Q&A: Writer Margaret Atwood

Roxanna Beebe-Center interviews Margaret Atwood aboard the Ocean Endeavour.

Woodville resident Roxanna Beebe-Center conducted a Q and A with writer Margaret Atwood during an Adventure Canada cruise on the Ocean Endeavour off the coast of Greenland. The trip left from Quebec, sailed in the Canadian Arctic and crossed the Davis Strait before heading up the West Coast of Greenland.

Question: Do you consider yourself an eco-feminist?

Atwood: I consider myself a writer and naturally my writing reflects a lot of my other interests. And since I grew up with early ecologists I know quite a lot about that and some of it gets into my writing. But some people write because they have a single message that they wish to convey and they are activists. I am a writer; there is some difference. 

Question: Why did you come on this trip?

Atwood: I have been traveling with Adventure Canada since probably, we have to go back and actually look, about twenty years. So we have frequently traveled with them and we had a chance to travel with them again this summer and bring our young relatives and we brought other young relatives up as well because I think it is very good for them to see a different part of the world and realize that other people live in extremely different ways and have resources available to them that are very different from what other people have and other resources that are not available to them.

So you will notice that there are not any trees up here, for instance, so you would never be able to build a log cabin up here unless you imported the logs. 

Listen to the interview


Question: Do you think women are the future of conservation?

Atwood: I think people are the future of conservation and women are people. Radical of me, but that’s what I think. Women are people. And women often have a particular interest and they also have a particular influence because they buy a lot of stuff. So a lot of things that are bought for the home, for instance, what kind of laundry soap you’re going to use, what kind of shampoo, what kind of food, it’s usually women buying that. So if there’s going to be an influence in that area, it’s probably going to come from women.

Clothing, where do your clothes come from? Clothes — where are your clothes made and what are they made of and where did they come from? That’s women buying them.

Question: Why is protecting the environment important?

Atwood: Because if we don’t, we’re gonna die. Short form. The oceans make 60 to 80 percent of the oxygen that we breathe and if the oceans die, there goes our oxygen. That’s a very simple answer but that’s it in a nutshell. No oxygen, no us. Plants will do OK but we’re not plants.

Question: Are you especially interested in the Arctic and Polar regions and if so, why?

Atwood: I am especially interested in the Arctic and Polar regions because you either really like the Arctic or you think people are really mad who go out to it. And I am one of those people who really like it.   I really like the people, I really like the landscape, it is very basic, it really lets you know what the planet is like underneath. And it also shows you, if you study the geology, how much things have changed and how much they could change again and how much they’re changing right now. You come up here, you can see the glaciers melting. So the glaciers that we have visited over time we have seen the difference between the first time we saw them and now and it’s rapid. You can see where it’s been, the part that, the parts around that glacier that we just saw, that didn’t have any green on them, that has very recently been ice, been covered with ice. It takes awhile for that green to grow.

Question: I know you said you are not a feminist.

Atwood: No, I have never said that. No. What I have said is if we want to talk about feminism, people have to say what they mean by it because it’s a very general term. So do we mean we think women are superior to men, do we mean that women should have equal legal rights and equal rights as citizens, do we mean that you can’t dress up in dresses? What are we talking about? So once people can tell me what they mean then I am willing to discuss whether I am one of those kinds of people. But if we’re just using the term, it’s like saying: “are you Christian?” Are we talking about the Pope, are we talking about the Quakers, who are we talking about?

Question: Yeah, I mean do you think that women should have equal opportunities?

Atwood: Yes. I do think that and I also know because studies have been done that one of the quickest ways to improve a developing country’s economic situation is to educate women and girls. So it has economic benefits as well, educated women and girls.

So, absolutely equal opportunities but that is not the same as saying that all women are better than all men because we know that’s not true, we went to school. We know the mean girls, so that’s pretty clear. And people who are against that actually are against the economic development of their own country.

Question: So do you think that feminism — equal opportunity — or climate change deserves more attention right now?

Atwood: They both deserve more attention because they are joined, they are connected. So remember what I said about economic development? So, the kinds of programs that actually work in conservation and ecologically related programs, the kinds that actually work are the kinds that give people economic benefits, including women, okay?

Or let me put it another way around: the worse economic conditions are, the worse it is for women because they are usually the first to lose their jobs and be told to go home. So, the better economic conditions are as a rule, the better things are for women. So what we need to do is develop technologies and programs that are ecologically beneficial and also economically beneficial.

Question: The last question is, I know you also write a lot of poetry. Do you think poetry is as influential as the novels you write?

Atwood: No. (laughs,) no, no, no, not as many people read it in North America. If I were Russian, I would probably have a different thing to say because poetry is very important in Russia. But in North America, novels are more important and as we have just seen, TV shows are even more important. So the most influential things are probably TV shows.

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