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Danielle Tcholakian
Freelance writer/reporter

The Manipulative Power of ‘You Understand’

Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova at a TimesTalk on May 14, 2018. Credit: YouTube

Live journalism serves a few different purposes. It can seek to engage an audience directly in the process of producing journalism, sometimes as a means to combatting mistrust for the profession. It can seek to break news, live, on a stage.

At a TimesTalk featuring Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova and performance artist Marina Abramovic on in Midtown Manhattan on May 14, Melena Ryzik did a little of both.

Tolokonnikova spoke of a recent visit to the city jail at Rikers Island and her horror at the conditions at what she described as a penal colony in the middle of “supposedly progressive” New York. She found them, to her shock, worse that those in Putin’s jails. The pair of artists teased a potential forthcoming collaboration, perhaps stemming from a plan they have to work together on May 27. And at Abramovic’s urging, Ryzik screened two Pussy Riot videos, at least one of which was being displayed for the first time.

But the most powerful moment for me was when Tolokonnikova described what sounded like the watershed experience of her life as an activist. At age 13, she wanted to be a political journalist and write about environmental issues. She lived in a small northern town where the snow was always black due to pollution from the industrial business that the town was essentially organized around. She went to the local paper with an investigation into “who is responsible for making black snow,” and was told by the editors — who she said she’d written for before — that the story was good, but “you understand, we can’t publish it.” The company that was responsible was too powerful to challenge.

“‘You understand’ — that’s the keyword in Russia. ‘You understand,'” Tolokonnikova said.

Here is an image of a 13-year-old idealist being enlisted to participate in her own oppression. “You understand” is a phrase used to inure us to our own oppression, and make us complicit in the oppression of others. It draws us into the system that oppresses; tells us that we are already part of it; suggests that to reject it is simply to not get it. The implication is that to not understand is to somehow be lacking, to be not as smart as we would be if we understood. The young don’t understand, by their very nature. That is part of their power. They are not yet indoctrinated into the performance of the system; their powers of perception and inclination to question has not yet been eroded by years of bumping up against oppression both subtle and overt.

I thought of this when I saw the writer Quince Mountain’s description on Twitter of growing up trans. “To be trans is to grow up with a persistent and overwhelming sense of being lied to by those around you and a sense that those around you demand your wholehearted participation in that lie,” he wrote.

I thought of it again when reflecting on conversations with women abused by politicians. Women cajoled to participate in the continuation of their abuse, cajoled by agents of a system to preserve that system, agents who believe that the system is invaluable and the men who comprise it are, too. I thought of a line from Emma Gray’s Huffington Post essay after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was accused of intimate partner violence by four women, one of whom he was simultaneously using to build his reputation as a feminist ally: “Thus the victim would be made to participate in the invention of the alibi.”

I thought about struggles I’ve had to convince editors that a woman’s story is deserving of consideration on its own, even if she is not accompanied by other victims. I thought about people who dismiss corruption because “everyone does it,” and “that’s the way it is” or because our laws are flawed, so bad acts aren’t actually illegal. I thought about all the times I’ve heard, “you understand,” and nodded.

Then I thought about the energy I got from teaching journalism students this year, from their almost unconscious rejection of the system we’ve become conditioned to accept as “just the way it is.” And I thought about Tolokonnikova’s assertion that resistance and activism is not something that is ever finished, that we ever achieve to some conclusive end. “You’re never going to get there finally, but that’s the beauty of human life, I think… It’s an everyday struggle,” she’d said. Ryzik had helped summarize for her: “Being a citizen is a daily exercise.” Agreeing, Tolokonnikova added, “You cannot win. You cannot lose. You have to keep working on it it, you have to find new ways every day… That’s a daily job.” Likewise, I realized, resisting the power of “you understand” is a daily practice.

Near the end of the event, Abramovic took issue with a question from an audience member who apparently had read some misinformation about an upcoming performance. She used the Trumpian phrase “fake news” twice, to raucous applause from the audience and my dismay. I thought back to Tolokonnikova’s statement earlier in the discussion that “artists should develop new languages to help other people, new languages that are not mainstream languages,” and was disappointed that Abramovic would perpetuate the use of language meant to sow mistrust and discord among a polity. It seemed less like resistance and more like another form of “you understand.” I remembered the Tolokonnikova’s statement on language: “We are not alive; we are dead if we are using the language that was given to us.”

