Katie Roiphe On 'The Other Whisper Network' NPR's Scott Simon talks with author Katie Roiphe about her essay on the #MeToo movement in this month's Harper's Magazine. It's called "The Other Whisper Network."

Katie Roiphe On 'The Other Whisper Network'

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Katie Roiphe has a piece in this month's Harper's magazine about the #MeToo movement called "The Other Whisper Network." But the essay was famous before it ever appeared. When word got out that she was writing the essay, women writers feared it might out the creator of the - ahem - Crappy Media Men list. That was a Google spreadsheet where women could anonymously name men who had sexually harassed or assaulted them. The creator of that list ultimately outed herself online. But Roiphe, already a deeply divisive figure for some women, was harassed and insulted online. Katie Roiphe joins us here today. She'll characterize her own work and her feelings about the #MeToo movement. She's the author of a number of books about writers and writing and relationships and history and many other things. Thanks so much for being with us.

KATIE ROIPHE: Thanks for having me. What was very strange about that prepublication hysteria you talked about is it was kind of proving the point of my piece. You know, it was very strange. All of a sudden, strangers were tweeting at me - like human scum, garbage person, kind of obscene things I won't say here. And part of what the piece is about is the kind of Twitter feminism - this really - hard-line feminists who are kind of policing thought.

And anybody who deviates slightly from the official party line on #MeToo is kind of turned into this enemy. And so my piece was really written as a call for ambivalence and a call for ambiguity and for taking a moment and kind of identifying the weird energy or the anger in this conversation. And I wrote it as a feminist who, of course, shares the goals more broadly of #MeToo.

SIMON: Your whole argument seems to be that you're worried that the presumption of innocence and due process is being thrown over.

ROIPHE: My worry is that - especially about due process - I think some of the Twitter feminists are pretty impatient with the idea of due process. I quote Dayna Tortorici. She has a tweet, which I'm going to paraphrase, where she says, I understand the queasiness of due process. But losing your job's not prison or death. And I think it's really important that we kind of keep our heads and make distinctions and ask questions. And, obviously, we all want the men who are abusing power out of power. And I think we all share that larger goal. But it's really important that we don't let our anger kind of take down everyone and anything sort of blindly. And I guess that is what disturbs me when I say there's sort of a weird energy in Twitter feminism. That's what disturbs me the most.

SIMON: Have you come across an instance where a man who you have no use for cites your argument in defense of what - of his rejection of the #MeToo movement?

ROIPHE: I have not had such a moment yet. And I can imagine it happening. I don't say that it wouldn't happen. But I really think I'm pretty careful in my argument that I say I do really believe sexual harassment, real abuses of power should be punished. I'm a little more skeptical when we put in things like creepy DMs or leering. Then I start to get nervous because to me some of these categories are actually insulting and infantilizing to women.

SIMON: But what about those women who say - look - I'm - I don't think I'm infantilizing myself? I am insisting that I be treated as an adult?

ROIPHE: I guess I think if you're an...

SIMON: ...An adult and not an object.

ROIPHE: OK. I agree with that. You should be treated as an adult, not an object. But I think most adults can kind of handle someone looking at them without losing their mind.

SIMON: I do understand women who say that it's less that they can't take a leer than they have well-based, experience-based concerns over where a leer can lead.

ROIPHE: Well, that might be true. But I just think to put someone on a list for leering - to put that word on a list as an accusation is a pretty strong statement. This is a list being circulated in the business. This is a list meant to affect people's reputations and their careers. Another thing was something like leading multiple women on online was one of the charges on that list. And you know, that's a pretty common thing. And I would say leering's a pretty common thing. So do we really want to put that in writing and like besmirch somebody's reputation over something like that? I don't know.

SIMON: But should it be a pretty common thing?

ROIPHE: Well, these are sort of sleazy behaviors. And maybe they should not. But I'm just not sure these are criminal acts. And I suppose what I want to do is kind of separate what's a real abuse of power or a criminal act from what is kind of like everyday sleazy behavior that we wish wouldn't happen. I mean, we wish it wouldn't happen. But do we want people to lose their jobs over it?

SIMON: In this article, you write at length about about Lorin Stein, who was until a few weeks ago the editor of Paris Review, who has acknowledged behavior he says he regrets. And you point out the fact that he has has nurtured and supported the careers of many successful women writers. Does one justify the other? Can you expect to get exonerated on that?

ROIPHE: I wasn't really saying he was exonerated by it. I just felt it's complicated that we have this simple political narrative like Lorin Stein, this sexist monster who's a predator, who's treating - I had quoted somebody saying he treats all women writers as sexual objects. But the truth is - and as you hear - heard in my piece from two women writers who did not think he had all treated them as sexual objects. And in fact, he lovingly, carefully, intimately, was this, like, transcendently amazing editor and promoter of their work.

And I guess one of the things I wanted to end with with the piece is just that I think we should be able to hold two things in our minds, that this is sort of sad - that there's a lot of sad things going on. It's sad that Lorin left the Paris Review. Maybe it's the right thing to have happened but that it's possible to kind of take a complicated view and sort of more a richer view of what's happening than our overly simple political narratives offer us.

SIMON: Katie Roiphe, author of "The Violet Hour" and other books. Her essay is in this month's Harper's magazine. Thanks so much.

ROIPHE: Thank you.


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