Katie Roiphe’s much-anticipated Harper’s magazine take about #MeToo and the Shitty Media Men list is finally here. Titled “The Other Whisper Network,” the nearly-6,000-word piece essentially makes the argument that “the performance of moral purity” and thought policing is bad, all the while railing against women she conveniently writes off as “Twitter feminists.” It is at times incoherent, it is full of some exceptionally deranged analogies, but above all, it is boring.
When it comes to provoking controversies — or at least attempting to — Roiphe is a veteran. In 1993, the self-described feminist published The Morning After: Fear, Sex and Feminism, a book that questioned the legitimacy of campus-rape statistics. Roiphe’s arguments often center on a belief that non-Roiphe feminists are too ready to wallow in their own “victimization,” as she wrote in that book.
In early January 2018, rumors started swirling that Roiphe was writing a piece for Harper’s magazine in which she outed the writer Moira Donegan as the creator of the Shitty Media Men spreadsheet, an anonymous, crowdsourced list that collected a range of rumors and allegations of sexual misconduct in the industry. Anticipating what seemed inevitable, Donegan instead revealed her identity in an essay published on this website:
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?” The next day, a controversy ensued on Twitter after Roiphe’s intention to reveal my identity was made public. People who opposed the decision by Harper’s speculated about what would happen to me as a result of being identified. They feared that I would be threatened, stalked, raped, or killed. The outrage made it seem inevitable that my identity would be exposed even before the Roiphe piece ran. All of this was terrifying. I still don’t know what kind of future awaits me now that I’ve stopped hiding.
Roiphe places Donegan in the category of “Twitter feminists” in her Harper’s article. Implied in her condescension is a belief that anyone who takes issue with Roiphe’s own particular beliefs belongs to a hysterical mob that performs their political virtue online. As she writes in Harper’s:
The idea of this ubiquitous, overwhelming fear is repeatedly conjured and dramatized by Twitter feminists. In one of her pieces, Rebecca Traister complains about a man who was fired many years ago from Harper’s Magazine following an instance of sexual misconduct and now writes for New York. She does not mention that he has worked uneventfully in two offices since then. Moira Donegan (former Twitter handle: @MegaMoira; current handle: @MoiraDonegan), the creator of the Shitty Media Men list, tweeted:
“What about the women at New York who feel uncomfortable working with him? Why is their ability to feel safe at work less important than his second chance? It’s their first chance.”
The man, as Traister herself says, has no women working under him. He does not work in the office. So the looming threat of his mere existence to the safety of the young New York employees seems somewhat overblown. I can’t help thinking it is @MegaMoira here who is endowing him with a power he doesn’t have, and at the same time, not giving those allegedly scared and unsafe young women at the magazine enough credit: Why should they care about a writer puttering at home?
Roiphe’s preferred arguments take on this general tone — that we have overcorrected, that women should let go of their rage, and that if we don’t, women will render themselves powerless. While Roiphe concedes that she and her “Twitter feminist” enemies may share a number of beliefs — notably, that professional harm and abuse should be fought — what differentiates Roiphe from her enemies is the absolute strength of their convictions. While Donegan admits in her essay that maybe she doesn’t have all the answers for the best way forward, Roiphe writes as if she thinks she does. And, as we’ve seen plenty of times, certainty is the real enemy.