And I remembered Tolokonnikova’s anecdote this week amid now-regular calls from conservatives and liberals alike for liberals to be nicer to bigots, to be more “civil.” When people — including Julia Ioffe, who later apologized — questioned why news outlets were following around a lawyer who threatened to call immigration on two women speaking Spanish, I thought of how these calls for “civility” seem to be veiled calls for complacency, or even complicity. For silence. I heard “you understand” in these calls. You understand why it’s better to be polite, to be quiet, to be “civil.” Stop resisting. You understand.

End the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the 2018 White House Correspondents' Dinner. Photo Credit: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images Stringer

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner happened this weekend and mostly no one cared, rightly, until some journalists thought it was a good idea to criticize a comedian for telling the truth, which is what both comedians and journalists are supposed to do.

Michelle Wolf was the comedian at this year’s dinner, and made some jokes about White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that were both funny and pointed, in that they pointed directly at Sanders’ penchant for lying to the press.

“I actually really like Sarah,” Wolf said. “I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.” Read more…

The Myth of Kevin Williamson

Kevin Williamson (via YouTube/The Cato Institute)

After a week or so of mostly women questioning The Atlantic’s hiring of Kevin Williamson, a conservative columnist who has advocated for hanging women who have had abortions, the magazine’s editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg announced Williamson is no longer in his employ.

Goldberg had justified hiring Williamson on the grounds that he’s a talented writer, and his assertion that women who have abortions should be hanged was an errant tweet, not to be taken seriously. But Media Matters dug up a 2014 podcast for the National Review in which Williamson talked at length about how much he likes this idea. “I’m kind of squishy about capital punishment in general, but I’ve got a soft spot for hanging as a form of capital punishment.” Read more…

Digital Media and the Case of the Missing Archives

(Walter Zerla / Getty)

One of the poems that earned Robert Frost the Pulitzer Prize in 1924 is titled “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” and puts forward the claim that nothing, especially nothing beautiful, lasts forever. I thought of this recently when I was considering the impermanence of digital media. As Maria Bustillos wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review earlier this year, digital media came at first with “fantasies of whole libraries preserved on a pin.” Digital writers often revel in the notion that they have limitless space, unlike their print counterparts who squish their reporting to fit precious column inches. But increasingly we’re learning how ephemeral that space is.  Read more…

Is Journalism a Form of Activism?

Portrait of journalist and suffragist Ida B. Wells, 1920. (Photo by Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

Danielle Tcholakian | Longreads | March 2018 | 17 minutes (4,071 words)

Last weekend, as March For Our Lives protests took place all across the country, the student co-editor-in-chief of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School newspaper said on the CNN show “Reliable Sources” that journalism is a form of activism.

I was not surprised to see her quickly criticized on Twitter. Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal tweeted that the belief the student espoused is what’s “killing trust in our profession,” adding in a second tweet that the mentality the student shared “is more common among younger journalists.”

But I was surprised to see how many journalists came to the students’ defense, agreeing that journalism is a form of activism. They were highly respected, solid, investigative journalists. Los Angeles Times writer Matt Pearce asked, “Does anybody think that even the fairest and most diligent of investigative reporters wrote their horrifying stories hoping that nothing would change?” The Washington Post‘s Wesley Lowery asserted, “Even beyond big, long investigations, journalists perform acts of activism every day. Any good journalist is an activist for truth, in favor of transparency, on the behalf of accountability. It is our literal job to pressure powerful people and institutions via our questions.” Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for The New York Times Magazine and arguably one of the greatest living reporters today, quoted Lowery’s tweet, agreeing with it. Read more…

Are The Teens All Right?

Matt Deitsch and Ryan Deitsch, students from Parkland, FL's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, are pictured during a panel held to discuss changing the conversation on guns at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at Harvard University's Institute for Politics in Cambridge, MA on March 20, 2018. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Danielle Tcholakian | Longreads | March 2018 | 14 minutes (3,629 words)

Over the past several weeks, many of us have been familiar with the voices and faces of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the school in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were murdered on February 14. The students appeared to quickly shunt away their grief, giving adults across the U.S. a schooling on effective activism, taking to Twitter and effectively employing media outlets to push for policy change so that other teenagers won’t have to experience the terror they did.

