Margaret Atwood is facing a feminist backlash after writing about the downside of the #MeToo movement and calling for greater transparency in the case of a former university professor accused of sexual misconduct.
Her critics say she has let down younger women whose views have been ignored for too long.
But the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, which portrays a dystopian, misogynistic future, says she has ended up in the firing line simply for insisting that due process be applied and everyone’s rights be respected.
The result is bitter series of online exchanges in which each side tussles over their version and vision of feminism.
In a provocative article, published in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper, Atwood writes that the #MeToo movement is the product of a broken legal system, using the internet to cause stars to fall from the skies.
I have been listening for approx 60 years. Endorsing basic human rights for everyone is not warring against women. In order to have rights for women you have to have rights, period. Me being a blood-drinking monster does not make that untrue.
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) January 14, 2018
But with that comes a danger.
“If the legal system is bypassed because it is seen as ineffectual, what will take its place? Who will be the new power brokers? It won’t be the Bad Feminists like me,” she writes.
She also returns to the case of Steven Galloway, a former University of British Columbia (UBC) creative writing professor who was fired in 2016.
The results of a months-long investigation were never released and the faculty association later said there was no evidence to support all but one of the allegations.
She accuses her opponents of a rush to judgement. Her point is that failure to respect everyone’s rights, she says, risks introducing a new form of tyranny (of the sort that often follows revolution and the race to ideological purity).
“Are these Good Feminists fair-minded people? If not, they are just feeding into the very old narrative that holds women to be incapable of fairness or of considered judgment, and they are giving the opponents of women yet another reason to deny them positions of decision-making in the world,” she writes.
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Her words provoked outrage among online commentators, who perceived a powerful figure failing to show solidarity with less powerful women.
Erika Thorkelson, a graduate of the UBC creative writing course, wrote on Twitter: “If Margaret Atwood would like to stop warring among women, she should stop declaring war against younger, less powerful women and start listening.”
She also identified a divide with an older general of women who had developed tactics for self-preservation.
I realize that for a lot of older women, self preservation meant blinding oneself to the plight of other women. I realize that the skills that allowed you to make it to a position of power are the very skills that are making it difficult for you to feel empathy now
— Erika Thorkelson (@ethorkel) January 13, 2018
Others seized on a passage in which she had discussed witch hunts, Stalinists and purges to illustrate how an allegation is not the same as conviction, except under totalitarian regimes.
Atwood literally compares women who make accusations of sexual assault to Stalinists. https://t.co/FXVDr8GWDP
— Alexander Offord (@offordwrites) January 13, 2018