October 17, 2017
SHITTY MEDIA MEN
by Taylor Sperry
Last week, as the allegations against Harvey Weinstein accumulated with truly breathtaking speed, an anonymous Google sheet titled “SHITTY MEDIA MEN” began circulating among women in this industry. Its purpose was to collect the names and behaviors of men who might be a threat to our peers and colleagues, but it began with the very clear caveat that each entry should be taken with a grain of salt: these are allegations and rumors.
That was on Wednesday, and by the early hours of Thursday morning, Doree Shafrir had written it up in a somewhat equivocating piece for Buzzfeed. On the one hand, she thought, “Fucking finally. Finally, the grossest men in media will be exposed”; on the other hand, “things do get complicated” when you “start lumping in” behavior that ranges from “weird lunch dates” to rape in one anonymous, sharable document. “Does a spreadsheet of this size and breadth of allegations accomplish its goal, which is presumably to warn women about predators?” she asked. “I’m not totally sure.”
Reactions to Shafrir’s piece came swiftly.
On Thursday, Erin Gloria Ryan wrote for the Daily Beast that she feared “what was once conveyed via ‘whisper network’ …could go viral, could ruin an innocent person’s life.” She didn’t think an anonymous document could be trusted to be truthful, and thus didn’t see how it succeeded in warning women about “toxic men.” (She also suggested that women who have been victims of a crime go to the police, and women who have been victims of inappropriate workplace behavior go to HR. Part of the problem, though, as the Harvey Weinstein case has made abundantly clear, is that institutional reporting is not always an option — not even for the most powerful women, much less the powerless.)
Also on Thursday, Christina Cauterucci voiced similar concerns in Slate: “Taking a collection of allegations that would normally be spread friend-to-friend and putting it on the internet raises several important red flags.” What if the document becomes public? What if the caveat at the top of the document undermines the legitimacy of real violations? What if someone with an axe to grind makes something up? These are not frivolous questions, as Cauterucci concedes: “The ‘SHITTY MEDIA MEN’ spreadsheet was not a perfect system, but a perfect system does not exist.”
Other responses, however, were more defensive of the value of such a document.
On Friday, for Jezebel, Stassa Edwards called bullshit on a lot of the concerns that had been raised about the doc. Regarding “lumping in,” women, um, understand the difference between the warning that someone is creepy and the warning that someone is violent. And, why don’t we just give women the benefit of the doubt for a minute. And, just maybe, part of the reason such a list is considered “suspect” is because it occupies a space that is not arbitrated by or open to men. (This, I think, is a particularly interesting observation.)
And on Saturday for the New Yorker, Jia Tolentino recalled an instance last year when VIDA: Women in Literary Arts published a series of accusations against a poet. “I felt crushed by the extent to which male sexual misconduct had been configured, once more, as a women’s problem,” she wrote. “Then, as now, women who agreed on almost everything—about the extent and urgency of the problem, about the failures of existing institutions—found themselves at war over methodology.”
Alana Massey’s piece for The Washington Post was especially powerful. She wrote:
Women are already trying desperately to keep our heads above water in workplaces that deny us sufficient credit, compensation and trust. Are we really supposed to keep three separate types of informal warning systems, tiered and coded according to the level of violation, just to make sure that the boundary-pushing jerks don’t get embarrassed because they’re so much better than men who have turned violent? Do you know how much more work women do in media to prove they belong there? Do you know how many names of women in media are splashed across the Internet with libelous, repugnant and public lies about them because they dared offend a man?
Until the institutions that define, enforce and deliver consequences for these violations actually start protecting women, women will have to make do with what we can. These informal networks of information-sharing are not battle cries to pursue vigilante justice; they are calm directives to other women to simply be vigilant.
The spreadsheet is flawed, yes, and already by Thursday it was locked (though surely it’s still floating around in screenshots and pdfs).
But even in so little time, I think the document achieved a lot of what it meant to achieve — for some women, it may have validated an experience; for others it may have served as a warning; for many I suspect it forced us to confront our own complicity in an “open secret.” But another powerful effect of “SHITTY MEDIA MEN,” which its creators may not have anticipated and which was perhaps only made possible by the amount of controversy surrounding its existence, is this: There are probably a lot of men whose names were not on that list, but have reason to wonder if it might be, and it is to the benefit of us all that now these men know that the women are talking.
Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.