlier seasons, and they usually do so because they choose to. Dressing in a handmaid’s costume for a party takes a poignant symbol women have begun to use to fight for reproductive rights and undermines it. Offred, the main character of the show, doesn’t wear her red cloak because she wants to—it’s literally the only thing she’s allowed to wear, as decided by the all-male government.

The next time you’re considering throwing a party based on that one show you love, think about if that show has any societal weight or symbolism riding on it. If the answer is yes, please don’t dress up in a way that patronizes what that show stands for. But please, don’t be afraid to go all out with Game of Thrones parties.

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