How Katie Roiphe Became Feminism’s Nemesis-In-Chief

Katie Roiphe

This post was originally published on The Daily Beast.

We still don’t know what Katie Roiphe is writing about in the March issue of Harper’s Magazine.

Before this week, when she was targeted by a furious tweetstorm amid whispers that she was going to “out” the original creator of the “Shitty Media Men” list, many young women didn’t even know who Roiphe was.

But their feminist forebears clued them in: On Twitter Roiphe was accused of being a “pro-rape” traitor to her sex who “built a career on trying to undermine young women’s efforts to protect one another;” an “Uncle Tom” of gender who didn’t have “a good faith bone” in her body; a “monster” who was “shit-stirring and endangering women.”

This latest outpouring of hatred was not over something she had already done, but over something people thought she was going to do in a pending feature in Harper’s.

The storm began on Tuesday, when n+1 editor Dayna Tortorici tweeted that a “legacy print magazine” was going to reveal the woman who started the “Shitty Media Men” list. Soon, Roiphe was identified as the author of said piece. Cue the backlash: One prominent woman in media raged about “the way Katie Roiphe is behaving—doxxing these women, previously blaming the victims of college rape betrays her disgust for her sex, it’s perverse.”

As a result of all this, we now know that the creator of the list—a shared Google document of reputedly predatory male writers and editors, some of whom have been fired since their names appeared on the unvetted list—was journalist Moira Donegan, who wrote a piece for The Cut Wednesday night identifying herself.

Earlier that day, Roiphe had denied intending to out the “Shitty Media Men” list’s creator to The New York Times, accusing her critics of “Twitter hysteria.” (Needless to say, the gendered pejorative made feminists on Twitter more pissed off.)

“Clearly she had every intention of outing Donegan and was lying all along! the chorus went. Clearly she’d lied to the Times, too, in claiming she didn’t know the list’s creator!”

The Times’ Jaclyn Peiser wrote that Roiphe “said that she herself did not know the identity of the person who started the list.” But Peiser also reported that a Harper’s fact-checker had emailed a woman “widely believed” to be the creator of the list, which appeared to refute Roiphe’s claim that she didn’t know the woman’s identity.

When Donegan wrote in her piece that both Roiphe and a fact-checker had emailed her about the Harper’s story, Roiphe’s critics branded her a liar. Clearly she had every intention of outing Donegan and was lying all along! the chorus went. Clearly she’d lied to the Times, too, in claiming she didn’t know the list’s creator!

The next morning, Roiphe’s explanation shifted a bit. On Twitter, she admitted to emailing Donegan because she suspected Donegan was behind the list and was “testing that premise.” Technically, then, Roiphe hadn’t lied to the Times in saying she didn’t know the list’s creator because she wasn’t absolutely certain it was Donegan.

This explanation seemed slightly too convenient. It’s still not entirely clear whether Roiphe was planning to name Donegan in her story or not. In another tweet, Roiphe said the list accounted for a very small part of a larger story.

The Roiphe vs. Donegan brouhaha is a microcosm of the larger conflicts within the feminist movement, both theoretical and practical.

 

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Given Roiphe’s track record in writing about sexual harassment and assault, it makes sense that women freaked out over her impending story on the #MeToo movement.

Women have risked retribution in telling their stories publicly and, in many cases, seeing their abusers punished. They’ve fought to have their voices heard, and people are finally listening.

That the #MeToo backlash has mostly come from women has understandably infuriated many feminists: Just when they are galvanized by the revolutionary ways that women are supporting each other right now, a few female journalists and actresses come along to knock their progress and accuse them of promoting a sex panic.

Yet what’s troubling is their intolerance of these opinions. Women’s voices must be heard—but not Roiphe’s, nor Daphne Merkin’s, who in The New York Times last week called out that intolerance; as she put it, “the reflexive and unnuanced sense of outrage that has accompanied this cause from its inception, turning a bona fide moment of moral accountability into a series of ad hoc and sometimes unproven accusations.”

After women in Hollywood all wore black in solidarity at the Golden Globes last Sunday, 100 prominent women in the French media and film industries, led by Catherine Deneuve, signed an anti-#MeToo letter which called the movement a “witch-hunt.” A day later, when the Roiphe rumors blew up Twitter, other women banded together and did everything they could to sabotage her Harper’s story.

Few paused to consider or acknowledge that the list itself was problematic: a document to which anyone could anonymously add the name of a media man who they claimed, or thought, had engaged in sexual misconduct (all of which Donegan acknowledged in her story for The Cut). Nor did they consider that prosecuting and publicly shaming Katie Roiphe, without knowing the truth of what she had written or planned to write, mirrored the list itself in its evidence-free apportioning of guilt and blame.

Roiphe is best known for her 1994 screed against campus rape activism, The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism, in which Roiphe—then a 25-year-old grad student at Princeton—argued that the rhetoric around “date rape” on campus had turned her peers into victims and shrinking violets.

This followed a 1993 New York Times article, “Date Rape’s Other Victim,” in which Roiphe argued—with anecdotal evidence from a few dishonest individuals—that “rape” on campus is often just bad sex and that women love sex as much as men do.

