Margaret Atwood has spoken out against claims that she is a “Bad Feminist” for protesting the firing of a creative writing professor at the University of British Columbia who was dismissed from his job over allegations of sexual misconduct that have yet to be made public. In an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail, Atwood wrote that she believed UBC violated due process in its treatment of the professor, Steven Galloway, with whom she is friends.
“Specifically, several years ago, the university went public in national media before there was an inquiry, and even before the accused was allowed to know the details of the accusation,” Atwood wrote. “Before he could find them out, he had to sign a confidentiality agreement. The public — including me — was left with the impression that this man was a violent serial rapist, and everyone was free to attack him publicly, since under the agreement he had signed, he couldn’t say anything to defend himself. A barrage of invective followed.”
After a months-long inquiry by a judge, Galloway was found innocent of all but one of the allegations, including the most serious allegation against him, according to a statement made by the university’s faculty association. Galloway was fired anyway, and the official findings of the investigation have never been released. According to Atwood, who signed a public letter asking for transparency about the accusations against Galloway and his subsequent firing, the university violated Galloway’s right to due process. She even went so far as to compare the case to the Salem witchcraft trials, “in which a person was guilty because accused, since the rules of evidence were such that you could not be found innocent.”
Atwood, who thanks to her novel The Handmaid’s Tale (and the TV series based on it) has become a feminist hero, took her position a step further and applied it to the #MeToo movement. Atwood claimed the phenomenon is a form of “vigilante justice” that emerged as “a symptom of a broken legal system.” Women took to the internet with their stories of harassment and rape, she said, since they knew that they would never “get a fair hearing through institutions.” But Atwood also warned against the possibility of permanent “extralegal power structures,” arguing that in order for their to be “civil and human rights for women, there have have to be civil and human rights, period, including the right to fundamental justice.”
In wake of Atwood’s claims, some have accused her of refusing to listen to the younger generation, and of siding with “her powerful male friend” against the interests of her fellow women. Others, meanwhile, have praised Atwood, thanking her for having the courage “to point out that ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is the key to a civilized society.”