In turn, many of the adults that other adults have elected to positions of power — adults we apparently decided were such worthy and good decision-makers that we would pay their salary out of our own pockets — have shown us what very small people they are, and how terribly unqualified they are to be people in the public eye, let alone leaders.

Read more…

It’s Never Too Late to Apologize

Hindudstan Times/Getty Images Justin Bieber asks, “Is it too late now to say sorry?” Longreads says, “Better late than never!”

Taking criticism is hard. Lately, it appears especially hard for writers who are also on Twitter, which is many — maybe even most — writers.

Earlier this week, New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss tweeted a video of American Olympic skater Mirai Nagasu landing a triple axel. Nagasu was the first American to ever achieve this at the Olympics — a huge feat. Weiss appended her tweet with a reference to Hamilton: “Immigrants: They get the job done.”

Twitter users were quick to point out that Nagasu is not an immigrant. Her parents are Japanese immigrants, but she was born in California and held dual citizenship until she was 22. (Also, the lyric in Miranda’s song is phrased “Immigrants: we get the job done.”) To the first correction, Weiss claimed she knew that fact, but she was taking “poetic license.” In a vacuum, Weiss’ tweet is a misstep, but not unforgivable. The desire to celebrate Nagasu is good, referencing Hamilton is good. But in the context of her work and public statements, the implicit assumption that someone non-white, with an “ethnic” name, was automatically an immigrant rubbed people the wrong way.

Rather than considering this point, Weiss lashed out. She claimed she deleted the tweet after “being told I am a racist, a ghoul and that I deserve to die.” A cursory look through her mentions showed no evidence supporting this claim, but women are attacked on the internet regularly and virulently, so it’s possible people had taken to email with particularly galling attacks.

But this claim that being criticized, and corrected, is akin to being “silenced” is becoming a common theme of late. People are responding to criticism as though it is some sort of form of torture. Katie Roiphe, a professional critic, dislikes being criticized so much that she responds by accusing her critics of being “low-level secret policemen in a new totalitarian state.” Weiss believes that when she is criticized, it is “another sign of civilization’s end.”

If I were Roiphe, I might deem these reactions “hysterical” but I dislike the gendered connotations of that word. Men who balk at “political correctness” have been reacting this way for years. Any criticism of their behavior or their opinions is galling, is somehow an attempt to erase them off the face of the earth. “We have a right to free speech!” they shout, but what they really want is a right to be free from criticism, from reflection, from having to think about the experiences of anyone other than themselves.

It is an interesting form of entitlement, this belief that criticism is an infringement on some fundamental right. As Rebecca Traister pointed out in a recent essay for The Cut, published after Roiphe’s much-hyped contra-#MeToo essay in Harper’s, it is “a tic of the powerful… mistaking the right to speech for the right to unquestioned authority.”

In a recent issue of n+1, Dayna Tortorici wrote of this same phenomenon, time-pegging it to the end of 2014: “The right to free speech under the First Amendment had been recast in popular discourse as the right to free speech without consequence, without reaction.”

This is, it should be obvious, not a right that any government or other entity ensures. Alexis Grenell wrote about this last September in a column in the New York Daily News touting the value of “shame speech,” and “the soft power of shame.”

“The First Amendment only protects freedom of expression; there is no right to be heard, or respected,” Grenell explains. “The state of shame is made possible by thousands of people of different backgrounds finally having their voices heard.”

While writers like Roiphe and Weiss are still the ones getting platforms in publications like Harper’s and The New York Times, the internet — that great equalizer — is facilitating this “state of shame.” Twitter might be overrun by Nazis, white supremacists, and angry basement-dwellers making rape and death threats, but it has also increasingly become a place where marginalized voices are able to make themselves heard.

Some people hate that. People you wouldn’t expect! Just this week, Eric Lipton, an investigative reporter at the New York Times, appeared to be so moved watching the teens who survived the school shooting in Florida this week speak on television, he tweeted, “Impressive how articulate and well-educated these kids are from this school. Obviously a good school. Another sad reason for yesterday’s events.”

More than 200 people replied to his tweet, pointing out how hurtful his words were, so Lipton attempted a clarification, “And not saying it would be less sad it [sic] there were poor kids, obviously. Just such a waste to see kids with so much opportunity before them wiped out.” More than a thousand people responded to that one, which anyone who spends any time on Twitter could have predicted.

