Why Every Man Needs to Read This Essay by the Creator of the Shitty Media Men List
All the things we wish more men knew
A few months ago—in October to be precise— an anonymous Google spreadsheet titled Shitty Media Men began circulating among women journalists. The “shitty” behaviour ranged from unsolicited sexual messages and comments to groping to beatings to rape. The raison d’etre of such a list, according to its creator, was “a first attempt at solving what has seemed like an intractable problem: how women can protect ourselves from sexual harassment and assault.”
The list grew and grew, beyond her expectations, until it couldn’t stay self-contained any longer. Its existence was leaked to Buzzfeed. But all hell really broke loose when the list found its way to Reddit. Companies opened investigations into many of the men on the spreadsheet, leading some to leave their jobs or get fired. Think pieces sprung up all over the internet (well, all over certain parts of the internet) debating whether the list was ethical, or condemning it as catty, mean, reckless, or malicious.
Anticipating that she would be outed for creating the list eventually (it was widely reported earlier this week that Harper’s planned to reveal her identity), yesterday Moira Donegan, a former editor at The New Republic, came forward with a powerful essay on The Cut explaining why she started the list in the first place. The piece is brave, insightful and heartbreaking—and required reading for all the men in our lives. Here, 10 things from her essay we wish more men knew.
1. “For us, the risks of using any of the established means of reporting were especially high and the chance for justice especially slim.”
This is something all women know. That we’re going to have to fight like hell to get anyone to believe us. So guys, believe the women. This isn’t a game for us. We know how high the stakes are.
2. “Watching the cells populate, it rapidly became clear that many of us had weathered more than we had been willing to admit to one another.”
So when you hear about a woman’s terrible experience with a guy—stranger or otherwise—just know that there’s so much she isn’t telling you. We’re holding a lifetime of lewd comments, suggestive glances and inappropriate actions in our memories, often without saying a word.
3. “There was an understanding of the ways that these less-grave incidents can sometimes be harbingers of more aggressive actions to come, and how they can accrue into soured relationships and hostile environments.”
Sometimes men love to talk about women “overreacting” to situations. It’s not overreacting. It’s about reading every signal carefully and minutely, and always being on our guard.
4. “No one confused a crude remark for a rape, and efforts were made to contextualize the incidents with notes — a spreadsheet allows for all of this information to be organized and included.”
We know not all men are Weinstein-level jerks. And we know a lot of you are worried that you’re going to be accused of doing something terrible that was perhaps unintentional, or at least not nefarious. We get that. But know this: we’re always giving you the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes for way, way too long.
5. “But the premise was accepted that all of these behaviours were things that might make someone uncomfortable and that individuals should be able to choose for themselves what behaviour they could tolerate and what they would rather avoid.”
Again, don’t tell women they’re overreacting to a comment, or that it was “just a joke.” If it makes us feel uncomfortable, it makes us feel uncomfortable, and it’s our prerogative to tell you so.
6. “As the stories accumulated and it became clear that many, many more women were using the document than I had ever imagined, I realized that I had created something that had grown rapidly beyond my control.”
This culture of abuse is much bigger than you, or your buddies, or your colleagues. Accept it when we say abuse and harassment is a systemic problem—it’s not just about “one bad guy” or “a rotten egg.”
7. “At the time when I made it, I had become so accustomed to hearing about open secrets, to men whose bad behaviour was universally known and perpetually immune from consequence, that it seemed like no one in power cared about the women who were most vulnerable to it.”
First of all, doesn’t that just break your heart? (It should.) Second of all, this is why, when we talk about girl power, and sisterhoods, and female solidarity, don’t try to turn us into “man-hating Feminazis.” We have to stick by each other because we don’t know which of you we can trust. And if we don’t look out for each other, who will?
8. “I’ve learned that protecting women is a position that comes with few protections itself.”
Which is why it would be great if you acknowledged a woman speaking out about sexual misconduct, either against herself or others, as the act of bravery it truly is.
9. “In some of these conversations, we spent hours teasing out how these men, many of whom we knew to be intelligent and capable of real kindness, could behave so crudely and cruelly toward us. And this is another toll that sexual harassment can take on women: It can make you spend hours dissecting the psychology of the kind of men who do not think about your interiority much at all.”
Get this: women are people too. We have feelings and emotions and fears and insecurities: interiority. As basic as that sounds, apparently it’s easy to forget, especially when you’re speaking to a woman you’re attracted to. Dan Harmon, creator of Community and Rick and Morty, talked about it recently on his podcast while issuing a heartfelt and introspective apology for the way he’d behaved for years towards a female writer on his show. Consider it another bit of required reading:
“I drank, I took pills, I crushed on her and resented her for not reciprocating it… I never did it before and I will never do it again, but I never would have done it if I had any respect for women, on a fundamental level. I was thinking about them as different creatures, I was thinking about the ones I liked as having some special role in my life, and I did it all by not thinking about it.”
10. “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 behaviours but the desire for a kinder, more respectful, and more equitable world.”
It feels like a lot has changed in the past few months, but what happens next? Where do we go from here? Men of the world, we’re not asking for a lot. Meet us in the middle to help create a world we all feel safe to live in.
Men who are so inclined, you can read the full piece here.