Margaret Atwood has taken to Twitter to defend herself after writing a controversial op-ed in which she wondered if she was a “bad feminist” for questioning the tactics of the #MeToo movement.
In a piece published Saturday in The Globe and Mail, Atwood called #MeToo “a symptom of a broken legal system”.
The op-ed drew sharp criticism from some observers, who were angered by what they saw as a betrayal of feminist values by an author who has long been interested in examining and questioning power structures that subjugate women.
She wrote in the piece that women are increasingly using online channels to make accusations of sexual misconduct because the legal system is often ineffective.
But she expressed misgivings about the movement going too far, writing of the dangers of “vigilante justice” which she said can turn into “a culturally solidified lynch-mob habit.”
The 78-year-old author of “The Handmaid’s Tale”, who is famously active on Twitter, sent out more than 30 tweets on Sunday morning defending the positions she made in the piece.
She also tweeted links to two other pieces that questioned #MeToo.
One of them, “It’s Time to Resist the Excesses of #MeToo” by Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine, compares an anonymous crowd-sourced list started by a woman working in media to warn other women about potentially dangerous men to the destructive, career-ending paranoia of the McCarthy era.
Some of Atwood’s fans said they were upset by her characterization of #MeToo as a dangerous “witch hunt”, which her piece connects to movements that arose to deal with issues that weren’t being addressed by the legal system and evolved into politically-sanctioned violence, like the early days of the Cosa Nostra mafia and the beheadings during the French Revolution.
Many fans were particularly rankled by her linking to the New York article, but Atwood insisted it was an attempt to understand opposing points of view and not an endorsement.
Bestselling author Roxane Gay, who published a high-profile essay collection called “Bad Feminist” in 2104 about the nuances of feminist ideology, tweeted about Atwood’s piece, writing “Actually, Margaret…. with all due respect, this isn’t what I meant by Bad Feminist.”
Several of Gay’s fans expressed disappointment that Atwood used the term without mentioning Gay, which some characterized as a dismissal of black women’s contributions to feminist discourse.
This is not the first time Atwood’s feminist credentials have been questioned, a fact she draws into the argument of her op-ed.
In the fall of 2016, she was one of many major Canadian authors who signed an open letter to the University of British Columbia in protest of the university’s handling of complaints of sexual misconduct against creative writing chair Stephen Galloway. The letter characterized the school’s investigation as secretive and unfair. Many of Galloway’s alleged victims and their supporters took issue with the letter’s signatories, who they said took Galloway’s side over that of his accusers.
“A fair-minded person would now withhold judgment as to guilt until the report and the evidence are available for us to see,” she writes of the ongoing grievance Galloway’s union has filed against his dismissal from UBC. “My critics … have already made up their minds.”
At the end of her piece, Atwood writes that patriarchy depends on keeping women divided against one another, and that women should resist those divisions.
“If @MargaretAtwood would like to stop warring amongst women, she should stop declaring war against younger, less powerful women and start listening,” one user responded.
Atwood could not immediately be reached for comment.
Maija Kappler, The Canadian Press