"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."
On Wednesday, Moira Donegan, author of the famed "Shitty Media Men" spreadsheet, outed herself on New York magazine's The Cut. It was reported that Katie Roiphie was going to out her in a piece for Harper’s any day, so instead, she did it on her own terms—something she knows an awful lot about now.
In October, Donegan created the spreadsheet in an effort to make what she calls the "whisper network" available and accessible to women in an effort to protect them from, to put it in her words, shitty media men. In light of the Weinstein allegations and the ensuing women's movement, women in all industries are looking around at their current professional circumstances and speaking truthfully about the mistreatment rampant in their worlds.
The spreadsheet no doubt had flaws. It was unregulated, like whisper networks themselves, and there was no due process afforded for the men listed. Names and companies appeared on the list, and since they were added with anonymity, the validity of those names and experiences could be called into question. Women were confronted with seeing names of men who they were friends with next to vile and horrifying acts. In worst case scenarios, some men lost their jobs over the accusations.
But what seemed to be largely overlooked was the essential credibility of how the list was put together. Names were listed next to what the men were specifically accused of doing. If a man had been reported as physically or sexually abusing a woman more than once, his name was highlighted in red and those crimes were clearly stated. On the less vile end of the spectrum, if a man was responsible for abusing his power by dating his underlings or making sexually suggestive comments at work, that was specified as well. Consequently, the fact that women are discerning creatures, perfectly capable of telling the difference between rape and unwanted happy hour advances, went largely missing from the conversation until Donegan’s piece.
I'm learning more and more that it’s apparently a radical stance to assert that women are adult human beings with the ability to think skeptically and with reason. The sheet properly organized and communicated the sliding scale of "shitty media men". It contextualized allegations, and like whisper networks themselves, trusted that women can tell the difference.
Picture this: two female colleagues grab a beer after work. They discuss that a certain male executive in the office is prone to flirting with college-aged interns and sending them questionable texts late at night. As human beings, they're both aware this is not a crime, and they speak about it with that understanding. The media men list did the same thing, but unlike whisper networks, which are only accessible with time and experience, and in the very workplaces that have sustained dangerous power structures, the spreadsheet transcended race, geography and socioeconomic access barriers.
We can all agree the sheet wasn't perfect. But what we're learning, specifically as women navigating the current civil rights movement, is that no strides made to protect ourselves and to level the playing field will be seen as "good.” Those accustomed to privilege will always interpret a push for equality as oppression. The result has been countless think pieces on how dangerous and misguided the list was, or, worse, a cruel exploitation of women's efforts to keep one another safe. The truth is that options are limited for women, even when a crime is committed.
As a result of the list, Donegan lost her job, and her coming forward could have very real implications on her future employment prospects. As a woman working in media myself, I'm all too familiar with the reality that comes with being vocal in the face of sexism. In my many years working in this world, I've witnessed and experienced problematic scenarios, which I've rarely spoken about publicly. Truthfully, I probably won't anytime soon. Because the harsh reality is that I'm still a woman living in the patriarchy, and, at the end of the day, I have to eat. I hope someday to be privileged enough not to live in fear of retribution, but for today, that’s simply not the case. Until then, I'll whisper to those I can, and we'll do what we can to protect ourselves in the interim as we attempt to excel in our professional fields while also being female. Balancing the duality of those two things is proving to be a complicated and painful task.
Donegan learned the hard way that attempting to "protect women comes with few protections itself." She is thankful for the people who used it, and I am deeply thankful for her. She is incredibly brave. And today I raise a toast for the brave women who risk it all to make a better world for us.
Thank you, Moira Donegan.