This week, Dahlia and Amy (a.k.a your friendly neighborhood rage cheerleaders) talk about Rose McGowan’s confrontation with trans activist Andi Dier and Katie Roiphe’s “feminist” screed against #MeToo. At a recent stop on her book tour, Dier asked McGowan to explain remarks she made on Rupaul’s podcast about how transwomen didn’t grow up as women. Then they talk about the Roiphe essay you don’t need to read and how exhausting contrarian feminists need to step away from writing unproductive fodder criticizing young women.
WATCH: When you’re in the mood for some sci-fi horror, The Cloverfield Paradox has got dystopic guts and stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw!
READ: For our skin care–loving listeners, some great reads about our self-care ritual: “The Year that Skin Care Became a Coping Mechanism” (The New Yorker), “I Grew Up Aroud Korean Beauty Products. Americans, You’ve Been Had” (New York Times), “Skincare is Good and Also Works” (Racked), and, of course, “The Skincare Con” (Outline).
LISTEN: Dahlia discovered a new-old fave while rewatching an episode of The Real L-Word: moody, broody, and sparkle-y “Emerald Eyes” by Von Iva.
This episode of Backtalk is sponsored by Clone-A-Willy. Clone-A-Willy and Clone-A-Pussy kits allow anyone to create an exact copy of a penis or vulva into a high-grade silicone or edible milk chocolate replica! Talk about the perfect Valentine’s Day gift! These DIY kits are sourced from the USA, hand assembled in Portland, and 100% body safe. The Clone-A-Willy team aims to use their products to create a safe space for self exploration and nurturing intimacy between lovers, couples, and friends. Gift sexy this year and use promo BACKTALK today for 20% off www.cloneawilly.com!
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AMY: Welcome to Backtalk, the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Amy Lam, Contributing Editor at Bitch Media.
DAHLIA: I’m Dahlia Grossman-Heinze, Senior Engagement Editor at Bitch Media.
AMY: And every episode we start with talking about our favorite pop culture moments. What is yours, Dahlia?
DAHLIA: OK, I want to play a clip from my favorite show of all time, Vanderpump Rules.
DAHLIA: What’s happening in this clip is that Lala and James are best friends, and James is mad because he feels as if Lala disrespected his girlfriend, Raquel. Which to be fair, no one likes Raquel. So, that’s the background, and here’s the clip.
[dramatic music in the background]
JAMES: Listen, I’m sorry.
LALA: I told you that I ate Raquel’s pasta, and that’s how you come for me?
JAMES: All right, it was like a—
LALA: What the [bleep] is wrong with you?
JAMES: It was a dig. It was a dig. It was a dig.
LALA: What the f*** is wrong with you?
JAMES: It was a dig!
LALA: It was a joke! Stop coming for people who have your f***ing back! I told you I had a bite of her pasta, and then the whole thing was devoured. And that’s why you go you off.
JAMES: Oh my god! Why is it about the DAMN PASTA!? Get over the damn pasta! Read between the f***ing lines! It ain’t about the PASTA! It’s not about the pasta!
[car horns honking as they pass]
It’s not about the pasta.
[addressing the camera] It’s not about the pasta. It’s about Lala showing respect for my girlfriend. How does Lala expect me to respect her man….
AMY and DAHLIA: [laughing]
AMY: That clip. Makes. No. Sense. But also, I’m so intrigued. [laughs]
DAHLIA: It makes a lot of sense. OK. It’s not about the pasta, as you know. What it is about is that James feels— Well, the thing is that James should not drink but drinks constantly. This incident occurred during a daytime brunch during which James was doing shots and got really drunk. And then Lala just like made a joke about how she ate some of his girlfriend, Raquel’s, pasta, and he just lost it! This fight happens. They’re on the street, and he’s just yelling, “It’s not about the pasta!” And I don’t know if I have a reason for including this as my pop culture moment other than I just want to assert myself as a Vanderpump Rules superfan and expert. [chuckles]
You remember when you were a kid, and you used to talk on the phone with your friends while you were watching TV shows? Amy, I really wanna call you and talk to you on the phone while I’m watching Vanderpump Rules. I’ll explain everything to you. Just know that the best parts are the fights, and the fights don’t have to really make sense for them to be great.
AMY: Well, yeah ,you tweeted about this, and I had so many questions.
DAHLIA: You had so many questions.
AMY: ‘Cause I have no context. I don’t know anything about the show. But my number one question was what was the pasta? Was it good? [laughs] That’s all I cared about. I just wanted to know more about the pasta, but it’s not about the pasta.
DAHLIA: It’s not about the pasta. It’s about the disrespect of Raquel. OK?
AMY: OK. OK. I got it. I got it. So, my pop culture moment is equally as, I think, silly in a way. And it’s also one of those things I think you have to watch too. So, recently I learned about these video memes that are coming out of China, people taking selfies but like videos selfies of themselves. And there’s this one that’s been going around, and it’s called Karma’s A Bitch. And I guess it’s inspired by one of the characters from the show Riverdale where she says that line. And it’s just really irreverent and weird. In this one, it shows a person kind of like a before and after. They’re looking kind of dowdy, or they just got out of bed, and then they say, “Karma’s a bitch,” over this song. And then they flip a blanket or towel over, and then they have a whole America’s Next Top Model makeover and look amazing or something.
AMY: And then it got me into this Twitter hole of looking for other Chinese video memes. And there’s this really great one called Give And Take, where it shows the person holding the camera’s showing their friend eating. And then they take something from their friend’s plate, and then they give something back to their friend on their plate. But that thing that they give back is like really tiny. And it doesn’t sound funny at all, the way I’m describing it. But I legit LOLed at these stupid memes.
So, I would just, if you wanna watch this, just Google “Karma’s A Bitch meme,” and then you could most likely find other memes. ‘Cause the people made a bunch of posts about these memes. But they’re so ridiculous, and I literally killed, I wanna say, a half an hour just laying in bed, watching these memes.
AMY: You know, I just had one of those nights where I didn’t wanna do anything even though I had so much shit to do. Watching people do silly shit.
DAHLIA: So, I’ve seen a few of these Karma’s a bitch memes, and I inferred, based on I think nothing, that maybe this person had been dumped, and now they’re, “Jokes on you ‘cause I’m so hot now.” Is that accurate, or did I just make that completely up?
