A controversial '90s feminist is trending again, after comparing #MeToo devotees to Trump radicals

Katie Roiphe is being hated on again. (Photo: CBS News)
Katie Roiphe is being hated on again. (Photo: CBS News)

Since October, the flames of the #MeToo movement have engulfed the careers of men accused of sexual harassment and abuse, in a fire stoked by women encouraged to speak out about their own instances of assault.

But not all men are guilty of impropriety, and women aren’t that powerless, argues journalist, academic, and novelist Katie Roiphe in her long-awaited essay, “The Other Whisper Network,” in the February 2018 issue of Harper’s Magazine. In other words, the #MeToo movement risks burning itself to the ground with its radicalization.

In the piece, Roiphe responds to Moira Donegan’s Jan. 10 essay in New York magazine’s “The Cut” about creating the “Shitty Media Men List,” a crowdsourced spreadsheet that named dozens of media men accused of everything from “creepy DMs” to assault, in October.

Originally intended to be kept private, the list, which Donegan created, was circulated among women before briefly being made public. Some said the list was a mechanism by which women could protect themselves from predators. Harper’s commissioned Roiphe to write a story about the list and uncover its creator, who had remained anonymous until outing herself.

But when feminist Twitter found out about the would-be article, users threatened boycotts of Harper’s if they outed Donegan, called for any writers working for Harper’s to pull out of their contracts, and waged merciless attacks on Roiphe — all before the article had even been published.

But Roiphe — who likened radical #MeToo feminists (dubbed “Twitter feminists”) to Trump supporters who want Hillary Clinton imprisoned — likely has quite a thick skin by now, as she’s been kicking up controversy since the early ’90s. Which is why Roiphe’s name might be more familiar to Gen Xers.

For millennials, a Roiphe primer:

The 49-year-old writer grew up with a feminist novelist, Anne Roiphe, for a mother and a psychoanalyst for a father. By 25, she’d published her splashy first book, The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism, in 1994, eliciting criticism and unvarnished contempt from liberal feminists for suggesting that the definition of rape — and crisis, for that matter — had become too broadly defined. “The idea of ‘consent’ has been redefined beyond the simple assertion that ‘no means no,’” she wrote, critically, in a June 13, 1993, New York Times Magazine story adapted from her book. “Politically correct sex involves a yes, and a specific yes at that.”

Since then, she’s also published Last Night in Paradise: Sex and Morals at the Century’s End (1997) and In Praise of Messy Lives: Essays (2012), and has been working as the director of the Cultural Reporting & Criticism program at New York University’s school of journalism.

But it was her opinions on campus and date rape that propelled her into the world, as she noted in the Times story, “By viewing rape as encompassing more than the use or threat of physical violence to coerce someone into sex, rape-crisis feminists reinforce traditional views about the fragility of the female body and will,” and “It is the passive sexual role that threatens us still, and it is the denial of female sexual agency that threatens to propel us backward.”

Katie Roiphe’s <em>The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism</em> (1994). (Photo: Little, Brown and Company)
Katie Roiphe’s The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism (1994). (Photo: Little, Brown and Company)

That could almost as easily apply to how Roiphe interprets the current feminist moment. In the new Harper’s essay, she argues that Twitter feminists’ “bloodlust” for the end of the patriarchy means taking down any and every man who has at one time asked for a woman’s phone number, robbing the woman of her own agency to deny that man’s request. She recounts how a number of “deeply anonymous” sources with whom she spoke voiced concerns over the excesses of #MeToo and its “violent anger.”

Because women, who in this “reckoning,” as it’s been called, are seething and seeing red, things like the Shitty Media Men list become acceptable (while if it were, say, a Muslims-are-dangerous list, it’d spark outrage, Roiphe argues). She says the vitriol some women express toward men isn’t actually that far off from how Vice President Mike Pence won’t eat alone with any woman who isn’t his wife.

Unsurprisingly, the very people whom Roiphe addresses in her piece reacted to it publicly. (Spoiler: Many of them have tiny blue checkmarks by their Twitter names, indicating that they are Twitter “verified” and work within media.)

Whether you remember anything about Roiphe’s feminist philosophy or not, or whether you agree that #MeToo truly has become excessive, remember this: Roiphe encourages you to express how you feel about it all — without becoming the “thought police” who monitors what’s appropriate and just.

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