The best writing on sexual harassment this year.

The Best, Most Searing Writing on Sexual Harassment This Year

The Best, Most Searing Writing on Sexual Harassment This Year

What women really think.
Dec. 21 2017 4:12 PM

The Best of the Reckoning

The most searing, honest, forceful, precise, paradigm-shifting writing on sexual harassment this year.

171220_XX_sexualHarrassmentWriting
Clockwise from top left: Amber Tamblyn, Lupita Nyong’o, Rebecca Traister, Jia Tolentino.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Noam Galai/Getty Images for Meteor Shower, Ethan Miller/Getty Images, Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Glamour, and Craig Barritt/Getty Images for the New Yorker.

The first big New York Times story about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, went live on Oct. 5. Nearly every day since has brought another horror story. For those of us caught up in the monthslong collective catharsis, one significant silver lining has been the writing: thousands of strong, clear words produced (mostly) by women, examining their own experiences, reporting on the stories of others, and trying to pinpoint exactly what this moment means. Here is some of the best of that work, recommended by Slate writers and editors. —Rebecca Onion

I read Jia Tolentino’s “How Men Like Harvey Weinstein Implicate Their Victims in Their Acts” (NewYorker.com, Oct. 11) as I commuted home. As I was standing on the Metro, Tolentino’s words cut me to the bone. This article’s power comes from how precisely Tolentino dissects the ways sexual harassment damages the self-concept of its victims; every taut sentence rang true. “This is a basic and familiar pattern,” Tolentino writes. “A powerful man sees you, a woman who is young and who thinks she might be talented, a person who conveniently exists in a female body, and he understands that he can tie your potential to your female body, and threaten the latter, and you will never be quite as sure of the former again.” —Lila Thulin, intern

Advertisement

This fall it became normal to lose afternoons or whole days to reading the latest sexual harassment and assault investigation. I found all the stories gripping and important and tragic, but the story I became most obsessed with was that of the “shitty media men” spreadsheet. As I struggled to make sense of what to think about the list, Katie McDonough’s Oct. 13 piece in Splinter, “This Was Always Going to Hurt,” is the one that did the best job of explaining it. McDonough writes that, yes, the document was messed up (“Something must be done, just not this”), but that a perfect, painless way to address these issues in our industry, one that won’t touch or reframe any of our personal relationships, is simply never going to exist. I appreciate that McDonough included her own story of sexual assault in the piece; it informed her thinking, and it should inform all of ours. —Heather Schwedel, staff writer

To state the resplendently obvious, this is Rebecca Traister’s rodeo. The clear-eyed author of All the Single Ladies brings enormous amounts of nuance, fire, and expertise to issues that are easy to simplify, downplay, and mischaracterize: What are the actionable lessons of the post-Weinstein moment? How are we all implicated? How do power, gender, and sex really interact in the workplace, and how did we think they did? Along with an impressive ability to tease out ripple effects, synthesize narratives, and articulate ambient moods, Traister possesses a moral wisdom that feels bracing, restorative, sanity-saving. Just go to her New York magazine author page and read everything she’s published since Oct. 5. —Katy Waldman, staff writer

In her Oct. 19 piece in the New York Times, Lupita Nyong’o describes her encounters with Harvey Weinstein with such extraordinary clarity and precision, as though she’s documenting the operation of a machine—which in a way she is. Of everything I’ve read about Weinstein, this piece gave me the clearest understanding of how his manipulations worked, both socially and psychologically. —Gabriel Roth, senior editor and editorial director of Slate Plus

Lili Loofbourow’s “The Myth of the Male Bumbler” (the Week, Nov. 15) is an extremely forceful and persuasive application of rhetorical and cultural analysis to a wide array of know-nothing statements made by male public figures in 2017. There is an intuitive rightness to Loofbourow’s argument—yes, it is true that “the bumbler’s perpetual amazement exonerates him”; yes, the supposed cluelessness of men has indeed been “weaponized into an alibi”—but the piece also does a great job tying sexual harassment together with other antisocial actions men like to excuse by claiming incompetence. Jeff Sessions, Mike Pence, and Donald Trump Jr. don’t stand accused of harassment, but they are hiding behind this myth, just the same. Once you read Loofbourow’s piece, you start seeing bumblers everywhere. —Rebecca Onion, staff writer

