On The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg, and hiring men who want women dead

Yesterday, I spent much of my day fuming and tweeting about The Atlantic hiring Kevin Williamson — who compared a nine year old black boy to a primate and argued women who have abortions should be executed by hanging — and editor Jeffrey Goldberg’s subsequent letter to staff defending the decision. (Goldberg’s letter was concerned primarily with the latter.)

All afternoon, I was furious. I cursed out loud — alarming the woman sitting next to me at my co-working space — as I read Goldberg characterize Williamson’s belief that a quarter of the female population should be killed as simply a “controversial aspect” of an otherwise “ideologically interesting” career. He didn’t even have the bravery to use the words ‘women’ or ‘abortion’ — just “extreme tweeting”, as if calling for the hanging of millions of women was some sort of Mountain Dew-fueled quirk rather than abhorrent and dangerous extremism.

But the truth is that I wasn’t angry. I was despondent. When my husband came home last night and I started to speak, I found myself weeping instead.

Feminism has more cultural power than ever before. We are hearing from men about how they want to do better, how they didn’t know the extent of the anguish women feel due to sexual violence, harassment and discrimination. But in this moment, reading Goldberg defend hiring a man who not only wrote that women who have abortions should be executed, but that his “very serious animus” towards these women made him think they should die painfully, I realized the truth: Too many men in power don’t care. To them, our lives and freedom are just abstract concepts — things to be debated rather than understood as a given.

And that’s why I cried.

Because while this is about politics, it is even more so about women’s ability to work, exist and flourish in this world. I keep thinking about the female staffers at The Atlantic who have had abortions who now must work with a man who believes they should be painfully executed.

How can you say that you want a workplace that values women when you hire someone who wants 25% of those women dead? How can you lead in a newsroom when your female subordinates now know that you consider their lives worth less than the clicks you’ll generate from a handful of articles?

I have had two abortions — one when I was younger and not ready to be a parent, another when I was a mother who desperately wanted more children but doing so could put my life at risk. I do not believe I should die because of this. I cannot believe that I need to write that sentence.

Any time I have written or spoken publicly my abortions, I have been threatened with death — and I’m far from alone. Women are terrorized about their reproductive decisions — whether it’s threats online or the increasingly frenzied violence against abortion providers and clinics. And, of course, it was just over two years ago that a shooter killed three people and injured nine others at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, screaming about “baby parts” — rhetoric directly taken from conservative writers.

By hiring Williamson, The Atlantic is sending a clear message: That the worst kind of harassment and intimidation women face — extremism that has been directly linked to real life violence — is acceptable. And that it’s more valuable to the magazine than the women who read it or work at there.

Maybe I should be used to this sort of wholesale dismissal of my humanity. After all, it’s been happening my whole life. But somehow, this time, it was more heartbreaking than usual.

There are women who work at The Atlantic — or in other media spaces — who will not be able to scream or cry or vent their fury and sadness. They know that the men who treat their lives as talking points and debate fodder are the same ones they’ll need to ask for jobs one day. It’s a bit easier for me; I have an established enough career that I’m not overly worried about burning bridges.

But this shouldn’t be on me — or any woman — to take on. Constantly trying to convince people of your humanity is an exhausting and demeaning exercise.

Men need to be speaking up right now. Show us that we’re not alone in this. Folks at The Atlantic are betting on this being a flash-in-the-pan Twitter outrage — not something with lasting power. Prove them wrong, and prove to us that we have more than ourselves to count on.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.