Vice’s former “Male Feminist” columnist Michael Hafford is facing multiple allegations of violent sexual assault. In addition to his Vice column, Hafford has also written for Rolling Stone, Playboy, Refinery29 and other publications. Here’s five things to know:
1. The Original Twitter Allegations Named no Names
On the evening of Oct. 5 (according to Twitter timestamps) Helen Donahue, formerly a staff writer and social media editor for Vice, took to Twitter to post photos of bruises on her face and neck, under the text “sux men in media hate women yet write abt feminism n masquerade as allies but its sadder this happens. 2015 i screamed @ my own reflection”.
Just under two hours later (according to Twitter timestamps), another writer named Deirdre Coyle re-tweeted Donahue under the comment “these bruises came from the same guy who physically forced me to do cocaine during sex,” and that tweet was re-tweeted minutes later by a woman calling herself Dilara, who added “This is the same guy who choked me at the foot of his stairs until I passed out and then repeatedly punched me in the face”. (A week later, on Oct. 12, a fourth woman re-tweeted Donahue’s original photo tweet with the observation “I too was forcibly entered and choked by the same male feminist.)
Nothing indicated the man’s identity to a casual Twitter observer (though Donahue did “reply” to her original picture tweet by adding “blacked out n woke up like this. not ready 2 name an editor @ a popular mag but i can post pix. u must kno this happens. n many of u did so”), but Jezebel reported on Nov. 3 that the three women confirmed to each other over private messaging that their shared alleged attacker was Michael Hafford. Later that evening, Donahue’s friend @ka5sh posted Donahue’s tweet under the announcement “The guy that did this abused multiple women his name is @michaelhafford and We shouldn’t let him get away with this.”
2. Far-right Websites Including Gateway Pundit and Breitbart First ran With the Story
Within a day of the original tweets, the far-right blog Gateway Pundit published the tweets under the headline “Prominent Far Left Male Feminist Faces Multiple Rape Allegations, Potential Jail Time.” After linking to and quoting the tweets, the Gateway Pundit added such commentary as “The discovery of Michael Hafford’s double-life, writing pro-feminist articles while simultaneously assaulting women, is a damning indictment for other men in his position and requires a reevaluation. … This is all too common among male feminists, and women are starting to speak out against the hypocrisy that they are seeing among their fellow travelers.”
The “One Angry Gamer” blog recounted Gateway Pundit’s story alongside suggestions that Hafford’s alleged behavior is typical of male feminists, critics of GamerGate and other “leftists”: “Hafford was also complicit in pushing slanted articles and adopting extreme-Leftist viewpoints in his pieces, as indicated in his article about Zoe Quinn’s book being turned into a movie, which was published on November 6th, 2015 on Refiner29.com. [sic]”
A week later Breitbart ran a similar piece, naming Hafford and including a list of tweets, but offering no further information.
The story remained limited to various far-right, pro-GamerGate and anti-feminist blogs until Jezebel.com (which meets none of those three criteria) looked into the issue and came out with its story in early November.
3. Vice’s “Male Feminist Here” Column ran for Three Months
Broadly.com is the name Vice non-ironically gave to its website aimed at women. Hafford’s “Male Feminist Here” column was published on Broadly seven times, from October through December 2015.
Hafford’s “Male Feminist” character was clearly intended as a satire of “sensitive” men who care about women’s issues. The initial October column “The Broadly Guide to Male Feminism” kicked off the persona by explaining “Male Feminists are the ultimate allies. Because feminists are all, ‘Smash the patriarchy!’ Male Feminists say, ‘Definitely! We’re gonna guide you in doing this, ’cause we’re on the inside and know all the weak spots.’ We’re like double agents—we’re technically part of the patriarchy, but not really because we’re feminist.”
In November 2015, after Twitter changed its iconic star to a heart, for users to indicate they “like” various tweets, the Male Feminist came out against it, in part because:
The new “heart” or “like” or whatever they want to call it is completely antithetical to the way that Twitter operates. Twitter used to be a safe space where Male Feminists could interact with online female feminists by pressing a gold star when we liked one of their tweets or one of their selfies in which they called themselves a “cute trash wytch” and looked vaguely sad. The gold star was Male Feminist because it was just like in kindergarten, when stars were handed out for doing impressive things like tying your shoes. It put us all in the position of the teacher—handing out little validations when our pupils did something good. But really, we were learning from the pupils the whole time. It’s just like the movie Half Nelson or one of the other movies in which a white man goes into a Disadvantaged School and learns to become a better white man, but for flirting with women online. Not all Male Feminists look like Ryan Gosling, but we are just as beautiful inside as he is outside.
His final column, which ran on Christmas Eve that year, was “Male Feminist unpacks your favorite holiday films” and explained that “You may think Rudolph is woke, but most Christmas movies have a problematic underbelly…just waiting to be explained by a Ho Ho Hero like you.”
4. Hafford has Laid Low Since the Allegations Broke
A couple hours after Donahue posted her first photo tweet in early October, Hafford set his verified Twitter account to private (as @ka5sh discovered shortly after tweeting his name, when she posted a screenshot showing Hafford’s “Tweets are protected”). Some time the next day, he deleted the account entirely.
As of Nov. 4, Hafford’s Instagram account is still extant but set to private, and the most recent activity visible on his public Facebook page was an August 2 note that he’d changed his cover photo to Jung Lee’s “The End.”
5. His Alleged Victims Have Since Given More Details
After Jezebel published its story on Hafford, Twitter user “Dilara” (the third woman to tweet on the topic on the night of Oct. 5), started a Twitter thread explaining (some punctuation added or edited to turn multiple tweets into a single paragraph):
I’ve spent years avoiding association w Michael Hafford, but body mutilation and female confession are my exact interests so let er rip: One night 2 years ago Michael asked me to take my dress off at the foot of his stairs, and when I said no, choked me until I passed out. I woke up on the floor, and he still made me take my dress off, and led me upstairs, walking behind me like I was a freaking hostage. I saw him one more time where he tried to coerce me into a threesome with a friend, refused to wear a condom, called me many names etc. I didn’t see him again, but every few weeks I would hear from him, usually after midnight. I asked what he wanted he said, “I don’t know.” Looking back, I guess I did not want to admit that I the bookish intellectual (sometimes called frigid) girl was such an easy target. It hit me at weird times like when I threw up after a lecture where a professor described Desdemona’s complicity in being choked to death. I became obsessed with power dynamics, using language like desiring object, power, ‘hierarchies’ to talk about myself in cold removed terms. “What is fair to ask of someone when you say yes?” that is something my professor wrote down because he had not thought about it before.
Earlier that month, Dilara also sardonically tweeted a link to one of Hafford’s “Male Feminist” columns, with the observation “Happy anniversary to this column, if you read closely you can find traces of every woman he was currently raping <3"”
As for Helen Donahue, whose initial tweet of her bruise photos started the original discussion, later on the evening of October 5 she posted an outraged tweet in all caps: “THREE OTHER WOMEN? I TWEETED THIS A FUCKING HOUR AGO MAN WHO TF ARE YOU XXXTENTACION? AND APPARENTLY THERE’S MORE? ROT IN HELL. FUCK YOU.”
Nine days after her initial tweet (and two weeks before Jezebel’s followup story), Donahue tweeted another update to her followers: “Id like 2 update yall that there r now SIX women w stories abt ONE mediocre male writers depravity. Imagine if hed been u kno, successful? 🤔”