When your heroes meet. Image Source.
Emma Watson and Margaret Atwood caught up to chat about feminist literature, politics, television and the patriarchy this week. We can’t even! Can you even? This iconic conversation took place for Entertainment Weekly‘s July issue and mostly centred on Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. It turns out that Watson, just like you, is a massive Margaret Atwood fangirl.
The actress, book enthusiast and UN Ambassador for Women wrote about the enduring relevance of The Handmaid’s Tale in the May/June edition of her book club, Our Shared Shelf, saying:
“It is a book that has never stopped fascinating readers because it articulates so vividly what it feels like for a woman to lose power over her own body.”
Watson asks Atwood about this timeless quality in their conversation, and the author says that the reason it resonates is because it’s based on real events. *Full body shudder.* “There were a couple of rules I had for writing it, and one of them was that I would put nothing into it that had not been done at some time or in some place. All of the details have precedents in real life,” Atwood explains.
Those of you who’ve been watching the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, and following American politics, will be familiar with the fact that the dystopian story often feels disturbingly real. You’ll also be delighted to learn that the series is Atwood’s favourite retelling of her book. Here are just a few other highlights from the pair’s wonderfully woke conversation.
On Trump’s America:
Watson: So having written this book when you did and having realised that this might happen one day, did the election results and the new health bill in the US hit you hard? Was it a very depressing moment for you?
Atwood: I’m not easily depressed by these sorts of things. It’s happened before. If you were born in the ’90s, you were born into a world where quite a few rights for various groups had been established, at least in the West, and you thought that was normal. But if you’re older than that and you were born into a world in which this was not the case, you saw the fights that went into those rights being established, and you also saw how quickly—in the case, for instance, of Hitler—that you could take a democratically minded fairly open society and turn it on its head. So, it has happened before, but it’s also un-happened before, if you see what I mean. History is not a straight line. Also, America is not Germany; America is very diverse; it has a number of different states in it. I don’t think America is rolling over in acquiesce to all of this, as you’ve probably seen from reading the news. You’ve probably seen that women dressed as Handmaids have been turning up in state legislatures and just sitting there. You can’t kick them out because they’re not making a disturbance, but everybody knows what they mean.
On living in the patriarchy:
Watson: Just coming back to a question, based on something you said in your earlier answer: We live in a patriarchy, we live in a particular power structure. Do you think it’s possible for all women to be harmonious with each other? I’m interested in whether it’s harder because of the shape of the power structure and our place within it.
Atwood: Of course; there are hard things. But we’re human beings! It’s possible for men to be harmonious with one another even though they’re often very competitive. But women too are human beings, that’s my foundational belief — so they’re not exempt from the emotions that human beings have. Love, hate, jealousy, competitiveness, cooperation, loyalty, betrayal — the whole package.
And we don’t live in just “a” patriarchy, we live in a number of different kinds of patriarchies. You can pinpoint the moment in which women started to be treated markedly worse than men (advent of wheat and agriculture).
On the evolution of feminism:
Watson: Are you bored of the “Are you a feminist” question? You must have been asked that a lot whilst talking about the new TV show.
Atwood: I’m not bored with it, but we have to realise it’s become one of those general terms that can mean a whole bunch of different things, so I usually say, “Tell me what you mean by that word and then we can talk.” If people can’t tell me what they mean, then they don’t really have an idea in their heads of what they’re talking about. So do we mean equal legal rights? Do we mean women are better than men? Do we mean all men should be pushed off a cliff? What do we mean? Because that word has meant all of those different things.
On the enduring relevance of The Handmaid’s Tale:
Watson: It’s amazing how The Handmaid’s Tale has been read and discussed since its publication. It’s never faded from view. What is it about it, do you think, that makes it so endlessly interesting to new generations of readers, beyond the fact that it speaks to a specific political moment?
Atwood: There were a couple of rules I had for writing it, and one of them was that I would put nothing into it that had not been done at some time or in some place. All of the details have precedents in real life. Some of them are mentioned in the afterword, set at a historical conference that takes place several hundred years after the end of Gilead. The television series is following the same rule — they’ve added in some stuff, such as female genital mutilation, but they’re keeping to the rule that nothing goes in that doesn’t have a precedent in reality. So that’s one reason: People know that I wasn’t just making up horrors to be entertaining.
Read the inspirational interview in full here.
Margaret Atwood is the gift that keeps on giving: