An Open Letter to Margaret Atwood
Dear Margaret Atwood,
Maggie. Can I call you Maggie? We need to talk.
I’ve been a fan since I was 17 years old and a former nun assigned me “The Handmaid’s Tale” for my grade 12 English literature project. I was a budding activist, a totally-feminist-but-didn’t-know-it-yet spunky teenager and my teacher saw that in me. It’s pretty radical to me now, considering that I went to a high school in a convent, run by nuns and here was a former nun, nudging a blatant piece of religious criticism my way.
I was hooked.
In 2012, your book inspired me to fight back against anti-choice Bill 132 by forming The Radical Handmaids. The media loved us. Pro-choicers loved us. And we were effective.
The Republic of Gilead gave us the perfect platform to snap back that “The Handmaid’s Tale is a work of fiction; not a handbook!”
Because of you, I dressed ridiculously on Parliament Hil and got shit done!
In 2015, my abusive ex-partner who stalked me for over a decade, died suddenly. Mere weeks later, 3 women were murdered in a 90 minute rampage in Wilno; a small community in Ottawa’s valley.
That week, I channeled my pain into a Nolite te bastardes carborundorum tattoo.
That beautiful piece of Pig Latin reminds me that my commitment to ending violence against women is worthwhile. It reminds me that although I might feel alone, I, like Offred, am part of a legacy of women who resist patriarchal violence. I am not alone.
I went on to read more of your books and loved them all to varying degrees, but The Handmaid’s Tale has always been my manifesto.
You wrote like someone who got it; someone who fundamentally understood that rape culture’s greatest trick is making us believe it doesn’t exist. You tore religion a new asshole, yes. But you also showed us how women’s bodies are rarely our own and that the end result is societal breakdown. You taught us that when all hell breaks loose, the shiny veneer of “gender equality” goes out the window and the patriarchy’s basic instinct of dominating women becomes the norm.
You really seemed to get it, Margaret. You really did.
So, when you lost the plot this week and signed onto an open letter with so-many-Canadian-authors-that-fill-my-bookcase, it was downright shocking. 2016 has put us women through a lot but this felt like the ultimate betrayal.
Not exactly how 17 year old me envisoned our first encounter
You wrote a feminist classic in 1985 (the year I was born!) that is eerily relevant in 2016. And yet, you still bought into the patriarchal notion that “equality” is a reality in Canada and therefore, we can talk bluntly about women’s experiences with sexual violence in a straight forward way without any of that messy “bias” that we accuse feminists of all the time.
“Men are shitty, but women are shitty, too!" And had you not said so, loudly and proudly (in a newspaper led by Canada’s king of “I ain’t sexist. I just state the facts” Jon Kay), then you would be guilty of intellectual failure or worse, being a bad feminist.
Or so the narrative goes.
And look. I’ll take ownership in this, too. I was part of the crowd who propped you up as a Feminist Oracle. I gave you that power; that same power that’s being used to shield Steven Galloway and his other defenders. You are feminists! Sexual assault survivors! Lefties! Intellectuals! Famous! Super smart people.
And when the Super Smart People © say things, we must obviously believe them because we are lowly peons.
But this is the thing.
My request that we give sexual assault survivors the benefit of the doubt is not some misandrist conspiracy against men. It’s not framing all women as victims. It’s not assuming women are fragile babies that are incapable of critique.
Remember, Maggie. Women are the granddaughters of the witches they didn’t burn. We’ve seen some shit. We’re tough.
The reason why we need to give sexual assault survivors the benefit of the doubt is because there is overwhelming statistical evidence that they are telling the truth. Rates of false sexual assault allegations are the same or lower than any other crime in Canada. Less than 10% of sexual assaults are reported to police. 3 in 1000 sexual assaults result in a conviction in Canada.
The system sets up sexual assault survivors to fail. Time and time again.
And for Super Smart People © you’d think you’d know that. Or look up some facts.
But here’s the kicker. I think you all do know that. I think you fundamentally believe that you're on team #BelieveSurvivors. I have no doubt that you consider yourself an ally to sexual assault survivors; hell, even an ally to your fellow womyn.
But you made a choice. You made a choice to not only sign onto a deeply, deeply problematic letter that prioritized a broken system over broken people, you then chose to double down and write an Op/Ed, positioning yourself as some brave feminist gone rogue. You chose to place yourself squarely in the willing arms of the same intellectual community that spent its early days defending Jian Ghomeshi because hey! He was another intellectual, lefty, artist, so he was obviously being framed by an archaic, Puritan institution that just did not understand his creative process!
As a fan of your work, a feminist, an experienced (and award winning, since you Super Smart People © love that kinda thing) advocate for women’s rights, as well as a survivor of intimate partner violence, rape and stalking, I will mourn this moment. I will continue to be saddened that you, and a massive chunk of Canada’s CanLit community, threw sexual assault survivors under the bus. I will continue to feel immense anger for all the sexual assault survivors who read your open letter and your Op/Ed and who felt so betrayed by you. I will continue to rage at your misplaced priorities and outright lie that your position is the better one for sexual assault survivors.
Because Steve Galloway is going to be fine. You know that, right? You and your community ensured, long before this letter was written, Steven Galloway was going to be just fine.
I will feel deep sadness that you, all of people, believe that your position is a radical one.
I will never stop fighting to end the stigma that sexual assault survivors face.
I will never stop challenging the belief that siding with abusers is somehow a “neutral position”.
I will never stop fighting.
I will never let the bastards grind me down.
And I have you to thank for that.
- A Former Fan