Three months ago I was invited to listen to Margaret Atwood speak in Toronto. I have no idea how I got on the mailing list as I’m not on her social media feeds. But, I figured it might have to do with me and my Handmaid’s costume being in the media. As a town councillor I was questioned by a local gentleman for wearing a Handmaid’s costume to a public event where I volunteered time decorating Smile Cookies. But this is not the story here, nor do I want to get into it again. I know why I silently wore it and that’s the end of that moment in my life. As Margaret said on Thursday night,
“Believe in what you do and keep on going. You don’t have to say anything!”
Margaret appeared older than in recent photographs and used two pillows behind her back on her chair. We have all aged, but it is always scary to see someone you admire get older. Like myself for years Margaret wanted to be older, and now we both are. Personally, I think I’m still 18, and then I take a selfie and realize I am no longer dancing in the fountain of youth.
The celebrated author began the engagement speaking about the universe hating to hear women talk about “the thing” which was easy to assume was reproductive organs. A story was told about her grandmother who never told her daughters about getting their period. The oldest and her younger sisters put the middle sister into an ice cold bath to stop whatever was happening. It reminded me of when I was a young girl and having no one to talk to as my mother had died. I hid my period for 6 months until one day my father somehow found out, and all he said was:
“So how do you like life so far?”
He always said that to me when he didn’t want to get into any certain female discussions.
The Handmaid’s Tale author said that men in power always seem to question or decide for women. She laughed and said that trolls constantly attacking women on social media are usually men still living in their parents’ basement. The best way to fight those complainers is to talk to their mothers just like they used to do in the 50s and 60s. We are all to remember that we are not in a Brave New World –women have opinions and will be outspoken like everyone else. Margaret was also surprised to hear that some Feminists insist there are no mean women. She replied,
“You went to school didn’t you? Were there no mean girls there?”
I certainly remember the mean girl that used to wait for me after school and hit me. I often wonder if she turned into a mean woman.
She feels women have a big part in Climate Change as they make most of the household purchases from cleaning products to window covers to air conditioners. The lowly mushroom is going to be a factor too as hardened mushrooms can build things and that Fungi plays a critical role in helping forests absorb carbon and combat the potential impacts of climate change.
As a writer I have personally been fascinated by this new world of Chat AI BOTS. Cheating at Canadian post-secondary institutions has been trending up since the pandemic began, and experts predict the emergence of easy-to-use artificial intelligence technology will only make the situation worse. She said that as writers no one should be afraid of these BOT generated words. They are not protected by copyright and to quote her correctly she said:
“Garbage in, garbage out!”
If anyone should be worried Atwood said it should be travel agents as the world of Chat BOTS is very good at assembling vacations.
Atwood encouraged writers to expand their vocabulary and she proudly stated that Victorian literature was her favourite subject at Harvard. She was reminded a book ago by her copy editor that they had many descriptive words in Lady Chatterley’s Lover but now writers only seem to use four swear words. Canadian books are shrinking, being a writer is iffy, and to remember there is no steady income. But, Margaret came from a hard working background and generation and she always knew she would be able to support herself. You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer, and I agree with her on that statement completely.
Margaret tries to be fearless, but is not, and looks up to the women that say what everyone’s thinking but others dare say. She was attracted early by the writings of Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe and very fond of Franz Kafka. One of her most admired women is Ottawa’s former mayor Charlotte Whitton. Some of Charlotte’s thoughts and deeds are not to my personal liking, but Whitton is still up on the food chain as one of my most personal admired women. Wearing some of the most outrageous hats and outfits she stood out among politicians for what she believed in.
The funniest thing the author said was that her theory about men leaving socks on the floor is not just a speculation but based in evolutionary science:
“It’s because women were the gatherers; and the men were the hunters”. Women spent 80,000 years picking mushrooms, and men spent it running after animals. We see the mushrooms – which in this case are socks – and they see the moving object. There have been tests that show women are better at seeing static objects”.
I will have to ask my husband this as sometimes he misses a sock or two. But, in Atwood’s world cleaning the bathroom is up for grabs as it’s not about gathering in any form. So where does she stand on cleaning? Who is genetically programmed to clean the bathroom?
“The bathroom’s cleaning’s up for grabs,” she says. It’s not about gathering.”
Thank you Margaret for knocking another thing off my bucket list. See you next week everyone!
Miss Mildred Low 1930 Lanark County Politician — An Independent without Frills
Documenting the First Female Councillor in Carleton Place
Carleton Place Ladies Auxiliary — Chamber of Commerce 1987– Mary Cook Archives
Chamber of Commerce Then and Now in Carleton Place
It’s Hard for Women to get into Office in Carleton Place — 1974 –Mary Cook
Under their eye: Carleton Place group dresses as handmaids to vote, shining light on women’s rights, discrimination
A little off topic – The Handmaids Tale was written many many years before the movie. I have always liked Margaret Atwood as a speaker but never did like much of what she wrote. But when she speaks I really enjoy her.
she is great