Outrage over a Handmaid's Tale wedding photo went viral. But it's not as tone-deaf as it seems.

Silent women dressed up as handmaids from Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel Handmaid's Tale have been spotted at protests of women's rights violations all over the world. In London, they were displayed during Donald Trump's visit to the U.K. In America, it was at Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing. "The handmaid's costume has been adopted by women in many countries as a symbol of protest about various issues having to do with the requisitioning of women's bodies by the state," Atwood told the Guardian. The iconic red robes send a powerful message without saying a word. "What the costume is really asking viewers is: do we want to live in a slave state?" The handmaid is the perfect symbol for when you want to smash the patriarchy, not support it. So why did faceless handmaids show up in a viral wedding photo?


Wedding photography Facebook page Van Daele & Russell Photography posted a photo of a kissing bride and groom standing against the "hanging wall" seen in the Hulu show. Faceless handmaids stand on either side of the happy couple. "Praise be! Kendra & Torsten are married!" the photographers said in the post.

The photo was taken at Ontario restaurant Cambridge Mill, which served as both the couple's wedding venue and one of the sets for the Handmaid's Tale. While the couple did not have a Handmaid's Tale themed wedding, they're fans of the show and wanted a photo in front of the wall. The handmaids were added in digitally after the photo was taken.

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The photo went viral. Many people felt the photo was inappropriate, given what the image of handmaids represents.







The photo has since been removed from the photographer's Facebook page at the request of the couple.

Now, Shawn Van Daele and Clint Russell, the photographers behind the photo, are saying their critics missed the point of the photo. "This image was created and put out by a pair of 'Gender Traitors' who are no strangers to many of the subplots of oppression, violence, and inequality that run through Margaret's brilliant work," Van Daele told the Huffington Post. As a gay married couple, Van Daele and Russell would be labeled as "gender traitors" if they lived in the repressive Gilead.

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Van Daele and Russell feel that emotion has obscured the message. "What's sad is that everyone is reacting exactly as expected – just like in Gilead – and missing the opportunity to think for themselves, to educate themselves, to become engaged activists instead of simply keyboard warriors," Van Daele told PetaPixel.

Instead of outrage, the photographers want to see action. "We'd love to see people out in the streets participating in women's marches, supporting equal rights for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, and so many other important causes…instead of sitting here scrolling through Instagram and knee-jerking their way through comment threads. So you're all correct – it's gross, disgusting, and a horrible concept that is rampantly becoming more "real' in the world day by day and comment by comment," the photographers said in a statement.

Images are powerful. For all the controversy the couple caused, at least they didn't take their wedding photo on rustic train tracks
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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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