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20 Oct, 2021 13:17

Trans backlash on Atwood shows that while women have been freed from the control of men, they’re now controlled by men in dresses

Trans backlash on Atwood shows that while women have been freed from the control of men, they’re now controlled by men in dresses

Why should award-winning author Margaret Atwood have to endure an online onslaught from trans activists who refuse to acknowledge basic biology, simply for retweeting an article that questions the erasure of the word ‘woman’?

Being woke is hard work. One day you’re playing ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ dress-up to protest cuts to abortion services; the next you’re taking to Twitter to condemn that same novel’s author. One day you’re marching for women’s rights in a full-length red cloak and white hood; the next it’s Margaret Atwood you’re protesting, and you have no idea what to wear.

Despite her world-famous dystopian novel having become synonymous with women’s protests against Donald Trump, Margaret Atwood is no stranger to political vitriol. Back in 2018, she was slammed by the #MeToo movement for the crime of defending due process. Her view that even men accused of sexual misconduct deserve to be assumed innocent until proven guilty was deemed blasphemous by the mob, and Atwood was cast out of good feminist circles.

Also on rt.com ‘Anti-trans dog whistle’: ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ author latest to be labeled transphobic over tweet on loss of the word ‘woman’

This time around, it’s not the feminists but the trans community that Atwood has upset – and without actually having said anything at all. Atwood’s latest crime is simply to have retweeted a Toronto Star op-ed that criticised the media, legal, and medical professions for using gender neutral language instead of the word ‘woman’. In the piece, headlined “Why can’t we say ‘woman’ anymore?”, columnist Rosie DiManno argues that gender-neutral language erases women and leaves “well-meaning people tongue-tied, lest they be attacked as transphobic or otherwise insensitive to the increasingly complex constructs of gender.

DiManno is absolutely right. Even in this era of sexual equality, there are some things that pertain only to women, and most of them are underpinned by biology. If you have periods, a cervix, or a vagina then you are a woman. And if you have given birth you are a mother. Of course, whether through personal choice or a medical condition, many women do not menstruate or get pregnant. But everyone who does, or could do, is female.

As we all now know, biology is considered offensive to trans people and – apparently out of respect – we must all avoid stating basic biological facts. Best-selling author JK Rowling discovered this to her cost when, in June 2020, she poked fun at the headline of an online article discussing “people who menstruate.” “I'm sure there used to be a word for those people,” Rowling tweeted. “Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” The online backlash was fast and furious.

Now it’s Atwood’s turn. For retweeting the  “Why can't we say ‘woman’ anymore?” piece, social media’s standing army of woke critics took it upon themselves to school the 81-year old author on why words are important and language must be inclusive. “No one is stopping you from saying the word woman,” was one popular retort. And it’s true. In the privacy of our bedrooms, with our heads under the duvet, we are free to whisper “woman” all we like. It’s only saying “woman” in public and in relation to our own bodies that leads to banishment from polite society.

But the lessons kept on coming. “We’re just also recognizing that, when discussing repro rights, biology, and many other things, saying ‘women’ is often inaccurate or outright exclusionary,” author Abbie Karlish instructed Atwood. “This is *exactly* how many men reacted when feminists used to argue for gender inclusive language like ‘congressperson’ or ‘he or she’,” scolded an ecologist.

The lack of humility is astounding. Atwood has won just about every literary award going, has twice been the recipient of the Booker Prize – with five other books shortlisted – and has sold over eight million copies of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ alone. Yet some clearly see Atwood and think: “What she really needs is lessons in language from me.”

Incredibly, this woke schooling didn’t stop with language. Atwood’s critics also decided to teach her about the content of her own best-selling novel. For those unfamiliar, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ portrays a dystopian world where, following an unknown incident, most women are infertile. The new society is segregated along rigid gender lines and men have total control over women. The few women who are fertile must serve as handmaids and are made forcibly pregnant by male commanders. 

Critics thought it ironic that the creator of Gilead should argue for ‘woman’ to be defined by biology. “Big fan of your fiction on the dangers of enforcing extremely rigid bio-essentialist ideas about gender btw,” tweeted one wag. Those wanting to get rid of the word ‘woman’ in the name of inclusion are clearly very confused. They seem to think that liberation comes from separating gender identity from the inconvenience of biology. To return to the fictional Gilead, perhaps they assume that if main character Offred had simply identified as a man she could have been spared the commander’s penis.

Also on rt.com Margaret Atwood and Stephen King sign open letter supporting trans rights amid J K Rowling transphobia row

But of course, as any ardent reader knows, it wasn’t Offred’s gender identity that was the cause of her oppression, but her biology – the fact that she could get pregnant. Feminists have never sought to be liberated out of womanhood – rather, they have sought to expand what it means to be a woman. Women demanded sexual equality so they could choose to have a career, or to be a mother, or to do both or neither.

In the past, it was men who sought to limit women’s freedom – now it is trans-activists who seek to control what women can say and what they can call themselves. Women have been freed from the control of men, only to find they are being controlled by men in dresses. And this is supposed to be progress?

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.