AMY: I think that maybe that’s— I don’t know. I think that that maybe was from the dialogue of the show. I have no idea. I think it’s just a way to show that you look really hot when you spend an inordinate amount of time putting lots of makeup on. [laughs] I think it’s just about transformation. I don’t know. I don’t think it needs a backstory.
AMY: But they’re super fun to watch though.
[cutesy bells ring]
DAHLIA: In the last episode of Backtalk we introduced our brand new segment. At the time, we didn’t have a good name for it, but I think we should just keep it with our draft name, which was Amy Versus Dahlia. And in Amy Versus Dahlia, we’re gonna argue, we’re gonna make a personal and impassioned plea about our particular side of an issue. And so, I’m gonna unveil the results of our very first Amy Versus Dahlia. Which the first, we were arguing about Black Mirror, and Amy didn’t like it that I said you could pick and choose amongst Black Mirror episodes to get the Black Mirror experience that you want. Amy said no, you have to start at the beginning because the beginning is most representative of the true Black Mirror spirit. [laughing]
AMY: Yes! I stand by it.
DAHLIA: And I didn’t really introduce any rules. I was just like, “Go to our website, and you will be able to vote.” So, this time let’s say ,maybe the rules are…uh…well, still I don’t have any good ideas for rules.
AMY: Well, maybe you could only vote once.
DAHLIA: OK. You can only vote— You think people voted more than once?
AMY: Well, no, no. I don’t think that. It’s because I wanna be so real with everybody right now. I didn’t know how to access the poll. I don’t have the back-end login. So, I voted to see the results. [laughs] So, I voted for me, and then I was like, “Oh cool” to see what it was. And then I felt bad that I voted for me. So, then I went back and voted for you to cancel out my vote.
DAHLIA: I was slightly actively campaigning on Twitter for my cause.
DAHLIA: [laughs] But here, we have the results. Which is who is right, Amy versus Dahlia? First of all ,we had 357 people—
AMY: That’s amazing. Thank you. Thank you.
DAHLIA: Thank you for voting. But Amy, you shouldn’t be saying thank you so fast because guess who won. It was me. I won with 61% of the vote, which is 217 people.
DAHLIA: And Amy got 39% of the vote, which is 139 people.
AMY: I will take though that 39%. I’m really proud of my brethren who agree with me.
AMY: Maybe one thing we’ll learn about me is that I am not a sore loser when it comes to these polls.
DAHLIA: Well, we’ll test that now because we have an even more contentious Amy Versus Dahlia. And same as last time, we’ll embed a form for you to vote at bitchmedia.org. And here is what we’re arguing about this week. What is the best noodle soup: phở or ramen?
AMY: This is gonna be so contentious. And when you suggested doing this, I was like, yeah, of course I’ll fucking argue day and night about this with you. And then I realized this is a really sensitive subject. [laughs] I am—
OK. So, if we had to compare phở versus Ramen, I am Team Phở like day, night, all week long, 24/7 365 days a year. And my reasoning for that is that phở is good all the time, I think. It’s good for hangovers, it’s good for breakfast, it’s good for lunch, it good for dinner. The broth is perfectly light, it’s not too heavy, it’s aromatic, it gives you the right mouthfeel. And you also can use fresh herbs with it, which I can never, ever like downplay. Fresh basil in a steaming bowl of phở is the best thing ever. And to support my argument for phở, I do have to— Even though I love ramen, like I fucking love ramen, one of the things that I don’t know how to overcome with my ramen eating—and I might just be me—is that because ramen broth, isn’t heavy but it’s based often in a, I think, heavier stock, and has this really great like umami in the broth itself, but the thing about that is that after the first two spoonfuls of ramen broth, you kind of don’t taste it anymore. I don’t know if that makes sense. Like your tongue becomes numb to the taste, so you don’t get the flavor every bite. Whereas, I think because of the lightness of phở broth, you get it brought the entire bowl until the last sip. So, that is my impassioned plea to vote for phở.
DAHLIA: OK, and here is my case for ramen. Here’s what I think. I think if you are truly a noodle person, I think that ramen—
DAHLIA: [laughs] I think that probably better showcases the noodle.
AMY: Mm! OK, OK. Oh, OK.
DAHLIA: I think that in ramen, the point is the noodle. Like for instance, not that I would ever say that packages store-bought ramen is the same as ramen that you can get in Tokyo, but when you buy store-bought ramen, you know it is basically all noodles and just some powder for some water. So, I think if you were a true noodle lover, or shall we say perhaps even a pasta lover like James’s girlfriend, Raquel, I think the ramen is superior because it is specifically about the noodle. Whereas, I feel like phở is a bit more about the protein that accompanies the noodle.
AMY: Wow. So, I guess we’re kind of a little bit having a soup versus noodle debate a little bit.
DAHLIA: Oh, this has turned into soup versus noodle. Well, I’m Team Noodle.
AMY: Well, I love noodles, but the thing is about ramen, like I said, with the broth is that sometimes the noodles can be too heavy, and the texture is like you have to have really good noodles to make the texture good. Otherwise, it’s just gonna feel like 99-cent ramen you got on the bottom shelf at the supermarket.
AMY: But the thing about phở noodles is that rice noodles do an amazing job at absorbing the flavors of the broth. Like I could literally talk about— OK. Also, as a child refugee immigrants from Vietnam, I have to represent, right? This whole episode could just be about how much I love phở . Would we want it to be that? We probably don’t!
Anyways! [laughing too hard to breathe]
DAHLIA: Well, those are our cases. So, which is the best noodle soup: ramen or phở? Who is right, Amy Versus Dahlia? Episode 2.
[cutesy bells ring]
AMY: So, this episode is sponsored by Cone-a-Willy Clone-a-Pussy, kits that allow anyone to create an exact copy of a penis or a vulva into a high-grade silicone or edible milk chocolate replica! Talk about the perfect Valentine’s Day gift. These DIY kits are sourced from the US, hand-assembled in Portland, Oregon. And 100% body safe.
DAHLIA: The Cone-a-Willy team aims to use their products to create a safe space for self-exploration and nurturing intimacy between lovers, couples, and friends. And if you want to give sexy this year and use promo “BACKTALK,” one word backtalk in all caps, use that today for 20% off at www.cloneawilly.com.
