As unifying as the term “feminist” may seem for women, there are few issues on which all feminists agree. There are women who see one form of activism as better than others; there are other women who all-out condemn some forms of activism; there are others still who say it’s counter productive to raise one type of feminist above another. Then there are another 12 positions on the same thing. We can all agree that all people should have equal rights and opportunities regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or any other distinction, but that’s about it.
One feminist who has never been shy when it comes to speaking (and writing) her truth is Canadian author Margaret Atwood (of The Handmaid’s Tale fame). On Saturday, Atwood had an op-ed published in The Globe and Mail calling out some aspects of the Me Too movement that she sees as problematic. Her piece is entitled “Am I a Bad Feminist?” and explores just that. Is Margaret Atwood a “Bad Feminist” for criticizing a feminist movement, or is there room for both supporting women and questioning some of their methods?
— The Globe and Mail (@globeandmail) January 13, 2018
Atwood asserts that if feminism believes women to be equal to men, that means they need to be treated and viewed as humans rather than saints (who are morally superior on principle) or children (who are incapable of agency or making tough moral decisions). With this in mind, Atwood says we need to examine Me Too’s “guilty because accused” method of “vigilante justice.” She points out that women are capable of making false claims of sexual assault and it actually undercuts the movement to assume every man guilty without the “usual rules of evidence.” It adds fuel to the anti-feminist argument that women are poor decision-makers.
Atwood elaborates on that claim by returning to a statement she and others have made recently — that the Me Too movement is similar to the Salem Witch Trials. She also clarifies her argument on this point.
“There are, at present, three kinds of ‘witch’ language,” she writes, “1) Calling someone a witch, as applied lavishly to Hillary Clinton during the recent election. 2) ‘Witchhunt,’ used to imply that someone is looking for something that doesn’t exist. 3) The structure of the Salem witchcraft trials, in which you were guilty because accused. I was talking about the third use.” She’s talking about due process. Me Too dispels with “innocent until proven guilty” in favour of eradicating from society any man who has been accused of sexual misconduct.
She adds that this type of justice — wherein society condemns, destroys and alienates men who have been accused immediately — is a “symptom of a broken legal system.” She argues that all feminists (good or bad) should direct their anger at this system, rather than at each other or men who may or may not be guilty, and consider how to either change it or tear it down.
All her arguments culminate in her interpretation of an incident at the University of British Columbia where a professor was accused of some form of undisclosed misconduct. He was ousted from the school before a full investigation was made into the allegations. Atwood was one of many authors who signed an open letter to the university criticizing its handling of the situation and for denying the professor due process.
As you might expect, speaking against the Me Too movement has elicited some hateful backlash. In the days after the op-ed came out, people ruthlessly criticized Atwood’s arguments online. Unfortunately, a lot of the backlash was based on misconstrued conceptions of her wording and stance. Other readers agreed with her view.
Atwood calls for the “unproductive squabbling to stop” so we can redirect our focus at UBC. Well, some of us have been doing that for years, and we haven’t had the literary powers that be helping that cause, so, miss me with that actual tripe.
— Dr. Lucia Lorenzi (@empathywarrior) January 13, 2018
Look, I’m not taking her bait.
The only thing I’ll say about this is if you’re comparing feminist criticism, grounded in literal centuries of women critiquing the legal system, to the times misogynists called you a man hater, you’ve lost the fucking script.
— Julie S. Lalonde (@JulieSLalonde) January 13, 2018
Wish Margaret Atwood would get back to writing dystopian fiction about a misogynist world instead of, y’know, ACTIVELY CREATING IT.
— Evan Munday (@idontlikemunday) January 13, 2018
Thank you @MargaretAtwood for this. Process is important. UBC handled this badly. Some misguided souls are calling for people to remove their names from the letter. It is possible to ask for process and to denounce sexual mis-conduct/assault. https://t.co/9oYo52BnLu
— Ceta Ramkhalawansingh (@CetaR) January 13, 2018
Not one bit of my being believes @MargaretAtwood is a bad #feminist – excellent piece in @globeandmail Atwood writes, “in order to have civil and human rights for women there have to be civil and human rights, period.” #speaktruth https://t.co/aIuFnDIv35
— Jenn Verma (@JenniferYVerma) January 13, 2018
Atwood took to Twitter in the days after to dispel some of the misconceptions and address some reader concerns specifically. Clearly, she stands by everything she wrote in the piece.
1) As for the @UBC matter that kicked this off: If you think UBCs PROCESS — how they went about things — was great + should stand as an example to other universities, fine. If you think they messed up, tell @ubcprez they should have an independent inquiry into how and why.
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) January 14, 2018
2) Like the one @SirWilfredLaurier did. Let the public know. Bad process does not serve complainants, as it taints the proceedings. @ubcprez If you think there should not be such an inquiry, why not? @UBC needs to clear this up.
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) January 14, 2018
In today’s dystopian news: Women attack and bully another woman into retreating from online conversation. Not just any woman, but one of the most important voices of our time. Are you all sure you are the champions of women’s rights and freedoms that you see yourselves to be?
— Karen Chrest (@KarenChrest) January 14, 2018
Thank you, but as I say, #MeToo is a symptom of something that’s wrong. Fix system. Circumvent system. Tear down system and substitute (eventually) another. Those are the choices. https://t.co/HW3YPTBwry
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) January 16, 2018