After a few hours, he deleted those tweets, and wrote a new one. “I deleted an earlier tweet that was misread by many people. What I was saying was not meant to me [sic] disrespectful. Sorry it was read that way.”

This type of reaction is so common, and it confounds me. It is so, so much easier to listen, see that you’ve hurt people (usually people with less institutional and systemic power than you), and say sorry. Then it all goes away!

Bret Stephens, a colleague of Weiss’ in the opinion section at the Times, who seems to live for the thrill of being a bogeyman contrarian, came to Lipton’s defense.

The last line is a reference to the fact that Stephens dislikes criticism so much, he keeps threatening to leave Twitter but then fails to do so.

Opinion writers, in particular, should be able to handle criticism better, given their job is to criticize — and, at their best, honestly and diligently examine different ideas in good faith.

This week, NYT opinion editor James Bennet issued a 1,500-word memo in defense of Bari Weiss, insisting that she, and everyone else in his stable, are operating in good faith. The way he described the opinion section is exactly what its critics want it to be, and what they feel it’s falling short of achieving:

[W]e owe our readers an honest struggle over the right paths ahead, not a pretense that we’re in possession of God’s own map.

That means being willing to challenge our own assumptions; it means being open to counter-arguments even as we advance our own convictions; it means listening to voices that we may object to and even sometimes find obnoxious, provided they meet the same tests of intellectual honesty, respect for others and openness. It means taking on the toughest arguments on the other side, not the straw men. It means starting from a presumption of good faith, particularly on the part of our colleagues, including those we disagree with. It means having some humility about the possibility that, in the end, the other side might have a point, or more than one.

Bennet! Bennet. This is exactly what we are asking you, and Stephens, and Weiss to do. This is all we want! Take your critics seriously. Don’t dismiss them as too stupid or “insane” to understand your point. You are writers. You are writers of opinion, which ultimately means you are rhetoricians, so your goal is to persuade. If people are arguing with you, it means you have fallen short of that goal. Engage with them! Start from a presumption of good faith! And please, please think about why you think that presumption is owed “particularly” to people who work for the Times, not to those who read it, and love it enough to try to push you to be better.

Bennet’s memo was written after an internal Slack chat was leaked, showing NYT employees frustrated both by Weiss’ tweet and her entitled self-defense earlier this week. One anonymous employee wrote:

i wasn’t here when we had a public editor, but i understand how it worked. it was clear. what i don’t understand now and now what’s unclear is what’s supposed to happen when the same mistakes keep getting made again and again. at what point is the company willing to take the responsibility off the public for calling this stuff out? will the reader center step in? is that even what the reader center is for? i genuinely don’t know!

What seems to be obvious both to us readers and internally at the Times is that the Reader Center is not living up to the legacy of the public editor. As I’ve mentioned previously, I wrote NYT public editor Margaret Sullivan in 2014 — around the time Tortorici references in her essay, when this outcry about the audacity of plebeian critics surfaced. I was frustrated about three separate instances when NYT writers had been criticized for insensitive language and responded by pooh-poohing an uptight, uncomprehending Twitterati. (Sullivan was at the time working on a column in response to the latest incident — Alessandra Stanley referring to Shonda Rhimes as an “angry black woman” — but it was also in the wake of a column about Ray Rice that used florid language to describe his spousal abuse, and the infamous Mike Brown “no angel” article.) The writers were, similarly to Weiss, defending their perceived “right” to use the language they want without considering the impact it would have on readers, and vulnerable readers in particular.

I wrote the following to Sullivan at the time, and I still believe it today:

Journalism does not occur in a vacuum. When your artful words are sent out into the world, they have the power to hurt people who are particularly vulnerable.

That these articles get past not only a writer but — I assume — multiple editors without one person stopping to think about the effects the language will have, not in their stylistic quality, but in their existence in the world of readers who may be victims of violence or domestic violence or systemic discrimination and racism, is absurd.

Pretty writing is not more important than empathy and respect for people with less power and less of an ability to have their voices heard.

The problem here is not Twitter. It is a culture in which a writer can receive criticism from people their writing has harmed, and respond not with a gracious, empathetic apology, but with the dismissive arrogance it must take to claim that anyone who disagrees with you just isn’t smart enough to understand your point.