AMY: First of all, I can’t believe we have a discount code right now! We’ve never had a discount code! I’m so excited for us!
DAHLIA: Oh my god. We were just talking about how much you love discount codes.
AMY: But like, now there’s a discount code for— Like I am way too excited for this. OK. So, I want people to go use this. It’s at Clone-a-Willy, and it’s spelled cloneawilly.com. I guess I cannot— Well, OK, I can only think of one gif that’s better than an exact copy of one’s penis or vulva that is milk chocolate replica. Because last year, ‘cause I live so far away from my partner, I actually had a heart-shaped pizza delivered to him.
AMY: [laughs] Yeah. So, how about this? You get a heart-shaped pizza delivered to your partner, and then for dessert, it’s a chocolate replica of your vulva or penis. I literally cannot imagine a better combo than that.
AMY: And! You get to support us and a small business by using our promo code “BACKTALK.” OH MY GAWD! That feels so good to say! I want a billion sponsors just so we can have a promo code.
AMY: So, speaking I’m supporting us, become a Bitch Pollinator for just $8 a month. So, for $8 a month you get a subscription to Bitch Magazine, a Bitch mug, and a Bitch sticker. And so, it’s just for $8 a month. And so, of course, I love trying to equate that to something else in your life. And so for $8, it’s like at least two good coffee drinks, at least. My favorite coffee drink is an Americano with a dash of soy milk, which could also become a latte. It depends on who makes it. But the Americano with soy milk because it’s technically cheaper than a latte. [laughs] But I digress! I digress. You can join and become a Pollinator at bitchmedia.org/pollinators just for $8 a month.
DAHLIA: If you are a fan of Backtalk, we would love it if you would head over to iTunes and rate and review us. It helps other people hear about Backtalk in their mysterious algorithms, and also we love reading the reviews. Amy and I seriously text each other about them all the time. For real, Amy texted me about this review that I’m going to read. It was written by Book Hooked, and Book Hooked said that Backtalk is, “funny, insightful, and intersectional. I love Backtalk! The only way it could get better is if there were more about Howard the cat.” And Howard the cat is my cat, and I gave him this title. He doesn’t have a salary. He takes my salary, I guess. He’s our Senior Cat Correspondent. I guess what could I say about Howard?
Oh! Well, we went to the vet ,and they tried to give us some chicken-flavored toothpaste for him. And so, that’s my new thing is trying to get him to—I guess not trying to get him to brush his teeth—trying to let him— Nope. Trying to get him to let me brush his teeth with chicken-flavored toothpaste. That’s what me and Howard have been up to this past weekend.
AMY: [laughs] So, that’s what we— Wait, is that what that listener wants to hear more?
DAHLIA: It would only be better if there was more about Howard the cat. So, now it’s gonna get better.
AMY: [laughs] Yay…. Yes, please leave a review and rate the podcast on iTunes. We really do read them, and we love them and appreciate them.
[cutesy bells ring]
In this segment we’re going to talk about this recent transphobic meltdown that actor and activist Rose McGowan had. So, some background for this is that Rose McGowan was doing a reading to promote her new memoir when trans activist Andi Dier asked McGowan to talk about remarks that she had made on RuPaul’s podcast last summer. So, here is a clip of that confrontation.
ANDI: I’m suggesting talk about what you said on RuPaul. Trans women are dying, and you said that we, as transwomen, are not like regular women. We get raped more often. We go through domestic violence more often. A transwoman was killed here a few blocks! I have been followed home!
ROSE: Hold on. So have I. We’re the same. My point was we are the same.
ANDI: [continues talking through much of Rose’s response]
ROSE: There’s an entire show called ID Channel and Network dedicated 24 hours a day to women getting abused, murdered, sexualized, violated.
ANDI: Absolutely, absolutely.
ROSE: And you are too, sister. It’s the same.
ANDI: And transwomen go through domestic violence, and you do nothing for them! Transwomen are in men’s prisons, and what have you done for them?
ROSE: What have you done for women?
[audience members chuckle]
ANDI: Lots of things! [continues but can’t be heard under Rose]
ROSE: I’ve done lots of things ‘cause you don’t know my life. Don’t. Sit down. Sit. Down. SIT DOWN.
ROSE: Enough! Get lost!
ANDI: I AM A WOMAN, AND TRANSWOMEN—
ROSE: Congratulations! So am I!
ANDI: …genocide! This the AIDS crisis all over again, and it is white, cis [difficult to hear her as she continues to yell]—
ROSE: Shut up. Shut up. You’re so boring.
ANDI: White. Cis. Feminists—
ROSE: Don’t label me, sister. Don’t put your labels on me. Don’t you fucking do that.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Don’t worry about her.
ROSE: Do not put your label on me. I don’t come from your planet. Leave me alone.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good, Rose.
AMY: So, it might be a little tough to hear, but Andi Dier begins by saying, “Talk about what you said on RuPaul. Transwomen are dying, and you said that we, as transwomen, are not like regular women.” So, then they kind of get into a shouting match where McGowan said that she’s not from the other woman’s planet. And she tells Dier to shut up and has her escorted it out. And then she goes on to say, Rose McGowan goes on to say, “I’m not crying. I’m fucking mad with the lies and mad that you put shit on me because I have a fucking vagina, and I’m white or I’m black or I’m yellow or I’m purple . Fuck off. All of us want to say it; I just do.”
And so, that’s been the part that’s more widely-reported. And then somebody else that was at this event did a HuffPo piece about it and says that she also said, “Transwomen are women, and what I’ve been trying to say is that it’s the same. The stats are not that dissimilar when you break it down. It’s a much smaller population.” I think she means here that transwomen don’t face more violence statistically . And then she goes on to say, “There’s not a network here devoted to your fucking death. There’s not advertisers advertising tampons with a camera lovingly going up a girl’s body as she’s being lovingly raped and strangled. Piss off. And until you can collect that fucking check ,back up. My name is Rose McGowan, and I am obviously fucking brave.”
So, I think this appearance in particular, for this reading, it really kind of really shows there’s an incoherence to her. And then she later even claims that Andi Dier was a paid actor who has a plant to disrupt her reading. Except that Andi Dier has been a longtime activist. There’s an interview with Dier on Them.Us where we can see the experience from Dier’s perspective. She talks about it more.
