Katie Roiphe’s Harper’s Magazine article about #MeToo, “The Other Whisper Network,” has been so thoroughly dismantled by Rebecca Traister, Michelle Goldberg, Christina Cauterucci and others that there’s not a whole lot left to say. Her quotes are selective and distorted. She’s a terrible journalist, just at the basic factual level. (She cites as fact the long-exploded story of Johnathan Prevette, a little boy supposedly suspended from school in 1996 for “sexual harassment”—giving a little girl a kiss on the cheek. He was never suspended; no one at school called it sexual harassment—that term was applied when his parents took him on the talk-show circuit. And, also, the little girl complained.) She slides past the fact that the pre-publication uproar on Twitter was not about the article itself but about the well-founded belief that Roiphe was planning to out the originator of the Shitty Media Men list, Moira Donegan, possibly subjecting her to Gamergate-type stalking.
Most obviously, the things she claims her friends will only whisper off the record, or as Roiphe dramatically calls it, from “deep anonymity,” are things that have been said, in print, a lot. Al Franken got a raw deal. “Believe all women” is not a perfect guide to truth (the phrase is actually “believe women”). #MeToo has gone too far when the SMM list cites a man for “creepy DMs.”#MeToo infantilizes women and denies their agency. These points have been widely made in newspapers and magazines by, among others, Daphne Merkin, Bari Weiss, Masha Gessen, and Caitlin Flanagan. Many #MeToo supporters, including myself, have expressed some ambivalence about where this is all headed. (There’s quite a rich conversation going on among feminists. Maybe Roiphe and her friends need to read more widely.) Roiphe’s claim to have been silenced herself is absurd. (“I have a long history with this feeling of not being able to speak,” says the celebrated self-styled contrarian and tenured professor of journalism.) In the week since “The Other Whisper Network” came out in one of the most prestigious magazines in the country, Roiphe has appeared on CBS and was respectfully interviewed on NPR and in Slate.
I ‘d like to make two points. First, the core of #MeToo has not been anonymous, unverified free-for-alls like the SMM list or “Grace’s” awful date with Aziz Ansari, fun as those are to discuss. It’s been people coming forward whose accounts were then investigated by real journalists in serious publications like The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Guardian, Variety, and The Washington Post. That is how we know about Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and Louis C.K. and Mario Batali—and, for that matter, Donald Trump. What lends #MeToo weight is the sheer amount of testimony by people using their own names—not “deep anonymity”—as well as the fact that many men have been accused by multiple women with similar stories. The United States may sometimes operate a bit as if under Sharia law, for which it takes the testimony of two women to equal that of one man. But now it turns out that two—or more!—women are willing to speak up.
Second, #MeToo is not about “Victorian” maidens unable to deal with the occasional leering guy in the office. It is not about hysteria, what Roiphe calls “the weird energy behind this movement.” It is not a sex panic.