Fearing she would soon be outed, the list creator outed herself. (More)
“The spreadsheet made a presumption that is still seen as radical: That it is men, not women, who are responsible for men’s sexual misconduct”
The buzz was that Katie Roiphe – who built her career in the 90s by dismissing the idea of date rape – was writing an article for Harper’s that would expose the creator of the ‘Shitty Media Men’ list, a short-lived Google spreadsheet that invited women in media to share their stories of colleagues’ sexual misconduct. The rumors sparked a social media firestorm, with women arguing that outing the creator would put her at risk of harassment and worse, and at least two writers offered to pull upcoming stories from Harpers if the magazine outed the list’s creator. Other women began a Spartacus-like uprising, each claiming to be the creator of the list, so that no individual could be targeted for reprisal.
An email exchange obtained by The New York Times shows that, during the editing process, a Harper’s fact checker contacted a person said to be a creator of the list and said the article identified her as someone widely believed to be one of the people behind it.
A Harper’s spokesperson said that didn’t necessarily mean they were intending to publish the name.
In October, I created a Google spreadsheet called “Shitty Media Men” that collected a range of rumors and allegations of sexual misconduct, much of it violent, by men in magazines and publishing. The anonymous, crowdsourced document was a first attempt at solving what has seemed like an intractable problem: how women can protect ourselves from sexual harassment and assault.
She says her idea was to broaden the “whisper network” of women who, in private conversations, warn each other about predatory men. Donegan knew that such networks were, in her words, “unreliable. They can be elitist, or just insular. As Jenna Wortham pointed out in The New York Times Magazine, they are also prone to exclude women of color.” She wanted to create a document by and for women, that women could add to anonymously, without fear of judgment or reprisal:
In the beginning, I only wanted to create a place for women to share their stories of harassment and assault without being needlessly discredited or judged. The hope was to create an alternate avenue to report this kind of behavior and warn others without fear of retaliation. Too often, for someone looking to report an incident or to make habitual behavior stop, all the available options are bad ones. The police are notoriously inept at handling sexual-assault cases. Human-resources departments, in offices that have them, are tasked not with protecting employees but with shielding the company from liability — meaning that in the frequent occasion that the offender is a member of management and the victim is not, HR’s priorities lie with the accused. When a reporting channel has enforcement power, like an HR department or the police, it also has an obligation to presume innocence. In contrast, the value of the spreadsheet was that it had no enforcement mechanisms: Without legal authority or professional power, it offered an impartial, rather than adversarial, tool to those who used it. It was intended specifically not to inflict consequences, not to be a weapon — and yet, once it became public, many people immediately saw it as exactly that.
It was, she knew, based on a “radical” idea:
The spreadsheet was intended to circumvent all of this. Anonymous, it would protect its users from retaliation: No one could be fired, harassed, or publicly smeared for telling her story when that story was not attached to her name. Open-sourced, it would theoretically be accessible to women who didn’t have the professional or social cache required for admittance into whisper networks. The spreadsheet did not ask how women responded to men’s inappropriate behavior; it did not ask what you were wearing or whether you’d had anything to drink. Instead, the spreadsheet made a presumption that is still seen as radical: That it is men, not women, who are responsible for men’s sexual misconduct.
Yes, Donegan was naïve, and she admits as much:
I was incredibly naïve when I made the spreadsheet. I was naïve because I did not understand the forces that would make the document go viral. I was naïve because I thought that the document would not be made public, and when it became clear that it would be, I was naïve because I thought that the focus would be on the behavior described in the document, rather than on the document itself. It is hard to believe, in retrospect, that I really thought this. But I did.
And needless to say, there was a backlash:
In the weeks after the spreadsheet was exposed, my life changed dramatically. I lost friends: some who thought I had been overzealous, others who thought I had not been zealous enough. I lost my job, too. The fear of being exposed, and of the harassment that will inevitably follow, has dominated my life since. I’ve learned that protecting women is a position that comes with few protections itself.
This escalated when I learned Katie Roiphe would be publishing my name in a forthcoming piece in Harper’s magazine. In early December, Roiphe had emailed me to ask if I wanted to comment for a Harper’s story she was writing on the “feminist moment.” She did not say that she knew I had created the spreadsheet. I declined and heard nothing more from Roiphe or Harper’s until I received an email from a fact checker with questions about Roiphe’s piece. “Katie identifies you as a woman widely believed to be one of the creators of the Shitty Men in Media List,” the fact checker wrote. “Were you involved in creating the list? If not, how would you respond to this allegation?”
So yeah, Roiphe knew who she was, and Harper’s had a fact-checker call to tell her “Katie identifies you” and ask her to “respond to this allegation.” But they weren’t going to publish her name, they now insist. Again, bullshit.
In a sane world, men would fear being accused of sexual misconduct … enough that very few men would even attempt it.
In the real world, many men – and some women, like Roiphe – work very hard to make women fear accusing men … enough that, until recently, relatively few women even attempted it.
That helps create a world were many men don’t believe their misconduct is misconduct, as sociologist Tristan Bridges explained in an interview for Mel Magazine:
But far more often, men have a sexual interaction and are completely unaware that they were in the wrong. They don’t imagine themselves as wolves in sheeps’ clothing because they’ve bought into toxic ideas about what sex is and how men and women relate to one another. When I teach my students about this, I put up this survey from the 1990s that asked American men and women if they’ve ever been coerced to have sex against their will:
Just 1 to 2 percent of men said they’d been coerced, and 1 to 3 percent of women said they’d coerced men, so the numbers match up. When you flip it, however, more than 20 percent of women said they’d been coerced but less that 3 percent of men admitted that they’d ever participated in coercing.
I ask my students to make sense of that: How is it possible? Usually someone will say, “It’s a really small number of men who are doing all of the assaulting.” There’s probably some truth to that about super-predators. But the scarier way of making sense of the data is that two people left a sexual interaction and one understood it as sexual assault and one did not. So these men don’t actually know they assaulted someone because they don’t have an understanding of what sexual assault actually is.[Emphasis added]
Donegan believes her list may have helped to start changing that:
A lot of us are angry in this moment, not just at what happened to us but at the realization of the depth and frequency of these behaviors and the ways that so many of us have been drafted, wittingly and unwittingly, into complicity. But we’re being challenged to imagine how we would prefer things to be. This feat of imagination is about not a prescriptive dictation of acceptable sexual behaviors but the desire for a kinder, more respectful, and more equitable world. There is something that’s changed: Suddenly, men have to think about women, our inner lives and experiences of their own behavior, quite a bit. That may be one step in the right direction.
Last year, I wrote that women just recounting their experiences of sexism did not seem like enough. I wanted action, legislation, measurable markers of change. Now I think that the task at hand might be more rudimentary than I assumed: The experience of making the spreadsheet has shown me that it is still explosive, radical, and productively dangerous for women to say what we mean. But this doesn’t mean that I’ve lowered my hopes. Like a lot of feminists, I think about how women can build power, help one another, and work toward justice. But it is less common for us to examine the ways we might wield the power we already have. Among the most potent of these powers is the knowledge of our own experiences. The women who used the spreadsheet, and who spread it to others, used this power in a special way, and I’m thankful to all of them.
I’m thankful to Donegan and the scores of women who have rallied around her. Maybe, just maybe, this time, the backlash won’t force women to sit down, shut up, and keep taking it. Maybe, just maybe, this time, Time’s Up.
Image Credit: Moira Donegan (Twitter); Sketch Effect: Crissie Brown (BPICampus.com)
Good day and good nuts