So, the troubling thing about this confrontation is that it kind of reveals an issue with folks like Rose McGowan who feel like you can’t touch them. Like they’re not allowed to be criticized for the things that they’ve said. So, she was on RuPaul’s podcast last summer, and she explicitly said that transwomen did not grow up as women. But what does it even mean to grow up as a woman or as a girl? We don’t have this monolithic experience. Just because transwomen were misgendered and were unable to live their lives as their whole selves and be forced to the gender that they were assigned at birth doesn’t mean that they didn’t grow up as women. In her own remarks like on RuPaul’s show that I listened to, she kind of equates growing up as a girl and a women to getting your period or growing breasts. But not all women get periods or have titties or go through that experience. The way Rose McGowan grew into a woman or grew as a girl is not anywhere near the same as my experience. And I just can say that. I just know it’s true, right?
So, for her to say that transwomen didn’t have this a women growing up experience is just flat out transphobic, and it’s dismissive and it’s a certain type of– I think it’s just a certain type of really hurtful and violent remark that she’s unwilling to admit is hurtful and violent.
DAHLIA: I also feel like there’s something troubling about her refusal to engage with what she’s calling labels, right? She’s saying like, don’t put your shit on me, which is now I have that Madonna song stuck in my head all of the time. So, she’s speaking specifically about the labels like cis and trans, cis woman and transwoman, and she’s also speaking of the labels like white or black, which were being used in the critique of her statement saying, “You are a white cis woman.” And she’s saying, don’t put those labels on me. Don’t put your shit on me. I’m not from your planet. I don’t subscribe to your labels. I don’t subscribe to your language.
And I feel like that’s really troubling because erasing that terminology is furthering— Well, erasing that terminology around cis and trans is saying that those distinctions are irrelevant and that those distinctions should not be part of a conversation about sexual assault and sexual harassment. When as we know, transwomen are enormously more likely to face very violent sexual harassment and sexual assault, especially transwomen of color. Rose McGowan is saying that the statistics are not that dissimilar, but something that Andi Dier pointed out in her interview with Them is that that transwomen and transwomen of color do face violence disproportionately . That there are increased incidences of violence and extreme, extreme violence, violence that police officers don’t care about, violence that the media doesn’t often cover. And also, for Rosie McGowan to say like well, it doesn’t matter if I am white, black, purple, orange, or green. You don’t like that argument, that’s a tired racist argument that says like well, it doesn’t matter. People are people. We’re all the same. Why are you trying to make these distinctions? But by erasing those differences, what you are doing is elevating one monolithic experience. And what it is is white cis womanhood. If you’re saying no, there’s no difference between my experience and your experience, you’re white I’m black, you’re yellow, I’m green whatever, what you’re really saying is all of your experiences should fit under my experience. I’m the one speaking, and when I say there’s no difference, it’s because your experience has to align with mine. And that’s what I’m talking about.
AMY: That’s exactly what she’s talking about. Because in the episode of the podcast with RuPaul, the reason why she even started to talk about this was because she really does position herself as an ally to LGBTQ folks. And she was saying that when I’m hanging out with my trans girlfriends, my transwoman friends, sometimes I’ll ask them, I’m like, “How come you guys never ask me about what it’s like to grow up as a woman?” She said that, you know?
DAHLIA: Right. She said that.
AMY: Yeah, and because in her thinking, she feels like they didn’t grow up as women. And that’s where she goes on to say, “How come you guys don’t ask me about what it’s like to get a period or what it’s like to sprout boobs or whatever?” Because in her idea of what a woman is, in a way, you must go through those things. Even though she says with her mouth that she’s an ally to a transwoman, but then in these ways, it’s like an undermining of being like well, but you didn’t grow up like me, an actual woman, when use words like that.
So, I think it really kind of reveals the limits of her trans allyship, especially when thinking about gender. She can say all day and all night that yes, yes, transwomen friends and that they are women, but they always follow what the but, you know? But did they ever have a period growing up? Or did they ever grow breasts or whatever? And the thing about her having those opinions is that, like you’re saying, she’s unwilling to talk about where those ideas are coming from or to interrogate them further. Like, what she says goes.
And I think that’s been a lot of how her personality has been. And I don’t know what that says about her as sort of like one of the faces of the Me Too movement in that way if she’s not going to be inclusive of a community of women who are largely targeted with violence.
DAHLIA: I think it says something too that the questions that she’s saying she’s surprised that her transwomen friends don’t ask her about, that they’re so biologically essential questions. And I think they’re also sort of rooted in places, sites of sexual harassment and sites of assault. Like, why are you interested in the physicality of a vulva or a vagina, or why aren’t you interested in the physicality of breasts? And I feel like there’s very often, in transphobic rhetoric, this idea that womanhood is tied to the biological sites of vulnerability.
AMY: And not all women have those same experiences, cis or otherwise. And I think that’s why, like you’re saying, her entire premise to talk about what it means to be a woman is just disingenuous. And the thing about her is that she’s smart enough to know that, right? So, if you understand that she’s theoretically intelligent enough to know this, yet she continues to ignore criticism around it, then she’s being willfully obtuse towards it. And that’s not what allyship looks like. You can’t on one hand say, “Yeah, transwomen are women,” and then on the other hand undermine it by asking these troll questions. It’s a super troll-y to do that, I think.
And recently she announced that she has canceled the rest of her book tour because she doesn’t wanna be harassed or challenged in this way further. Maybe that’s a good thing for all parties involved, but I think that if you’re going to use this moment, to capitalize on it— I mean she’s trying to sell a book; let’s be real here. Like we live in a capitalist society, and she’s trying to sell a book. And if you wanna capitalize on it, and you put yourself literally on a stage to answer questions about who you are and what your book is about, you need to be prepared to be accountable for the things that you’ve said to a really wide audience. And she’s not taking that responsibility or that accountability to heart, which is kinda frustrating.
DAHLIA: I’m thinking about earlier today we were talking about Geminis and being two-faced. So, now I’m thinking that. I’m thinking about how in this confrontation, it’s like she’s talking out of two sides of her face. She’s calling Andie Dier “sister,” as she’s saying, “Shut up. Don’t put your labels on me,” she’s also calling her sister. And it’s like she’s saying we can have this conversation but on my terms, right? I wanna engage in this way, using this vocabulary, using this understanding. I see you as my sister, and also, I don’t welcome your input into this conversation.
