Yvonne Reilly holding a photo of author Margaret Atwood
Photo: Yvonne Reilly
Freelance writer and editor Yvonne Reilly explains why author Margaret Atwood is her female role model.
Margaret Atwood is the role model we need, but not necessarily the one we deserve. As an environmental activist, feminist and wordsmith, she is essentially the anti-Trump. In a world where a man who bragged about groping women can become president, Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1985) about the misogynistic regime of Gilead has never rung truer. She imagines an evangelical government categorising everyone by their gender, social standing and sexuality. But it’s not that easy to pin down an artist who defies genre and ideology. She downright refuses to be pigeonholed because her work is as complex as any woman could be. Atwood may be a true-blue feminist, but she also critiques and satirises feminism in her work. She’s not afraid to hold her readers accountable for the ills in modern society, whatever their gender. In “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1985), Serena Joy is the architect of Gilead, a fundamentalist regime that oppresses women. And Aunt Lydia is its enthusiastic henchwoman. In her novel “Cat’s Eye” (1988), the lead character Elaine’s paintings are analysed through a feminist lens. But the reader is in on the joke--we know Elaine’s art doesn’t portray feminist imagery but instead the people of her past who haunt her. Atwood is applauded as a sci-fi writer in a male-dominated genre, but again she refuses to be labelled so neatly. Instead, she calls her work speculative fiction. In a 2003 article she said: “Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen.” Her environmental activism deals with the very future of mankind. Her post-apocalyptic trilogy “Oryx and Crake” (2003), “The Year of the Flood” (2009) and “MaddAddam” (2013) is a chilling prediction of environmental devastation caused by climate change, social inequality and science performed without responsibility. No one should have witnessed the recent devastating global storms and unseasonable hot weather without thinking: is this normal? But governments across the world still ignore these prophesies because they don’t suit their policies. So, authors like Atwood who refuse to shy away from difficult subjects aren’t only important. They are essential. I believe Margaret Atwood should be everyone’s role model. As unnerving as her writing can be, she teaches me that I should never be complacent of the status quo. That I should continue to take advantage of the rights still afforded to me as a woman, and vote for people who believe in equal rights and preserving the environment. And that the written word is still a powerful tool against those who want to curtail these rights, and ignore the relentless march towards environmental catastrophe.
Yvonne Reilly is a freelance writer and editor for hire. Raised in Dublin and Luxembourg, she considers herself a professional eurobrat. Passing the Luxembourgish Sproochentest has freed up time for her favourite hobby: trawling the internet for travel deals.
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