If Bennet wants people to assume his writers are operating in good faith, they need to show that. For now, Weiss has shown exactly the opposite, both in her work (as when she claimed the motto of contemporary feminism is “Believe All Women” or reductively cited a vague Instagram post in a claim of a black activist’s anti-police bias), and this week’s dustup. Tom Scocca outlined this well on — of course — Twitter:

Here’s the thing. Weiss, Stephens, and Roiphe claim they want a gentler, kinder discourse. That’s a good goal. It can be exhausting to be patient in the face of microaggressions, especially for people who have been on the receiving end of them for so long. But if we can muster it, I have no doubt it will lead to a better discourse.

The flipside of that, though, is that Weiss, Stephens, Roiphe et al need to come down from their mountain and actually listen to and consider the criticism leveled against them. They have to try to be better right along with the rest of us.

Does A.G. Sulzberger Even Understand What a Public Editor Is?

(Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images)

Last year The New York Times announced it was ending the public editor — a role created to help readers get accountability from the paper of record in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal in 2003 — and replacing it with the Reader Center.

Ever since, readers of the Times have lamented the loss whenever an article or op-ed comes out that draws consternation. The paper’s final public editor, Liz Spayd, was less than beloved, but her predecessor Margaret Sullivan, now a media columnist at The Washington Post, earned the respect not just of readers, but of those inside the Times newsroom.

A friend at the Times recently asked me what I thought of the Reader Center. I replied that I didn’t know it had been set up or even what it did. I’m a home delivery subscriber to the Times, a native New Yorker who grew up writing detailed letters of admiration to Times reporters. Why hadn’t I heard about what the Reader Center had been up to? Read more…

Moira Donegan is the Anti-Katie Roiphe We Need

Participants at the Take Back The Workplace March and #MeToo Survivors March & Rally on November 12, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/FilmMagic)

I have run out of jokes about how long this week or month or year has been, not least because this is the fourth time I’ve rewritten a piece I started on Tuesday.

At first it was about Katie Roiphe and the news that she planned to expose the creator of the Shitty Media Men spreadsheet in Harper’s March issue. But then Roiphe told The New York Times that her piece didn’t name a creator of the list:

In a later interview, Ms. Roiphe said that she herself did not know the identity of the person who started the list and added, “I would never put in the creator of the list if they didn’t want to be named.”

Yet, in an email to the woman who created the list — now publicly known to be writer and former New Republic editor Moira Donegan — a Harper’s fact checker had written: “Katie identifies you as a woman widely believed to be one of the creators of the Shitty Men in Media List. Were you involved in creating the list? If not, how would you respond to this allegation?”

This is strange, given that Roiphe’s sole contact with Donegan was a single email in December asking if she had any interest in speaking about the “feminist moment” for a Harper’s piece. Donegan declined, having no idea that Roiphe suspected her of creating the list or had any intention of exposing her as having done so.

It’s not uncommon for fact checkers to assist in the reporting process, as researchers. Still, Roiphe’s approach comes off as duplicitous, even cowardly. Was Katie Roiphe, a woman who has long delighted in publishing contrarian takedowns of feminism — who has for more than two decades been praised, sometimes begrudgingly, for seeming impervious to and even relishing the anger she brought out in other women — afraid to be honest with Donegan? Why would she leave the hard questions to her fact checker, lie to The New York Times, mislead Donegan, and not dare to email her more than once?

I can’t tell you the answer to that for sure, because I emailed Roiphe to ask and she hasn’t written back. I also emailed New York University’s journalism program, where Roiphe is a professor and a director, and got no response. I contacted Harper’s editor James Marcus, who politely directed me to their publicist, Giulia Melucci, who replied: “We can talk about the piece when the piece is published.”

* *

Roiphe did take to Twitter to defend herself, a bit, employing language so classically Roiphean, I almost laughed:

People who criticize Roiphe are “confused.” They lack “perspective.” In the Times piece about the backlash against her, she characterized it as “hysteria.”

It’s stunning to watch Roiphe use the language of gaslighting with such ease. But of course she did: she’s been doing it for a quarter century, ever since she made her name in the early ’90s by claiming in a New York Times op-ed that men were the true victims of date rape. She’s dined out on the attention ever since, recycling that position: the Woody Allen of cultural criticism.

