Creator of 'S--tty Media Men' List Outs Self in First-Person Essay

#MeToo March
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#MeToo women's march on Nov. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.

It was the scarlet letter list that everyone passed around but nobody wanted to be on: the "Shitty Media Men" spreadsheet that went viral in October, ticking off a rundown of men accused of alleged sexual misconduct.

The author of the list was anonymous until Wednesday (Jan. 10), when freelance journalist and former New Republic assistant editor Moira Donegan outed herself in a first-person essay in New York magazine's The Cut.

"In October, I created a Google spreadsheet called 'Shitty Media Men' that collected a range of rumors and allegations of sexual misconduct, much of it violent, by men in magazines and publishing," she wrote. "The anonymous, crowdsourced document was a first attempt at solving what has seemed like an intractable problem: how women can protect ourselves from sexual harassment and assault."

Donegan explained that a long-standing partial remedy women employed for years was the so-called "whisper network," an informal alliance that passed along open secrets in order to warn women to stay away from alleged abusers and assaulters. "Many of these networks have been invaluable in protecting their members. Still, whisper networks are social alliances, and as such, they’re unreliable," she said, adding that among their other flaws are elitism and insularity, as well as the fact that they often tend to exclude women of color.

"Fundamentally, a whisper network consists of private conversations, and the document that I created was meant to be private as well. It was active for only a few hours, during which it spread much further and much faster than I ever anticipated, and in the end, the once-private document was made public — first when its existence was revealed in a BuzzFeed article by Doree Shafrir, then when the document itself was posted on Reddit."

Once the list was spread, Donegan said it elicited a slew of think pieces, some of which condemned it as "reckless, malicious or puritanically anti-sex," not to mention irresponsible (due to its anonymous nature) and verging on vigilantism, or, at worst, catty in the manner of the Mean Girls "Burn Book." Others praised it for its attempt to warn women, even if they were conflicted over seeing the names of men they knew on the list. Despite its controversial nature, Donegan said some media companies conducted investigations into the list and as a result some men were fired or left their jobs.

In the months since, such once-powerful media figures as former Weinstein Company founder Harvey Weinstein, House of Cards actor Kevin Spacey, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, former Today Show host Matt Lauer, comedian Louis C.K., Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, journalist Mark Halperin, director Paul Haggis, chef Mario Batali, conductor James Levine and dozens of other men have been accused of sexual impropriety. 

"None of this was what I thought was going to happen," she said, noting that the traditional means of reporting incidents are often bad ones, from going to ineffective HR staffers to police departments that are "notoriously inept" at handling sexual assault cases. "In the beginning, I only wanted to create a place for women to share their stories of harassment and assault without being needlessly discredited or judged. The hope was to create an alternate avenue to report this kind of behavior and warn others without fear of retaliation."

The beauty of the spreadsheet, though, was that it had no "enforcement mechanisms," no legal authority, but served as an impartial tool for those who chose to use it or peruse it, even if it was vulnerable to false accusations; Donegan included a disclaimer at the top that said the doc was a list of allegations and rumors and should be taken with "a grain of salt."

"It was intended specifically not to inflict consequences, not to be a weapon — and yet, once it became public, many people immediately saw it as exactly that," she wrote, going on to describe her own experiences as a young writer confronted with some of the most well-known abusers in journalism and how the list was an attempt to shield the often powerless from retaliation from powerful men with the ability to fire, harass or publicly smear them.

"Open-sourced, it would theoretically be accessible to women who didn’t have the professional or social cachet required for admittance into whisper networks," she wrote. "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."

The result, though, was an outpouring of visceral, sometimes violent accounts of sexual assault that unleashed a solidarity that the author called "thrilling," and which made her realize how badly such a document was needed. Though it was taken down just 12 hours after posting, the spreadsheet went viral and soon more than 70 men were named, ranging in age from their 20s to 60s, 14 of whom were called out for more than one accusation of sexual assault or rape.

Admitting now that she was "incredibly naive" to think the spreadsheet would not go viral and that the focus would be on the allegations and not the document itself, Donegan described losing friends, her job and the innocence of realizing that "protecting women is a position that comes with few protections itself."

Click here to read the full essay.

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