margaret atwood

Margaret Atwood surprises fans with her opinion on using the word woman

In prominent Toronto figures who are getting called out for their problematic statements and viewpoints today, CanLit luminary Margaret Atwood is getting a ton of flack for retweeting an opinion piece by controversial columnist Rosie DiManno about the apparent erasure of the term "woman."

Atwood simply shared the piece to Twitter with no further comment in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, her tweet having since garnered more than 2.9K responses and 3.3K quote tweets, many of them from users who seem appalled and confused.

Beyond the headline "Why can't we say 'woman' anymore?," DiManno's piece focuses on "language radicals" who she believes are turning "woman" into a dirty word, instead encouraging the use of terms that refer to people's body parts for special cases — such as when gender non-conforming individuals who don't identify as women are in posession of a uterus and can menstruate and bear children.

The column was inspired by ample hubbub over the most recent release of The Lancet, a well-respected medical journal from the U.K., which put "Bodies with Vaginas" on the cover to allude to a review of a Vagina Museum exhibit inside its pages.

DiManno agreed with those who were angered by the coverline and review, quoting one woman who said in response: "You're telling us that you've noticed that, for hundreds of years, you've neglected and overlooked women, and, then, in the same breath, you are unable to name those people you've been ignoring."

"In one fell swoop, The Lancet— remember, this is a medical publication! — reduced womanhood, biological or metaphysical, to purely anatomical parts, a gross reversal of the century-long campaign to, not only achieve equal rights, but for women to be seen as more than their biological and rampantly objectified, sexualized packaging," DiManno penned.

She referenced other examples that she finds to be an affront, like the move towards the use of the term "pregnant people" or "birthing people" rather than "pregnant women" in medicine, or the push at some hospitals to refer to breast milk as "chest milk."

Though these are steps to better include transgendered individuals in these situations, they do, in DiManno's and other opinions, toe a potentially dangerous line.

The columnist is not known for being a paragon of political correctness, nor for being sheepish with her opinions, but Atwood's explicit support of her viewpoint came as a surprise to many who see the Handmaid's Tale author as a progressive feminist icon.

And while the points in DiManno's piece can surely be considered feminist, they could also be considered trans-exclusionary.

Atwood did not respond to the backlash, but did instead encourage people to actually read DiManno's piece, assuring them that "she's not a TERF" (trans-exlusionary radical feminist).

She also retweeted one single response to her sharing of the piece, which said "We can say women. And we can say people when that's more accurate and inclusive. Women are people."

Given her large following, lengthy career, strong voice and the nature of her body of work, there's no doubt that Atwood has faced her share of  indignation (on social media or otherwise) in the past — and that's perhaps what is to be expected as a public figure who wades into one of today's many divisive, sensitive conversations.

Lead photo by

Mark Hill Photography

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