She has long seemed to see herself as the enfant terrible of the feminist movement, even when the movement itself saw her largely as a privileged dilettante with rich parents, one of whom helped facilitate her ability to be made into a cultural icon. Jennifer Gonnerman wrote well about this in her 1994 piece for The Baffler, “The Selling of Katie Roiphe.” In her piece, Roiphe isn’t a powerful supervillain, she’s a mouthpiece manufactured by The New York Times to shut down a movement that didn’t serve its purposes:

By making Katie Roiphe the new celebrity feminist, the Times aimed to create the illusion of being on the cutting edge of sexual politics. Its discovery and single-handed championing of this latest variety of feminism may have ostensibly served to “further debate,” but it actually did little more than prop up the Times‘ long-standing opposition to feminism’s more radical strains. Coming out of the mouth of a young, self-proclaimed feminist, the idea that date rape is the product of young women’s hysteria had legitimacy.

In that initial Times piece — which she later strung out from an already-long 600 words into a 200-page tome that some misguided Gender Studies programs still inflict on college students — she decided that it can’t possibly be true that one in four women on college campuses are victims of rape, because she hasn’t heard about it. Is it any wonder that her peers did not think it was a good idea to confide in Roiphe, a woman who wrote about them with condescension so lacking in empathy that it comes off almost pathological?

Enter Moira Donegan, the creator of the fabled Shitty Media Men list. Donegan “outed herself,” so to speak, in a magnificent essay published Wednesday night by The Cut:

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.

I could quote endlessly from it, but you should read it yourself, because it is a masterpiece — and thank heavens. It feels so cynical to say that at first I could only whisper it to select friends, but: can you imagine if Donegan was even one percent less talented as a writer? Can you imagine if this piece was even slightly imperfect? Donegan was up against impossible stakes and cleared them with air to spare. She writes honestly and bravely, with grace and clarity, perfectly articulating concepts and feelings that so many of us have been grasping at for months without ever quite gripping.

I have known Donegan was the creator of the list since I first saw it, back in October, because I am a reporter and that is a thing I cannot turn off: I figured it out, found her private Twitter, and requested to follow her. She accepted and followed me back, and after she took the list down, I sent her a message.

“I’m sorry you had to take it down, but thank you for making it. It was the only thing that made me feel not full of despair this week,” I told her.

She thanked me back, and told me she took it down because she was afraid she was putting the women who added names and allegations in danger. “It’s so fucked up that the consequences for speaking out about this stuff are so much greater than the consequences for doing it,” she said. “I hope one day the world deserves all of these amazing women.”

In the months that followed, she became a source of comfort for me. When I was frustrated by some of the backlash, I went to her, and she understood. I could see why she was a nexus in this whisper network, why people trusted her, her ability to make people feel seen and heard and understood. She is, in a way, the anti-Roiphe.

* *

I say that being a reporter is a thing I can’t turn off, but the truth is, before the list, that instinct in me felt snuffed out. After the first Harvey Weinstein broke, I felt suffocated for days, like I was being buried alive. I didn’t know why. I should’ve felt exhilarated, no? Women were getting justice, and it was all thanks to journalism, the great love of my life. Why couldn’t I see this as a the good thing it was? Why did I instead feel like I was dying? I cancelled plans, burrowed under the covers, and sobbed tears that felt like they both were and weren’t my own.

And then someone shared the list with me. I still acutely remember the feeling of watching it change and grow in front of my eyes. At first I thought the feeling was exhilaration, but then I realized it was relief. It was the feeling of having an extremely heavy burden lifted from you. Do you know that feeling? A magical sort of lightness. As I told Donegan at one point, it felt meaningful, even powerful, amid so much powerlessness.

Jodi Kantor mentioned in an interview with The Cut that she couldn’t have done the Weinstein stories without her reporting partner Megan Twohey (though many media outlets seem determined to give Kantor sole credit). She and Twohey needed each other, not just because it was a monumental reporting lift, but because they needed someone to share the burden of their experience. She said:

One of the saving graces of this process has been the partnership with Megan because this was a responsibility that we each needed to share with another person. We barely knew each other when we teamed up on this story. Not only were we in constant communication with each other and not only did we compare notes, check judgment, and plot strategy on those matters great and small, but the weight of this reporting is such that you just need somebody to share it with. A lot of the stories we heard are incredibly disturbing, and you don’t want to carry those alone.

