What Did 'Handmaid's Tale' Author Margaret Atwood Say, Exactly?

Margaret Atwood has defended herself after receiving criticism for sharing an apparently controversial article online.

The 81-year-old author of The Handmaid's Tale had to tell her Twitter followers that the author of the article wasn't a "TERF"—a term meaning "Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminist," which was used by Dave Chappelle in his recent Netflix special.

Social media users linked Atwood to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, whom many believe is also "team TERF."

Atwood's initial tweet caused much speculation and she's since doubled down on it, reassuring those who are upset that it's not what they think it is.

What did Margaret Atwood say?

The debate started when Atwood shared an article by Rosie DiManno published in the Toronto Star, titled "Why Can't We Say 'Women' Anymore?"

The column alleges that gender-neutral language is leading to "an erasure of women" and causes well-meaning people to become "tongue-tied, lest they be attacked as transphobic or otherwise insensitive to the increasingly complex constructs of gender."

Atwood's tweet stirred strong reactions online and received thousands of comments replying to the original tweet. The reactions ranged from defending Atwood to attacking her.

The debate continued in the comment section and many Twitter users gave their opinions. Author Katie Mack disagreed with the article and got over 12,000 likes for her response. She argued that "It's not an attack on womanhood to NOT equate gender with specific biology."

No one is banning the word “woman.” Many organizations are — rightly — opting for precise language when talking about things that have to do with biological traits rather than gender identity. It’s not an attack on womanhood to NOT equate gender with specific biology.

— Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) October 19, 2021

User @KabbieArlish shared her opinion, explaining why she believes "saying "women" is often inaccurate or outright exclusionary."

You can say woman or women or ladies or girls whenever and however you want. We're just also recognizing that, when discussing repro rights, biology, and many other things, saying "women" is often inaccurate or outright exclusionary.

— Abbie Karlish (@KabbieArlish) October 19, 2021

Blue-ticked @kejames made the link to the emergence of feminists and men's initial reaction to that movement.

This is *exactly* how many men reacted when feminists used to argue for gender inclusive language like “congressperson” or “he or she”.

— Dr. SCARE-en James 🍂🕷 (@kejames) October 19, 2021

How did Margaret Atwood respond?

Within the hour of Atwood sharing the article, people had started to respond with strong reactions, which prompted Atwood to reply to some.

When one Twitter user, @revafisheye replied with "Ugh, not you too." Atwood, quoted the tweet and said, "Read her piece. She's not a TERF."

Read her piece. She’s not a Terf. https://t.co/KLMmf0FwAq

— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) October 19, 2021

A particularly strong reaction involving abbreviated swear words and all caps from @CoadyQuilts goaded Atwood into replying with "Maybe you should read Rosie's piece?"

Maybe you should read Rosie’s piece? https://t.co/jpkKGMMLdG

— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) October 19, 2021

Since posting the article by DiManno, Atwood has moved on to posting articles on other serious societal issues.

The situation has been likened to that of J.K. Rowling who has been involved in a constant debate surrounding her views on trans-people since December 2019 when she tweeted her support for Maya Forstater.

These include female representation in leadership roles at local levels, the outcry over a woman found guilty of manslaughter after suffering a miscarriage, and the potential rewrite of human history based on bedrock assumptions.