Advertisement

Josephine Livingstone’s Nov. 17 assessment of the #MeToo moment, on the New Republic’s website, shines some much-needed skepticism on the biggest exhuming of sexual misconduct the country has ever seen. Where other writers have scolded women for ruining innocent men’s careers and fomenting a “sex panic”—worries I believe to be way out of scale with the enormity of the abuses and cover-ups coming to light—Livingstone puts forth a forward-thinking argument about the movement’s flattening of gender-politics discourse. In our efforts to convey the ubiquity of sexual violence, she argues, writers and activists have forgotten the dictates of intersectionality, one of the most essential pillars of feminist thought. Livingstone points out that the #MeToo conversation has reduced gender to a clear binary and women to a monolith, eliding crucial nuances shaped by race, class, age, and sexuality. The article offers a clarifying step back from a movement that has the potential to propel progressive change in how society conceives of sexual violation, but only if its proponents apply a critical feminist lens to the process. —Christina Cauterucci, staff writer

Nothing has highlighted the routine sexual harassment in America’s least glamorous workplaces quite as powerfully as the open letter from Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, an organization representing female farmworkers, first published in Time magazine on Nov. 10. The letter, written “on behalf of the 700,000 women” who serve as agricultural workers across the U.S. to draw attention to abuses “in the isolated fields and packinghouses,” is directed to the “Sisters” from Hollywood and other high-profile industries who’ve said #MeToo. “Your job feeds souls, fills hearts and spreads joy. Our job nourishes the nation with the fruits, vegetables and other crops that we plant, pick and pack,” the workers write. The letter strikes a remarkable balance between acknowledging the stark differences between their work environments and, with immense compassion, emphasizing the very similar hazards both sets of women face on the job. It’s a master class in feminist solidarity that doesn’t ignore differences. —Haley Swenson, editor, the Better Life Lab

“They can have their money or they can have their redemption. IMO they can’t have both”: I sent that to a group text on Nov. 30 after I read Amber Tamblyn’s op-ed in the New York Times on the impending redemption of men. Three weeks of distance from the date of publication has only strengthened my resolve on the matter. Tamblyn rattles off all the notes of caution floated in the past 2½ months and shuts them down firmly: “The punishment for harassment is you disappear. The punishment for rape is you disappear. The punishment for masturbation in front of us is you disappear. The punishment for coercion is you disappear.” Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Jeremy Piven, Mario Batali can all disappear. Because when the time came for them to choose power over decency, they chose the former. Every choice has consequences, and women have had to live with the consequences of men’s choices for far too long. —Aria Velasquez, audience engagement editor

Rebecca Carroll’s Dec. 4 essay on her time working at the Charlie Rose Show, written for Esquire.com, was a story of personal experience, but also a corrective. Carroll wrote about the toxic effects of witnessing the host’s “lecherous behavior” toward female staff and guests, but she also meditated on the fact that the harassment Rose directed toward her was racial, rather than sexual. Carroll’s experience shows how these forms of degradation dovetail neatly. “To be clear,” she writes, “I’m not suggesting it would have been preferable for Charlie to have preyed upon me, too—but his sexualization of white women was a manifestation of gendered power dynamics in the same way that his not sexualizing me was an expression of racialized power dynamics.” There’s also an excellent interview with Carroll on the podcast With Friends Like These. —Rebecca Onion, staff writer

My favorite piece on this topic was not actually a written article but a radio segment. Kristen Meinzer was one of five women who went on the record in a Dec. 1 New York magazine story, about  the former host of WNYC’s The Takeaway, John Hockenberry, who stands accused of workplace harassment. On Dec. 6, Meinzer (now director of nonfiction programming at our sister company Panoply) spoke to The Takeaway in a live interview about her experience. As I listened, I was bowled over by Meinzer’s forthrightness and poise—as she called for managers to be fired, as she noted the occurrence of sexual relationships between WNYC bosses and subordinates, and as she calmly accepted the apology of Todd Zwillich, her former colleague, who was conducting the interview. I kept thinking to myself, “This is live?” —Mary Wilson, producer, The Gist

One more thing

You depend on Slate for sharp, distinctive coverage of the latest developments in politics and culture. Now we need to ask for your support.

Our work is more urgent than ever and is reaching more readers—but online advertising revenues don’t fully cover our costs, and we don’t have print subscribers to help keep us afloat. So we need your help.

If you think Slate’s work matters, become a Slate Plus member. You’ll get exclusive members-only content and a suite of great benefits—and you’ll help secure Slate’s future.

Join Slate Plus