That kind of support is vital, and not easy to come by. For decades, women have feared speaking out in part because of what a solitary and often isolating experience it was. The internet has been a gamechanger in this regard, and there’s a certain irony in Harper’s — a legacy publication so resistant to the World of Online — not understanding that. The list’s accessibility online connected us to one another, even anonymously. The #MeToo movement on Twitter — which Roiphe no doubt will take issue with as well — did that too. These things made us safer, they made us bolder, and most importantly, they allowed us to support one another in a way we never could before.

That’s what was happening that night as I watched the list grow and tracked the number of people logged into the document. Twenty, then 40, then 70. Even before some of the men on the list were investigated and resigned or fired, seeing all these women put down on paper the things we all knew and burned with the knowledge of felt like the most immense relief. We’d been sharing them among ourselves, whispering them without names or details, partly because we were so sure nothing would ever change, and partly because we were terrified of being branded problematic or troublesome by the older generations whose approval we needed to succeed in this industry and craved after watching them pave the way before us.

In those fluttery, self-conscious whispers lay so much self-doubt and self-blame. This happened; does it sound as bad as it felt? Do you think I’m overreacting? Am I weak? Seeing the charges in words on a page, for someone for whom words on a page are the greatest things imaginable, felt like we were finally throwing out all that harmful self-criticism and holding our heads up and really finally saying, this isn’t how it’s going to be anymore.

It is no wonder that some women reached the conclusion that to be strong and fierce, one must be unbothered.

A foundational premise of Roiphe’s initial argument back in the ’90s was that to speak your mistreatment aloud is to be a victim. This is the truth in which many of us were raised — and it was the truth for a long time, because of the repercussions when women did speak up. Death threats, rape threats, job loss, public humiliation, and worse. Some believed this because it was what they saw with their own clear eyes; others, like Roiphe, out of some calculus that to be women who were not problematic to men was the way forward.

But it is not the truth in which we will thrive. To paraphrase Roiphe’s own words from her coming-out column in 1993, that assertion is not fact. It is advertising a mood. And — unfortunately for Roiphe and for Harper’s, both of whom, it seems, would prefer things stay ever-the-same — the mood has changed.

The women speaking out these past few months, Donegan among them, have changed this math. To speak up is not weakness, it is courage. After Donegan’s piece was published, I watched so many people, men and women, herald her bravery, and it struck me that the momentum of this moment may now be unstoppable. What a rush that is. What a rush, and what an enormous relief.

Hollywood and ‘Disaster Feminism’

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 04: A view of the Hollywood Sign on December 04, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by PG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

According to a recent piece in The New Yorker by Dana Goodyear, Hollywood’s most powerful women are joining forces in a bit of “disaster feminism,” a riff on Naomi Klein’s notion of “disaster capitalism” — when governments seize a moment of vulnerability after a natural disaster or political or economic crisis to pass sweeping changes that the polity otherwise wouldn’t agree to.

Goodyear’s sprawling “Letter From California” asks as early as its headline the critical question: Can Hollywood change its ways?

She delves into the past, through an incredible, expansive interview with an unnamed nonagenarian, a former child actress who left the business at 16 horrified by the things men expected her to do.

And she talks to myriad current Hollywood-based sources, some named and others not, who recount anecdotes ranging from office conversations to overheard “come to Jesus” moments among men at a birthday party. The snapshots come together to form a picture of the reckoning ravaging that industry over the last few months.

One of the most striking anecdotes involves an unnamed man who, like many men and women right now, sees a difference between, in his words, “those who have done something really terrible” and, in Goodyear’s words, “the murky, in-between behavior — remarks or innuendos that at the time seemed fine, to the one initiating them.”

“I’ve never done anything like those guys,” he says, reminiscent of the way Weinstein said he was no Bill Cosby, and of the commenter on a story about Warner Bros. exec Andrew Kreisberg, who in Kreisberg’s name, wrote:

Nobody has accused me of rape like Weinstein.
Nobody has accused me of drugging them like Guillod.
Nobody has accused me of groping like Landesman.
Nobody has accused me of abusing minors like Spacey.
Nobody has accused me of exposing myself like Louis CK.
Nobody has accused me of asking for favors in exchange for work like Ratner.