“Show me a smart, competent young professional woman who is utterly derailed by a verbal unwanted sexual advance or an inappropriate comment about her appearance, and I will show you a rare spotted owl.”

Roiphe went on to write cultural criticism and a book on famous writers’ dying hours, but returned to the subject of so-called victim feminism often enough that this is what people remember her for.

“Show me a smart, competent young professional woman who is utterly derailed by a verbal unwanted sexual advance or an inappropriate comment about her appearance,” Roiphe wrote in a 2011 New York Times story, “and I will show you a rare spotted owl.”

Needless to say, that sentiment has not aged well. It makes Roiphe the perfect enemy of the digital-age feminist and our current national reckoning with sexual abuse and harassment. For Nicole Cliffe, founder and editor of the erstwhile humor blog The Toast, Roiphe’s rumored outing of the list-maker meant an opportunity for flashy, viral, high-ticket internet activism.

“If you have a piece in the hopper over at @Harpers, ask your editor if the Roiphe piece is happening,” Cliffe tweeted on Tuesday. “If it is, I will pay you cash for what you’d lose by yanking it.”

The New York Times reported in the lede of a story on the scandal that “five were said to have pulled” their stories, apparently taking up Cliffe’s offer. Cliffe had committed to pay $19,000, the Times reported.

At least one writer, Emily Maloney, confirmed in an email to The Daily Beast that she had indeed yanked a story from Harper’s (the magazine’s vice president of PR, Giulia Melucci, said Maloney’s piece “had not yet been filed”).

“I am looking forward to talking about what is actually in the piece when it actually comes out.”

Roiphe’s statement to the media also contradicted the version of events that had spread for the first half of the week: “I am looking forward to talking about what is actually in the piece when it actually comes out. I am not ‘outing’ anyone. I have to say it’s a little disturbing that anyone besides Trump views Twitter as a reliable news source,” her statement read. She told The Washington Post, “I am not naming anyone as participating in any way in the list.”

Roiphe never intended to out Donegan, she claims. But, the Times story describes an email exchange between a Harper’s fact-checker and Donegan, which Donegan’s essay corroborates: The fact-checker told Donegan that Roiphe would name her in the piece.

This fact-checker’s email inspired the first tweet from Tortorici. In fact, a Twitter forensics analyst could probably have traced the precise eruptions of indignation and reactive outrage back to Donegan, a writer for n+1. Instead, she outed herself in The Cut.

“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,’” Donegan wrote. “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?’”

Donegan’s account is forthright and well-reasoned, even if you disagree with her somewhat shaky justification for naming and shaming men, and the consequences of lives and reputations ruined that flow from that.

She wrote that she did not realize the document would go as viral as it did, and her attempts to address the problems of anonymous claims were overshadowed by the overwhelming response to the document, and subsequent backlash. Her honesty and introspection demonstrate more bravery than the indignant Twitter mob that rose to protect her.

We still don’t know what Roiphe planned to write, however pointed the fact-checker’s email appeared to be. We don’t know whether Roiphe changed her mind in the wake of the controversy. What we do know is that Roiphe’s reporting got a lot of free publicity—thanks to which we also now know, for better or worse, that Donegan started the “Shitty Media Men” list. And thanks to Donegan’s powerful essay, we know in her own words why.

We also know that Nicole Cliffe said she’d pay writers to pull their copy, leveraging her hold on a Twitter mob and her apparent wealth to punish a publication and try to protect Donegan from doxxing.

However righteous Cliffe’s underlying goal, it’s a disturbing means to an end—particularly so within a movement that’s powerfully proven the value of reported fact compared to a long-whispered rumor.

Writing in The Rumpus, Lyz Lenz admitted that she contributed to the list and defended its existence—both as a whisper network and as a publicly leaked document. “The list has enacted change and inspired criticism and debate,” she wrote.

The call for Harper’s to axe Roiphe’s piece “isn’t about a list,” she wrote. “It’s about a culture that forces us to rely on lists because [of] the shame, reprisal, doxxing, and physical harm that happens when we dare to speak out against the pervasive abuse that exists all around us.”

She’s right. But shouldn’t there be room for Roiphe’s point of view, too? Her controversial first book made the anti-rape movement on campuses a national issue, in a way that it had never been before. As Rebecca Traister noted in her 2008 profile of Roiphe, her book arguably strengthened the movement.

“Some may consider Roiphe an architect of the destructive schism between those in the women’s movement who perceive themselves as ‘victims’ and those who believe that the word creates an enfeebling paradigm,” Traister wrote. “In fact, Roiphe merely, and possibly unknowingly, served as a megaphone, amplifying some of the battles that had raged for decades between the varied interests joined beneath the large umbrella of the feminist movement.”

It’s a reminder of why dissenting voices deserve to be heard as much as the ones who follow and echo the crowd. Katie Roiphe should not have been doxxing anyone. But beyond that, whatever Roiphe is planning to write in Harper’s March issue about the #MeToo movement, hers is another voice, a woman’s voice, and one that deserves to be heard rather than silenced. Dismissing a fellow woman’s words before she’s written them is hardly a great advertisement for feminist plurality or strength.

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This post was originally published on The Daily Beast.