Notable Victoria College alumna Margaret Atwood has received backlash recently for her contributions to the “#MeToo” discussion. Opinions have been divided as to how to treat these comments.
A couple of weeks ago, The Globe and Mail published an op-ed by Atwood titled “Am I a bad feminist?” Atwood begins by discussing UBC Accountable, a petition she signed in November 2016. The petition proposed that the University of British Columbia should be held accountable for the alleged mistreatment of Steven Galloway, the former chair of the university’s creative writing department, when he was accused of sexually assaulting a student in 2015. UBC made the case public before the accusations reached Galloway and he was made to sign a confidentiality agreement that forbade him from speaking to the media about the case, denying him due process. Galloway was found to be not guilty, but he was fired by the university as a result of the allegations.
Atwood then delves into comparing sexual assault cases to the Salem witch trials, “in which you were guilty because accused.” She claims, “The #MeToo moment is a symptom of a broken legal system”—when women cannot find justice from institutional structures, the Internet provides them with a platform to make their experiences known. For Atwood, this new tool poses as a threat because it puts power in the hands of “extremists,” rather than the “Bad Feminists” that, like her, are “acceptable neither to Right nor to Left.”
Yasmeen Sanyoura, an Architecture and English student at UofT, agrees that the #MeToo movement is a symptom of a broken legal system as “institutions have historically tried to more or less keep complainants and accusers quiet.” Sanyoura continues, “Her comment on ‘understandable and temporary vigilante justice’ morphing into a ‘solidified lynch-mob habit’ is really problematic when paired with the context of the #MeToo movement because, though it was born out of a frustration with the systems in place, I think the movement has created more of a support system than an accusatory mob.”
UofT professor of English Nick Mount jumped in to defend Atwood on Twitter. His tweet stated, “I’m curious: what then does Bad Feminist mean? As I read Gay’s book, it simply means imperfect: ‘feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed.’ Twitter this weekend would suggest that includes Atwood, no?” This was in response to Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, who wrote that Atwood had misinterpreted her term.
Continuing to outrage students and communities, Jordan Peterson also spoke out about #MeToo. In an interview with The National Post’s Christie Blatchford, he stated that “there are rules” surrounding sexual behaviour. He said, “The question is what are the rules? And the answer is ‘no one knows.’ So there’s going to be mistakes everywhere, all the time. Where do you draw the line between a sexual invitation and harassment?” Peterson’s comments disregard the entire concept of consent.
Atwood, however, is merely “seeing the movement through too narrow of a lens” according to Sanyoura. “The movement does more than show the world how the legal systems have failed women. I think it does that, but seeing that through this lens alone basically fails to account for all the women who have been through experiences that they didn’t even know could be considered as sexual assault or harassment, or the women who have kept quiet about their experiences because they think they are alone.”