“Men are living as Jews in Germany,” the unnamed man tells Goodyear. Listening to the audio version of this story, I blurted out an expletive at this line, accompanied by a sound like a dog laughing through torture. I had to pause it to give myself a chance to recover.

But then a few minutes later, Goodyear interviews “a Hollywood sexual-harassment investigator” who says that the new “zero tolerance” approach to harassment, in which names of abusive men are taken down off of buildings and other sites that once exalted them, is resulting in a “Soviet Union-style erasure.” Goodyear then writes: “Siberia, in this case, might be defined by what one fired agent told a former client: he was ‘pivoting away from representation’ and planning to reinvent himself in tech.”

Sure, tech might still, for a little while at least, be a good refuge for those who would prefer to continue protecting and even exalting abusive men.

There has been significant attention paid to the fear that we might be swinging the pendulum too far in one direction, that we might be catching innocents in our angry, raging nets of comeuppance. But less attention has been paid to a consequence of focusing so heavily on obvious monsters: What about the abusers we are letting off the hook because they’re just not vile enough? Or because their abuse wasn’t sexual?

Suki Kim’s exposé of public radio’s John Hockenberry was an exception to this: she gave equal weight to his racism and bullying as she did to his sexual overtures. But it’s much more common lately to hear people make excuses for workplace bullies whose behavior isn’t sexual, especially in “creative” industries like Hollywood and the media, which often glorify people with “passion” and “tempers” and “big personalities.” A friend told me about an effort to address harassment in radio and podcasting, and how when one person suggested the harassment include all workplace bullying, not only of a sexual nature, another person said that was impossible. “The whole industry will die,” we keep hearing, as if it is somehow physically impossible to do these jobs without abusing the people around you.

Even focusing on bullying excludes other behaviors that engender toxic work environments. An editor friend of mine, when this reckoning began, speculated that the fixation with monsters would allow some of his peers to not have to scrutinize their own behavior — actions that seem benign but are damaging, such as only mentoring young male reporters.

Much of Goodyear’s piece, especially the latter half, is devoted to questions like this. How can real change happen? She interviews Katherine Pope, a television executive who interviews women and people of color as a rule when hiring directors, who points out that even in companies that have women in senior positions, “there are layers of white men with veto power above them.”

Pope highlights the problem of “unconscious biases” as one element that prevents companies from taking chances on women the same way they do with charismatic men:

“The women have to be the most qualified, brilliant, perfect people in the world, and men get to grow into the job,” Pope said. “You hear code—‘You have to mature. You’re still learning.’ Or ‘I know she’s a great development executive, but does she know the business?’”

Goodyear notes that studios and networks haven’t done much beyond “applying reactive zero-tolerance policies and adding a few hotlines,” and quotes a former studio head who says he’s urged old colleagues “to implement some quick fixes —s ay, no more meetings in hotel rooms, on pain of firing — but they have ignored him.”

This is a rare bit of good news. Quick fixes are not the answer. Quick fixes allow problems to be swept under the rug; they allow people to move on and pretend that everything is okay when it very much is not. That’s what’s so heartening about some of the measures being pursued and proposed by powerful women in Hollywood, like the “inclusion clause” Women in Film is pitching studios and agencies to change the skewed ratio of women and men in writing, directing and producing positions “with an accompanying stamp to signify “gender parity in decision-making.'”

Goodyear also reveals how some of Hollywood’s most powerful women have been meeting for months “in secret,” resulting in an “action plan” detailed in a Jan. 1 New York Times story. The action plan includes the push for gender parity, but also reaches beyond Hollywood to “fight systemic sexual harassment… in blue-collar workplaces nationwide.” These scions of culture are promising “a legal defense fund, backed by $13 million in donations, to help less privileged women — like janitors, nurses and workers at farms, factories, restaurants and hotels — protect themselves from sexual misconduct and the fallout from reporting it.” This is especially poignant in light of the letter written in November, signed by approximately 700,000 women farmworkers, in support of the women of Hollywood coming forward to name and shame their abusers.

An unnamed attendee at those secret meetings told Goodyear that the Hollywood women were inspired by Naomi Klein’s concept of “disaster capitalism.” “We’re doing disaster feminism,” the attendee told Goodyear. “In the chaos that is ensuing, how can we create institutional, structural change, so if the moment passes those things will be in place?”