'Handmaid's Tale' Novelist Margaret Atwood Sparks Twitter Firestorm with 'Transphobic' Share

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday October 20, 2021

Canadian author Margaret Atwood, whose 1985 novel "The Handmaid's Tale" is the basis for the dystopian Hulu drama, sparked a Twitter uproar when she shared an op-ed piece fretting about gender-neutral language.

The op-ed in question was titled "Why can't we say 'woman' anymore?" and was written by Rosie DiManno, a columnist for the Toronto Star, UK newspaper the Independent reported.

DiManno "argued that the word 'woman' was becoming unacceptable," the Independent detailed.

"'Woman' is in danger of becoming a dirty word," DiManno declared, "struck from the lexicon of officialdom, eradicated from medical vocabulary and expunged from conversation." The columnist speculated that people using the word might "be attacked as transphobic or otherwise insensitive to the increasingly complex constructs of gender."

Atwood shared the article in an Oct. 19 tweet.

But, UK newspaper the Daily Mail reported, she got an earful after doing so.

"Ugh, not you too," one person commented in a reshare of the tweet.

Others offered more in way of a response.

"We can say women," one person responded. "And we can say people when that's more accurate and inclusive. Women are people."

Several others responded in a similar vein.

Some took the occasion to reference Atwood's own work.

Others turned to ironic humor to illustrate their points of view.

Some expressed frustration.

"Jesus wtf," one Twitter user posted. "You can say WOMAN. But ALSO it's OK TO SAY PERSON." They went on to add: "YOU'LL BE FINE JESUS CHRIST MAGGIE"

Atwood reshared that response with advice of her own.

To another, Atwood replied: "Read her piece. She's not a Terf," a neologism that stands for "Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist."

The term TERF has been leveled at "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling, who sparked an ongoing Twitter war in the summer of 2020 when she criticized an opinion piece published by the website Devex, a media platform for the global development community, that used the phrase "people who menstruate."

"I'm sure there used to be a word for those people," the famous British author tweeted. "Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?"

Comedian Dave Chappelle used the word in a recent controversial Netflix special, calling himself "team TERF" and saying that he stands with Rowling. Advocates called out Chappelle and Netflix for material deemed to be transphobic in the show, and Netflix employees planned an Oct. 20 walkout in protest.

Rowling was inevitably name-checked in the response to Atwood's share.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.