Around 10 pm on January 10, writer and former editor at The New Republic Moira Donegan came forward as the creator of an anonymous online spreadsheet titled “Shitty Media Men” that had been created in October as a private space for women in media to disclose the names of men in the industry who they said harassed or assaulted them. The spreadsheet, Donegan explained in the essay in which she came forward, was only online for about 12 hours, but in that time it amassed roughly 70 names.
This week, rumors spread that the previously anonymous creator of the list would be named in a forthcoming article in Harper’s Magazine. Readers and writers alike protested on social media, fearing violent retaliation against the list’s author; some with pieces awaiting publication at Harper’s withdrew their work. The author of the Harper’s piece was, importantly, a woman—someone with a long history of rape-culture skepticism. Before she could be named by someone else, Donegan came forward herself. That night, I scrolled through Twitter and watched the social-media protest develop. I saw the retweets and likes accrue when women tweeted in solidarity, and I wondered if Harper’s would be responsive to this public outcry. The first thing I saw when I logged on to Twitter the next morning was Donegan’s essay.
As a young writer still in college, I have regarded the prospect of joining “the industry”—working for magazines, websites, outlets—with trepidation. I am only just beginning to learn its topography, to understand where I might fit in its already over-saturated landscape, how and in what way I can make a living doing something I love. I, like many young writers hoping for the same, barely understand—are hardly privy to—how the industry’s formal or informal channels operate. Especially the latter.
“Like me, many of the women who used the spreadsheet are particularly vulnerable: We are young, new to the industry, and not yet influential in our fields. As we have seen time after time, there can be great social and professional consequences for women who come forward,” she wrote. “At the time when I made it, I had become so accustomed to hearing about open secrets, to men whose bad behavior 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. Sexual harassment and assault, even when it was violent, had been tolerated for so long that it seemed like much of the world found it acceptable. I thought that women could create a document with the aim of helping one another in part because I assumed that people with authority didn’t care about what we had to say there. In this sense, at least, I am glad I was wrong.”
Donegan’s essay described the reality of a field fraught with danger for young women just as much as it demonstrated the courage and resolve she proved is necessary to successfully navigate it. I read her piece, rapt, letting a perspective rarely granted to young writers (at least before they take the risk of making writing their career) wash over me: Through her recounting, I saw that the twin specters of the abuse of power and sexual misconduct, one of its sickening expressions, haunts anyone who aspires to have her voice heard as a professional writer. This is what they do not tell you in school. And whether you’re confronted with this reality in an office or over the requisite networking coffee or drink or launch party isn’t really up to you. What is, as Donegan points out in her essay—and in her actions creating the list—is how you choose to act when you see something wrong persisting without much hindrance.