AMY: I’m also glad that you brought up the Gemini thing because in the RuPaul interview, it is revealed that she is a Virgo. And as a fellow Virgo, I felt like slandered by it. [laughs] I was like oh no she’s one of us! But in a way, I can see her Virgo tendencies coming out in this confrontation and just the way that she is. So, I hope that she’s able to look inward and analyze her behavior ‘cause we’re really good looking into ourselves. [laughs] But I hope that she does take this time off and to really sit with what she’s said and to interrogate that and to be more accountable to what she’s put out in the world.
DAHLIA: Yeah. Wait. I have one more thought, which is that obviously, I’m not disputing that she’s tremendously brave and that her voice is important and the work that she’s doing matters. But! And— I’m trying to not say “but.” I’m trying to say “and” more. And. So, she’s saying, I’m talking about what I wanna talk about; my advocacy, my work is about this story. And she’s specifically talking about cis women, right? And for her to refuse to broaden that story, for her to refuse to say, “AND I know that transwomen face all of these enormous violences in their everyday life,” for her to refuse to enlarge that story, she’s holding on really tightly to saying like, no I’m talking about this. I’m talking about this kind of assault in this kind of way to this kind of person.
It just seems antithetical to trying to do movement building and change making to refuse to open your arms to a larger coalition of women who have other experiences regarding assault, other experiences regarding harassment, but still are women trying to fight against sexual harassment and sexual assault.
[cutesy bells ring]
DAHLIA: Next up we are going to talk about Katie Roiphe and some more of the Me Too backlash because sadly, it’s just like on and on with the Me Too backlash. But some context is in order here: Katie Roiphe is a feminist writer. She’s been around since the ‘90s. In 1991, she wrote an op-ed for The New York Times titled Date Rape Hysteria. And she sort of drew on that piece for her first book, which came out in 1993. It was called The Morning After: Sex Fear And Feminism On Campus. If you wanna read a little bit more about Katie Roiphe, our co-founder, Andi Zeisler, wrote this terrific piece about the scolders from the ‘90s are back to talk about campus sexual assault. That’s a piece over at bitchmedia.org called Dishonor Roll: Everything Scold Is New Again. So Katie Roiphe was around in the ‘90s, has been around since then, and her kind of feminism is essentially—
The premise of her book, The Morning After, is that the climate around campus sexual assault on campus is a sort of fake and is sort of frenzied up by feminists who are encouraging young women to back-label their experiences as rape if they feel shame about having sex. So essentially, saying like, oh, there actually isn’t a huge outbreak and serious situation with sexual assaults on college campuses. It’s more about the ideas of feminism reading their way into young women’s minds, and then they think oh, this is rape afterwards. So of course, I totally disagree with that completely. But that’s just a little bit of background about the way she thinks about sexual assault.
Back in October, there was a list going around on the Internet called Shitty Media Men, and it was an anonymous Google Doc. I think we’ve talked about it on Backtalk before. But it listed men who worked in media and publishing, and then it listed accusations against them. And those accusations really varied from inappropriate touching to sexual assault to inappropriate texting. So, there was a wide variety of inappropriate behaviors on this list. And a few months afterwards, it was being discussed on the Internet. There were rumors on the Internet that Katie Roiphe was working on a piece for Harper’s magazine that was going to out the creator of the list. And before that could happen, she actually outed herself. So, the creator of that list is Moira Donegan, and she wrote a piece about why she wrote the list over at The Cut. It’s called I Started The Media Men List: My Name Is Moira Donegan. And here’s what she specifically said about Katie Roiphe in that piece.
“I learned Katie Roiphe would be publishing my name in a forthcoming piece in Harper’s magazine. In early December, Roiphe had emailed me to ask if I wanted to comment for a Harper’s story she was writing on the ‘feminist moment.’ She did not say that she knew I had created the spreadsheet. I declined and heard nothing more from Roiphe or Harper’s until I received an email from a fact checker with questions about Roiphe’s piece. ‘Katie identifies you as a woman widely believed to be one of the creators of the Shitty Men in Media List,’ the fact checker wrote. ‘Were you involved in creating the list? If not, how would you respond to this allegation?’ The next day, a controversy ensued on Twitter after Roiphe’s intention to reveal my identity was made public.”
So, Katie Roiphe actually tweeted, “Oh, I wasn’t planning on outing anyone.” Which is kind of clearly a lie since the fact checker was specifically saying, we’re going to name you as the creator of this list. But in that time, Moira Donegan wrote this piece herself. Nicole Cliffe, who is a writer, offered a lot of writers. Basically, their fee if they would pull a piece that they had in that issue of Harper’s just in protest of this decision. And so, all of this happened before the piece came out. And over this past weekend the piece finally did come out. It is a bit more boring than I think people thought it might be.
Here is its headline: The Other Whisper Network. And it’s over at Harper’s magazine, and in it, Katie Roiphe sort of makes variations of the argument that she has made for many years, which is that this kind of attention on sexual assault makes women victims. She uses phrases like, she says that women are made forever children, that they’re infantilized, that it sort of projects victimhood on women for them to sort of be protected in the kind of way that this list suggests. Basically that warning women about their potential bosses or creating spreadsheets and whisper networks to warn women about the shitty men who might prey on them, that it infantilizes them, and it creates victimhood for them.
I find that really egregious because again and again, this is like the drum I’ve been banging the whole time I’ve been on Backtalk, I feel like. But so many times in conversations about sexual assault, the emphasis and the spotlight is put on the person who is preyed upon and what they could have or could not have done differently. And what I find so specious about sort of Katie Roiphe’s brand of argument is her idea that just warning women about sexual assaults is putting them in a baby position, like saying to them, “Oh, here we have to take care of you because you’re a woman who can’t take care of yourself.” Instead of the actuality, which is that over decades and all of our lives, so many women, so many people have seen that the police and H.R. and prosecutors and juries and judges do not care about sexual assault and harassment. And you know that so many women, so many people who feel like they’re vulnerable have been forced to create other ways of sharing information to protect each other.
