In a decision with potentially large ramifications, New York Federal Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall won't dismiss a libel suit against "Shitty Media Men" creator Moira Donegan.
Explaining, the judge says it is possible that Donegan created the entry herself. The judge believes that Elliott should be able to explore whether the entry was fabricated. Accordingly, discovery proceeds, which will now put pressure on Google to respond to broad subpoena demands. The next motion stage could feature a high-stakes one about the reaches of CDA 230.
Briefly, On The Making Of Lists
Men make so many lists. Here is The Women Of The 2017 Maxim Hot 100 list. Maxim subdivides its bigger lists, creating things like Maxim.com’s 25 Hottest Brunettes and The 25 Hottest Mexican Women (that second one’s subhead is as follows: “Using Mexico’s Cinco de Mayo holiday as our excuse, here are the caliente-est señoritas we could think of.”) Here is a list of Hollywood’s 25 Hottest Women Under 30 from something called Mentertained. Here is a list of Hollywood’s 25 Hottest Fit Celebrity Women from Men’s Fitness. Here is a list of The 20 Hottest Women Of Golf from Men’s Health. Here is a list of The 40 Hottest and Most Naked Women On Instagram from Stylecaster.
Women make lists too.
One of these lists was the Shitty Media Men list, a list documenting the behavior of some men in the media. These men were being categorized by threat. The list specifically categorized these men from crude remarks to rape and everything in-between the two. The list was a simple Google Sheet. It was created in an attempt to document abuse and protect others from it. It was a digital manifestation of the sort of whisper network that women have used in the past to protect themselves from men who can rightly be understood to be predators. The original list existed for twelve total hours before being taken down, although other, ongoing versions of it remain. The original list included a warning that claims were not corroborated, and it was subdivided into its own categories of behavior. It totaled 70 men, with 14 of them noted to have been accused of sexual assault and/or rape.
The list’s existence was immediately controversial. Buzzfeed published about the list’s existence within hours of its creation. Others followed up. All of this occurred as monsters like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly and so many more tumbled from the perches that been built for them. The Shitty Media Men list made it clear that the issues went far deeper than those at the top of proverbial pyramids. The problems were everywhere and pervasive and the women who filled in that list’s cells knew about them. But without a meaningful way to deal with them – when human resource departments cannot be trusted to give a damn, and when management structures cannot either – things like Shitty Men in Media become necessary.
In an absolutely incredible essay published last night, Moira Donegan outed herself as the list’s creator. Whereas men can create entire publishing empires based upon nothing more substantive than creating lists of women, women creating a list in an attempt to protect themselves from danger is considered so outrageous as to deserve thorough investigation. Donegan outed herself ahead of a planned attempt by Harper’s Magazine to out her.* That effort was being coordinated by Katie Roiphe, a catastrophic cinder block who has spent a significant portion of her career blaming women for the behavior of men. Donegan, for the record, identifies precisely this inconsistency, noting that her own list is based upon the following:
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.
Roiphe, for the record, is pleading ignorance now. Roiphe told the The New York Times that she had no intention of outing Donegan, a claim people are simply meant to believe because, well, because. The available evidence says otherwise. That evidence includes a significant portion of Roiphe’s entire career and the actual facts of the matter. Donegan explains that a Harper’s Magazine fact-checker had emailed her about Roiphe’s work. (Bolding has been added for emphasis.)
“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?”
Roiphe would have readers believe that “identifies you” is not the same as a plan to reveal an identity, and, goodness, it must be awful to have claims disbelieved simply because of who you are and what you have done. (Since this started being drafted, Roiphe has started a Twitter account, in which her very first tweets thoroughly illustrate her own lie.)
Back to Donegan. She feared what her outing would mean:
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.
Donegan’s account of the list’s creation is as stunning as it is nightmarish. It documents an attempt to create a way for women to protect themselves from men who had long ago figured out that they enjoyed behavioral immunity. The list spiraled, not because it was uncontrollable, but because so much abhorrent behavior had been occurring for so long.
Because of Roiphe’s lying meddling, Donegan outed herself instead. Roiphe, in a way, has the victory she wanted. Donegan will almost certainly face severe consequences, and she has every reason to be fearful. Women who stand publicly against abuse are routinely subjected to intense and ongoing retaliation. There are literally millions of people who like things they way they are, and would prefer very deeply that they never, ever change. The list itself is but one example. There are plainly plenty of men unused to the idea that there would ever be any sort of accounting at all for their actions. They recoil in anger at the idea that any such documentation would exist anywhere. Donegan’s creation of it, then, should be understood to be what it is: a heroic, and dangerous, act.
Donegan refused to trust that accountability will eventually change – that things will get better at some undetermined point far off in the future and, “Can’t you just wait until that day instead?” – and took steps necessary to force the issue. She has been deservedly praised by many. She is owed not what she will inevitably receive, but rather, a thousand opportunities instead. And her list shouldn’t then be the end of such things, but rather, the very beginning.
(*Counter-efforts led by, among others, Nicole Cliff, deserve the highest of praise.)