Is the book a feminist novel?

In the Introduction to the Anchor Books edition of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood conducts a useful and enlightening self-interview. While talking about the origin of the text, aspects of its composition, and some key elements of the story, she weaves in the occasional question. After asking herself if the book is a “feminist” novel, she writes:

If you mean an ideological tract in which all women are angels and/or so victimized they are incapable of moral choice, no.  If you mean a novel in which women are human beings — with all the variety of character and behavior that implies — and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure, and plot of the book, then yes.  In that sense, many books are feminist.

So now I’m asking myself a few questions: Was my last conversation feminist enough? Was my last email exchange feminist enough? Was my last meeting feminist enough?

But why feminist and why enough? Because of what Atwood’s explanation implies. To be feminist could mean to see more of a colleague; to listen to more of what a student is saying and not saying; to help one’s daughter build agency; to make sure a collaborator is an actual co-author, an actual co-creator, an actual and legitimate part of the story; to reject the mind’s insistence on categorizing or typecasting or shaving off the rough edges; to want, instead, all the variety of character. When you’re lucky enough to be in community with others, what happens to them is crucial.

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