AMY: Yeah. OK. So, the thing about this is that I didn’t want to click it ‘cause you know how I don’t like to give things clicks. But in the end, I had to. And I couldn’t barely, it was really difficult to read because of the points that she’s making and how wildly inaccurate they are. But there’s this section in the second paragraph where she lists out all of the things that she was called on Twitter when it came out that she was gonna out the Shitty Media Men list. And there are all these little quotes, and I wanted so badly for those quotes— They called her like human scum, a monster out of Stephen King’s IT, a ghoul. [laughs] Oh my gosh. Somebody called her ghoul. But the thing I wanted was, I wish that these quotes had linked to the tweet so that I could have hearted the tweet.
ADAHLIA: They’re making good points here. You know, yeah, it’s terrible because for her to say that for women to get fair warning is to place them in a place of victimhood, versus this idea that for women to have agency or to be empowered by information to make their own decisions.
AMY: It’s like I don’t see how she doesn’t see that? I mean, it’s like don’t we all like often make big life decisions based on information that we get from other people so that we can make the right decision? Then does that mean that we are all children in every aspect of our life?
AMY: I’m serious! I bought a car. I researched what like, does this car have a good reputation, does this manufacturer have lots of recalls going on? Are we all babies who drive two-ton cars now? You know, it’s intellectually dishonest for her to go there, but this is what she’s made her money on. This is her brand or whatever now, you know. And I’m really glad that you mentioned Andi’s piece on Bitch Media, The Dishonor Roll: Everything Scold Is New Again because that is what you should click on. If you have any sort of inkling to read Katie Roiphe’s piece on Harper, don’t read it. It’s not useful to you. It’ll just make you upset. I think instead, it’s more useful or productive for, I think, feminists like us to know who Katie Roiphe is than to read her work. So then we can know where she’s coming from.
I think you had already given a great brief of her history and her work, and I think if you wanna read more about it, Andi’s piece is so good because this doesn’t just talk about her, but it also talks by Andrew Sullivan and Caitlin Flanagan two people who are also been sort of doing that troll question thing like, “Are you guys really doing #MeToo correctly,” you know? And when they do that, it’s like you really can’t help but think that they’re just around to be contrarian people capitalizing on this and doing it in a way that harms young women who are trying to make their way in a world that isn’t built for them, to an extent, you know?
AMY: Like you’re saying, H.R. doesn’t fucking work. The police sometimes, law enforcement doesn’t fucking work. Your fucking school won’t fucking protect you. USA Gymnastics won’t fucking protect you. Right? So, who’s gonna fucking protect you? Each other. And that’s why we need to have things like this.
And I think Andi makes a really good point too about Katie Roiphe in her piece that we also have to talk about people’s backgrounds and where they came from. Katie Roiphe isn’t just some like regular-degular-shmedgular girl from working-class anywhere. She was born and raised into some semblance of privilege. So, her notions of what safety look like are gonna be different from what safety looks like for me. Especially for me, as a woman of color. And I think that I can see why publications continue to pay people like her to write these pieces, because people click through to read what this contrarian has to say. But it doesn’t mean that we have to! So, I am really glad for folks like you and Andi who will read this garbage [laugh] and to tell us why they’re wrong. Because I’m actually really tired of spending my energy ‘cause I’m so fucking busy reading garbage that makes me upset.
DAHLIA: Yeah. Well, also Katie Roiphe has called the Me Too movement the “Me Too thought police.”
AMY: Oh god.
DAHLIA: Which is an allusion to 1984. And I don’t wanna read too much from the piece itself, but just let me read this one little paragraph. It’s so enraging.
DAHLIA: Oh, also she really derisively talks about “Twitter feminists.” She calls Jessica Valenti a Twitter feminist, as if oh, I am Katie Roiphe. I’m a real feminist. But all those other Twitter feminists, I don’t know what they’re going on about.
AMY: God damn.
DAHLIA: So, she uses that term in this little paragraph.
“If we take the imaginative leap, the world Twitter feminists are envisioning, scrubbed clean of anyone hitting on anyone, asking for phone numbers, leaning over to kiss someone without seeking verbal permission seems not that substantively far away from the world of Mike Pence saying he will never eat alone with a woman who is not his wife.”
DAHLIA: The thing I think so many of these Me Too backlashers want to purposely glide over is that these conversations are about workplace sexual harassment, about inappropriate conduct between work colleagues, between boss and subordinate. And so, we’re not saying, no one’s saying, like I, a Twitter feminist, I’m not saying I want a world in which no one ever hits on anyone. I’m saying I want a world in which your boss never hits on you because that’s not appropriate no matter what. Like, that has nothing to do with Mike Pence’s ideas, of his messed-up Christian ideas of morality where he can only hang out with Mother Pence. That’s saying that there are things that are not acceptable in workplace environments, because sexual harassment is a civil rights issue in the workplace. It’s about having equal opportunity to do what you want in your career, to go where you wanna go and have the job you wanna have.
And this conversation is really, really important because obviously, so many people are unaware of how often inappropriate sexual conduct is put in women’s way in order to, whether subconsciously or consciously, is put in their way to stop them from progressing in their field. And OK, yeah, I’m sure that if Katie Roiphe doesn’t want someone to ask her whether they can kiss her or not, fine, but that doesn’t mean that you should just kiss whoever you want in the workplace. We’re talking about things, protections that should exist in the workplace so that women, so that gender-nonconforming people, so that people can pursue their careers and pursue their livelihoods without fear of being sexually harassed or assaulted or any kind of retribution from other people that they work with.
And so it’s just like, I find it so disingenuous for all of these people who are always like what kind of world should we live in? It’s so unromantic to ask if you can kiss first. Oh, it’s so unromantic to ask for someone’s phone number. First of all, I doubt anyone really thinks that. Like, oh, it totally kills the mood to ask if you can kiss someone. That’s not true. That’s like in every teen rom-com is someone asking if they can kiss someone. But on top of that, it’s purposefully trying to confuse people about what the Me Too conversation is about. It’s letting people be like, we’ll, geez! I don’t think someone should go to jail just for kissing someone without asking first. But we’re talking about workplace dynamics, and we’re talking about power dynamics that affect people’s livelihoods. And that’s really different than just a date.
