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Margaret Atwood Works to End Workplace Sexual Violence With AfterMeToo

Celebrated novelist and poet Margaret Atwood stands with the brave chorus of survivors who have come forward to share their horrifying stories of sexual abuse and harassment, but she wonders what will happen next.

“It’s a volcano,” Atwood says. “There’s no outlet and no legitimate way of dealing with some stuff. So there was an explosion. But you can’t live within an explosion year after year. Either the explosion will die down and things will go on the same as they did, or you put structural support in place.”

That’s why the Toronto-­based author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” is backing AfterMeToo, a movement working to end workplace sexual violence. Atwood thinks it’s important for women to learn how to properly report inappropriate behavior with evidence and documentation. “It’s necessary to build that in,” she says. “Otherwise, you alienate a lot of people from feminism, because they see it as not being fair.”

AfterMeToo was launched last year by Mia Kirshner, an actress who joined the dozens of women with stories of abuse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein. Following the success of Time’s Up, organizers set a goal of raising $7 million to support this cause. In partnership with the Canadian Women’s Foundation, an organization that aims to achieve gender equality, AfterMeToo has established a fund that will provide resources to sexual violence support services across Canada.

Margaret Atwood Variety Power of Women NY Cover 2018
CREDIT: Brigitte Lacombe for Variety

“We are going to make sure the money gets to the right community organizations,” says Beth Malcolm, the foundation’s director of community initiatives and grants. “In Canada, there are communities where there are no services for people who have experienced sexual violence. They might have to drive hours to get any kind of support. We want to look at where the need is the greatest.”

Although she’s had a long career as a writer, Atwood has seen her profile rise recently as a result of the success of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which returns for a second season on April 25. The series’ showrunner, Bruce Miller, has said that he envisions as many as 10 seasons of the Emmy-winning show. “Ten sounds like an awful lot to me,” Atwood says with a shrug. “We need to sit down and see how it can be 10.”

Atwood isn’t directly involved in the series, but she consults on the plots and reads the scripts for new episodes. What happens? “I’m not allowed to talk about it,” she says.

Donald Trump’s presidency gave “The Handmaid’s Tale” a new resonance, as people saw many parallels in the dystopian society where the rights and freedom of women have been stripped away. “They were in the middle of shooting the first season when the election happened,” Atwood says. “And they woke up the next morning and said, ‘We’re a different show.’ Nothing about the show changed, but the frame changed.”

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