Pioneering feminists in arts: Margaret Atwood

Can we consider Atwood as a symbol of hope for womankind? You may not think that a novelist of dystopian fiction, who writes about female, societal subordination is brimming with hope for gender equality. Most of her work provides as much optimism as a soured existential monologue from our favourite purple donkey, Eeyore. Instead, her […]

Sophie Schneider
23rd March 2020
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Can we consider Atwood as a symbol of hope for womankind?

You may not think that a novelist of dystopian fiction, who writes about female, societal subordination is brimming with hope for gender equality. Most of her work provides as much optimism as a soured existential monologue from our favourite purple donkey, Eeyore. Instead, her novels are impregnated with rich narratives of men controlling women, where women's sexual relationships are censored and monitored and their every move deeply criticised. Disturbingly, Attwood famously states that the terrifying events of her novels all have their precedents in some of the darkest chapters in world history: everything she writes is based on scandalous, inhumane fact. This isn't exactly the 'female empowerment' kind of chant you hear at an International Women's Day street march, then, is it?

Atwood's writing doesn't, however, bring us hope as a gender, though perhaps not in such an in-your-face way as a rousing chant at a protest. Firstly, she has consistently developed new ways of thinking about gender. She empowers women through her novels, as she provides them with the tools to successfully diagnose and unpick unjust, societal gender norms. Atwood published The Edible Woman in 1969; this early proto-feminist, second wave work which actively dismantled gender stereotypes paved the way for other feminist fiction to enter the mainstream literary market. 
Atwood's recent novel The Testaments turns its more pessimistic prequel on its head, as this text begins to delve into resistance against subordination. For potentially the first time ever, a dystopian novel actually ended with a (relatively) happy ending. This gives me hope. If the most brilliantly cynical writer of our time reckons that the future for women isn't all doom and gloom, then I think we might just be okay.

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