AMY: Yeah, I mean I think that that statement really goes to show how her arguments are just immediately based off of bad faith. Because if she was going to make a good-faith argument, she wouldn’t go that far or that extreme, you know?
OK, I’m gonna tell you something about that happened between me and my father. We got an argument recently, and I told them that I didn’t wanna talk about the specific thing at that time. My dad sometimes is like a fucking kid, right? [laughs] We was like, “Well, fine. Then we’ll never talk!” And I’m like, “Dad!” Did I say that I never wanna talk to you again?” I said, “I don’t wanna talk about this thing at this moment.” But then he just went off and would be like, “I guess we never talking again!!” I’m like, “Father! This is not what I said.”
And this is what Katie Roiphe’s doing. She’s saying like oh, so we can’t do this, then we’re all gonna be like a bunch of fucking Pence robots, kind of like sitting in caves, keeping ourselves from each other just in case we somehow spark some sort of sexual attraction. Nobody’s saying that we need to do that. There’s been, I’m sure, thousands and hundreds of thousands of hot makeout sessions that began with, “Hey, can I kiss you?” I will bet money on it. We can do an Amy Versus Dalia on it.
DAHLIA: No I don’t disagree with you.
AMY: Yeah. [laughs] So, you already know that she’s coming from a place where she’s not willing to really thoughtfully engage in this, if she’s going to make a statement like that. So then how am I supposed to take the rest of her arguments seriously? If she’s already going to just lump a bunch of feminists who happens to be on Twitter and call them derisively as Twitter feminists and then to make this comparison of hey, we’re all gonna have to ask for clear and loud consent, and it’s very unsexy, and we’re all gonna turn into Pences, then I already know where she’s coming from. And I don’t wanna read her argument, and her argument actually carries no weight in my world.
But I do think it is useful to talk about why people like her are given big platforms to say these things and sort of the impact of what what they say, people who are already don’t believe us. Like yeah, you and I, we’re gonna sit here and just tear her argument down because it’s flimsy, and it doesn’t do anything. But there are conservative folks who say, hey, look. Here’s a feminist saying the things that we’re thinking. They’re gonna use her words to back up their assertions. They’re gonna, like Pence is gonna use what she said and be like, “Yeah, I know. Everybody should be just like me.”
AMY: You know? And I think that’s what the fucked up part is, is that she’s positioning herself as if she’s on our side, yet she’s being given a platform and being paid good money on that platform to say these harmful things. And I mean this is one of those situations where I don’t know how we combat that. Because it just seems like a circular thing where an event happens, and then one of these assholes pops up, makes money off of it, gets us all riled up, and then there are tons of think pieces in response to their think piece. But I mean I think that one of the things that we just have to keep in mind is that they are putting out talking points, essentially, for people who are not on our side. And so, it could be useful for us to know what people are using, so that we can be prepared with our own talking points back. Which is actually kind of gross feeling, like why the fuck do I need to have talking points to rebut a position that I don’t even wanna engage in, period? Ugh. What a jerk!
DAHLIA: I’m gonna read one more piece. I know I said I wouldn’t, but just let me read like one little, tiny piece. So, she’s still talking about the Twitter feminists.
“For them, the world is overrun with leering monsters you have to steer around as if in a videogame. And if some of us seem overly occupied with problems of scale, with separating small, gross moments from larger criminal ones, it’s because we think the very idea of women’s power is at stake.”
And I think that goes back to her point that she’s saying that this overprotectiveness about women, these boundaries between what is and isn’t appropriate, is infantilizing women, is diminishing their power. But these actions by men, whether it is sexual innuendoes in the workplace, or sexual harassment, all of these instances, they are about diminishing women’s power. They are about making people, women doubt themselves in the workplace. They’re about women, making women doubt their place in the workplace. And I keep saying I’m not gonna read from it. I’m not gonna read more from it. But she, just over and over, makes the point that women are letting go of their power if they are saying, “Oh, my boss hit on me, and that made me feel uncomfortable, so then I quit. So, then my career isn’t really where I want it to be.” Katie Roiphe is saying— Like we were talking about this piece where Caitlin Flanagan was like, “In my day, we would just punch ‘em in the face and keep going,” it’s just a lack, it just feels like a disingenuous lack of imagination to say like, “Well, if someone hit on me, if my boss was trying to sleep with me, I’d just punch him in the face and keep going!” It just seems like it’s—
And I guess maybe that’s what we’re coming back, to that it is a bad-faith argument that’s not really worth engaging with because it’s so easily deconstructed. But it’s not, women are not giving up their power if they feel uncomfortable in the workplace. These predatory people, these predatory men, they are trying to take away your comfort and your ability to do your job, to gain your livelihood. That is not about women giving up their power. That’s about men doing what they want to, to remind women of their place, to say like, “Yeah, maybe you’re in the office just like me. Yeah, maybe you have a job just like me. But I think of you in sexual terms. That’s what you are to me.” And it makes me so mad to, again and again and again, reframe that as a woman’s problem, that she’s giving up her power, when it’s actually a predator who is trying to take power and assault and harass someone else out of a job.
AMY: This kind of reminds me of remember that Time Person of the Year cover, the one where it showed all the survivors. And we talked about it on Backtalk about how yeah, we often talk about the survivors and the victims of this harassment or assaults. But the finger is often not being pointed at the accuser. And even when it is being pointed at the accuser, or the accused sorry, the accuser bears the brunt of having to prove that happened and to go through a vetting process by the public of whether or not she’s being honest or truthful. And so, that’s already happening where we’re not even, like you’re saying, we’re not even examining the people in power who are doing this abuse.
And in this piece, she doesn’t use these words, the word counts here. She’s even going as far as to, not defend but, to be like, are these real descriptions of abusers? She’s goes in on the list and questions whether or not the men should be on the list. She’s questioning whether or not the women should have put the men on the list, right?
DAHLIA: Right. Totally.
