Open Letter to The Globe and Mail re: UBC Accountable
Much-needed conversations about sexual harassment and assault have made visible the exercising of patriarchal power in every field and industry. In the Canadian academic and literary community, one of the most discussed cases has been UBC’s firing of Steven Galloway due to harassment allegations. Many influential members of the Canadian arts scene signed a letter in protest against UBC’s treatment. Attempting to give both sides equal weight, the mainstream media has published articles by the likes of Conrad Black and Margaret Wente, but the most prominent figure defending Steven Galloway has been Margaret Atwood. With more international visiblity than ever due to Hulu’s successful adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood has been hailed a feminist icon; to the disappointment of many, she has likened women speaking out to a “witchhunt” and reduced the complexities of women speaking out within a patriarchal system to the exercising or not of individual agency. Below is Prof. Julie Rak’s response to Atwood’s article.
For more information on UBC Accountable, please check out Context for the Steven Galloway Case. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ubcaccountable.
I am writing in response to Margaret Atwood’s Opinion piece “Am I a bad feminist?” I am the sponsor and co-author of the Counter Letter petition against the UBC Accountable group. I think that Ms. Atwood was referring to a tweet I sent to her and to Chatelaine recently where I asked Atwood to stop her war on young women writers. She declined to name me, while calling me and others her attackers. In fact, Ms. Atwood appears to be escalating hostilities as she mocks the attempts of young female writers from UBC and Concordia to be heard and casts aspersion on those of us trying to support them. And there is more: her essay contains outright fabrications about Mr. Galloway’s appeal process as it repeats the tired and inaccurate story of UBC Accountable, one more time. One would think that the author of The Handmaid’s Tale would at least listen to the many young women trying to speak and write about what it has been like for them to try to become writers in a toxic climate where sexual harassment is the norm. But no. Ms. Atwood is choosing to use her considerable power and influence to denigrate their testimony, and defend the status quo. On social media, she has resorted to name calling and cheap shots instead of reasonable discussion. In this essay, what could she have done? She could have been like Oprah Winfrey, and used her power and influence to support women who are speaking out in her industry. But that is not what she has chosen to do.
That’s not bad feminism. It’s not feminism at all.
Julie Rak is a Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. She is the sponsor and co-author (with Hannah MacGregor) of the counter letter against UBC Accountable and she runs a website about the issues surrounding the Steven Galloway firing.