The Handmaid's Tale is a book and a television show about the dangers of uber-patriarchal societies. Margaret Atwood wrote the novel in 1985, and it immediately entered the literary canon as a seminal work of speculative feminist fiction. Yet the debate has raged on as to whether The Handmaid's Tale classifies as a fully feminist novel, and the discussion was aroused once again when it was adapted into a TV series for Hulu in 2017. In her prolific body of work, Margaret Atwood often explores the subjugation of women by men, yet she has consistently balked at being labeled a feminist writer. In The New York Times, she wrote, "First, is The Handmaid’s Tale a 'feminist' novel? If you mean an ideological tract in which all women are angels and/or so victimized they are incapable of moral choice, no. If you mean a novel in which women are human beings — with all the variety of character and behavior that implies — and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure, and plot of the book, then yes. In that sense, many books are 'feminist.'" While to you and me, portraying women "with all the variety of character" that it means to be a human being is obviously a huge part of what makes a work feminist, Atwood comes from a generation that has defined feminism differently throughout the years. And she has now used her outdated and old-fashioned perceptions of feminism in a more unfortunate way — to disparage the #MeToo movement and question the motives of all the brave women who have come forward to share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault.
On Saturday, January 13, Margaret Atwood published an essay on The Globe and Mail called, "Am I a Bad Feminist?"
In it, she lists all the reasons she’s been called a “Bad Feminist” over the years. Then, she launches into a list of things she believes women are (human beings) and are not (angels, “children, incapable of agency or of making moral decisions” — no one is suggesting this).
After, she discusses her signing of the UBC Accountable letter. The letter, written in 2015, addressed the suspension of University of British Columbia professor Steven Galloway following allegations of sexual misconduct. It defended Galloway from the “unsubstantiated and unexamined” allegations (which were not made public) and claimed that his reputation and health had been severely affected.
Margaret Atwood signed the letter and defended a man accused of sexual misconduct. She called it a witch hunt. In her new essay, she tries to explain away her participation in the letter and her subsequent comments by saying that because “Good Feminists” believed the student making the accusations instead of the male teacher, “they are just feeding into the very old narrative that holds women to be incapable of fairness or of considered judgment.”
That’s not true at all, however. Believing the victim, who had to defy the structures of authority that kept her powerless and risk her reputation, is part of a new, modern narrative, and a simple one at that: Believe women.
The percentage of allegations of sexual assaults that turn out to be false? Between 2 and 10 percent. Get with the times and the statistics, Margaret Atwood.
Later in her essay, Margaret Atwood takes aim at the #MeToo movement. Cue frustrated sigh.
“The #MeToo movement is a symptom of a broken legal system,” Atwood writes. “All too frequently, women and other sexual-abuse complainants couldn’t get a fair hearing through institutions…so they used a new took: the internet… This has been very effective, and has been seen as a massive wake-up call. But what next? … If the legal system is bypassed because it is seen as ineffectual, what will take its place? … In times of extremes, extremists win.”
Yes, the legal system may be broken, but the solution, Ms. Atwood, is not to silence the women who’ve used the Internet to come forward. It is not to call them “extremists.” It is to believe them and to use your powerful voice to fight to help fix the systems that are so broken.
Understandably, many of Margaret Atwood's readers and fans are more than disappointed by her defensive and misguided piece.
This is the author of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The inventor of Gilead.
Unfortunately, Atwood’s attitude isn’t too uncommon among older women…