AMY: Yeah, and the thing that she does this, Caitlin Flanagan does shit like this, fucking Andrew Sullivan does shit like this. And the thing about them doing this is, especially with her and Caitlin Flanagan, they’re supposed to be feminists, but all they do is talk shit on young Feminists instead of engaging in this power structure that’s been in place before they were even born. That puts the onus on young feminists to have to fight back in these ways because they don’t feel protected in other ways. And it’s just like, stop wasting our fucking time! If you’re really gonna sit around and just harp on us and how we’re not doing it correctly, because apparently you have all the fucking answers and you fucking solved sexism for you guys in your time, then why the fuck are we dealing with this now? And why the fuck do you keep talking down on us instead of trying to help us? And that’s why I don’t even understand why we we are even talking about them as feminists. But it’s because they position themselves as feminists to critique feminism. Hey, there’s a space for that.
I think that a lot of feminists, especially the feminists of color, do this in a really good, cogent way that helps us move the movement forward. But when people like them do this, it’s not helpful. It just makes us feel like shit, and it doesn’t do anything but give fodder for the other side.
[cutesy bells ring]
So, at the end of each rageful—
AMY: Wait. What? We’re called the the rage cheerleaders at the end?
DAHLIA: Oh yes!
AMY: Yeah. At the end of each rage-cheerleader-y episode of Backtalk, we give you our recommendations for something to read, watch, and listen to. So, I’ve got a read and watch pick. My read pick is actually a handful of really great pieces about skincare. [laughs]
So, I’m a budget skincare devotee, and I’m really loving a bunch of pieces that have come out lately. Recently, there was a piece in Outline called The Skincare Con that talks some real shit about the skincare-industrial complex ,that sparked a lot of debate about what we’re doing around skincare regimens. So, it got me to thinking about how we talk about skincare as an act, not so much as skincare as the act ,but as an act of self-care, I guess, in a way. So, if you hit up our bitchmedia.org post for this podcast, I’m gonna have a link to pieces that will include the Outline piece, a piece from the New Yorker, a piece from Racked, a piece from New York Times, maybe even a few more that talk about skincare, I think, in our world of thinking deeply about something like this that can feel very superficial. And it’s really interesting for me to see ‘cause I often do sometimes think about why am I so into skincare? [laughs] And I think that it’s a little bit about self-care; it’s a little bit about indulgence for oneself. But for me, I think it’s just about doing an act that is very self-centered but in a way that empowers me that I don’t need everybody to know about, if that makes sense. [laughs] So, that is my read recommendations, and I will have a list of some really great pieces for folks to check out.
And my watch pick is a Netflix movie that was released right after the Super Bowl aired. It’s called Cloverfield Paradox. It is a horror sci-fi film that’s part of the—
DAHLIA: You already saw it?
AMY: I already saw it, girl! [laughs]
AMY: ‘Cause I didn’t watch the Super Bowl ‘cause I wasn’t interested in either team, and I was doubly not interested in the halftime show.
DAHLIA: Boo, halftime show.
AMY: [laughs] That’s what I heard. I heard it was a snore. So, then I was just scrolling my Twitter, and it was like oh my gosh. This film came out. Ava DuVernay tweeted about it. I’m like, well, I need to see this. So, yeah, it’s a horror sci-fi film, and it’s part of the Cloverfield franchise. It’s directed by Nigerian American filmmaker Julius Onah, starring a woman of color, a black woman actor, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who’s one of the main characters. And! This is actually, a Chinese actor Zhang Ziyi who’s in it ,and I like squealed when I saw her onscreen. And she only speaks Mandarin throughout the whole film, which I looooved.
So, OK, the thing about this film is that I’ve actually seen one of the other Cloverfields, the one where the woman is being held in a basement. But I had not seen the original one, but I don’t think you actually need to see the other ones to be into this one. But I will say this one thing, though. And OK, because I’m a critical shit-talking-ass bitch [laughs], the film is a little bit cheesy. But it’s a fun watch. It’s a little bit cheesy, but it works if you’re in the mood for some good dystopic guts. ‘Cause there is like gore and guts in this.
AMY: Which I’m into. But Ava DuVernay had tweeted about this because she was celebrating that a POC-directed sci-fi film starring a main character who’s a woman of color is a big deal. And I think that for us to watch it so that the “industry,” you know in quotation marks, the industry knows that we wanna see stuff like. This we wanna see ourselves reflected as one of the main people on some random spaceship that’s stuck in the sky. I wanna see that! I wanna see people who look like me, who are doing crazy gore-ish sci-fi shit all the time.
AMY: So go to your Netflix account and watch this because apparently Netflix tracks everything we watch up, [laughs] like to the minute. Which is actually really creepy. But watch it so that they know that we wanna see more of this and that they would fund more shit like this. So, those are my two recommendations.
DAHLIA: Yeah, Google Mbatha Raw. I know she’s a star, but she’s like a rising star. She was in that episode of Black Mirror, San Junipero. She is going to be in A Wrinkle In Time. I’m just so excited about her, just in general. She’s such a star.
AMY: And she was so great. She was so good. I did say that the film’s a little cheesy, but the acting in the film is really good. The writing is just a little, and the cinematography and the effects are a little eerrrrr. [laughs]
DAHLIA: But Gugu is great.
AMY: Yeah, she’s great. She’s so good in it. What’s your listen pick?
DAHLIA: My listen pick is a song that I discovered while I was re-watching one of my old standbys. I very often re-watch stuff while I’m putzing around the house. I was re-watching The Real L Word, and during some closing credits I heard this song. And it was just stuck in my head for ages. It is Emerald Eyes by Von Iva. And since we were asked for slightly more Howard content, I have sung this song to Howard because he has green eyes. And so, you can think of it as Howard’s song.
DAHLIA: But this is Emerald Eyes by Von Iva.
AMY: Thanks for listening!
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening!
[Emerald Eyes plays]
♪ If I had no more time
No more time in this life
Would I feel complete
Fulfilling days and nights
Well, just one look in your eyes
And I’m sure I’ll find
The way to live well
The way to live right
Morning, noon, and night
Ooh, I get lost in the sky of your emerald eyes
Lose my mind in the light of your emerald eyes
Ooh, I get lost in the sky of your emerald eyes
Lose in the mind in the light of your emerald eyes
Oh, those emerald eyes
I could die
When the choice is not yours…. ♪
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This show is produced by Ashley Duchemin. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work, please head over to bitchmedia.org and donate.
♪ ‘Cause now I’ve opened my eyes
Got you in my mind
You’re all I can see
Sparkling emerald green
Vision at night
Ooh, I get lost in the sky of your emerald eyes
Lose my mind…. ♪