I stumbled into a job as the second employee of the theretofore-not-yet-named feminist website Jezebel sometime during the first week of 2007, left less than two years later, and never really read it again afterward. But for more than a decade after its founding, it seemed like Jezebel’s influence, or at least ethos, was everywhere: Bridesmaids, #MeToo, Girls, Reductress, that student who walked around their college campus dragging a mattress everywhere they went to commemorate their rage toward a boy she accused of raping them, Single Drunk Female, Pussy Riot and pussy hats, Shitty Media Men, Bernie Bros, and most famously—albeit probably inadvertently—an inimitable unifying weakness for discussing gross bodily functions/fluids.

Most recently, to that end, I found myself reminiscing about Jezebel while reading a putative class-action lawsuit recently filed against Amazon by a delivery driver whose supervisor advised her to buy a contraption called a “Shewee” so she could driplessly urinate into a bottle like all the other Amazon drivers without getting fired for failing to meet the online retail monopoly’s impossible timeliness metrics. Back in 2008, Jezebel had test-driven just such a device in a viral video—mercifully lost to some system migration or another—wherein four (full disclosure, semidrunk) editors participated in a “contest” to see which of us could make her urine travel the longest distance.

It did not of course in those days occur to any of us that such a device might prove to be an instrument of “gender parity in the workplace” (to say nothing of, lol, the very pyrrhic victory such parity would constitute in an era of unceasing aggregate decline). 2008 was so long ago that most people still bought the vast majority of their stuff in physical stores, which were in turn a far more abundant source of shitty jobs than Amazon; hell, Jezebel had a recurring feature on the drudgery of minimum-wage retail jobs. But maybe just because said video involved quite literally “marking” the territory in our own urine, reading the Amazon driver’s complaint, I felt certain that wherever her boss had first heard about the Shewee, epidemiologically it would ultimately trace back, like the apocryphal cerulean sweater of Miranda Priestly’s fictional monologue in The Devil Wears Prada movie, to a Jezebel post from 15 years earlier, only in lieu of trickling down from couture to clearance, the Shewee had propelled itself laterally 15 years into the future from “absurd joke” to “absurd reality.”

But I digress. The other thing for which Jezebel will be remembered, as the multiple think pieces  blaming/crediting us for “cancel culture” will attest, was our all-consuming desire to piss all over the conventions of the era that created it. In Jezebel’s defense, this was decidedly more of an “era thing” than an “us thing.” America during the Bush administration was a cultural deathscape dominated by rapacious moguls who groomed vast stables of abused children into interchangeably vacuous ambassadors for interchangeably pointless brands. That was the business model, and like all aspiring moguls, Gawker Media founder Nick Denton wanted his writers to be young, photogenic, insecure and/or desperate enough to do whatever it took to rake in the page views, and of course sufficiently broke—he paid his first bloggers $12 per post—to jump ship and make way for the next bright young professional asshole the moment they nabbed a respectable job. No one understood consciously at the time that the media moguls he emulated and his employees documented were often literal serial rapists and sex traffickers—though if you’d been reading Gawker, it didn’t exactly surprise you—but a whole emerging genre of self-help was geared toward training men how to channel their inner sociopath. Denton wasn’t like that; he was just a casual Thatcherite who spent too much time around rich people and wanted Gawker’s content to reflect his boring nihilism—though, mercifully, not as much as he wanted to generate traffic. Our production quotas were so impossible we really didn’t have time to process complex emotions, so “rage” was often the underlying vibe of the posts, and my God, we had so much to hate. “New York is a city for the rich by the rich, and all of us work at the mercy of rich people and their projects,” longtime Gawker editor Choire Sicha told New York magazine a few months after I joined. “In some ways, that’s functional; it works as a feudal society. But what’s happened now, [is] that culture has dried up and blown away. Not a week goes by I don’t want to quit this job, because staring at New York this way makes me sick.”

Denton visualized Jezebel, code-named “Girly Gawker” when I was hired, as a companion site to his flagship that would labor to antagonize the leadership of women’s magazines as Gawker had scandalized the world of non–gender-based publishing. In so many senses, this was a suicide mission. While regular magazines at the time were generally break-even influence-peddling operations whose Park Slope–dwelling editors saw Gawker as a kind of beneficial parasite, women’s magazines were enormous cash cows, two inches thick with the most masturbatory photo shoots and lifeless prose you can imagine, helmed by absolute monsters who lived in Gilded Age rowmansions in Gramercy and Central Park South, perpetuated the most notoriously toxic workplaces in town, and most insidiously, were literally celebrated for hazing underlings and flouting labor law more shamelessly than DoorDash. When a former Vogue assistant wrote a novel based on her genuinely traumatizing experience working as Anna Wintour’s personal servant, Maureen Dowd—and literally every other mainstream media outlet—accused the assistant of “vampiric, second-order cruelty.” When I was hired, I hadn’t flipped through a women’s magazine since Kurt and Courtney were on the cover of Sassy, but I quickly learned to hate them as I hated Milton Friedman and J. Edgar Hoover, especially when I learned that my favorite Sassy editor, by all accounts a spectacular person IRL, had a new magazine utterly and entirely about shopping.

Jezebel toiled mightily to piss off this lucrative consumption cartel. We had a feature called  “Start Snitchin’ ” urging readers to email us with noxious tales of abusive women’s media bosses, sorority-type hazing rituals, and overall operational dysfunction; we had another called “Write Like a Man” in which a friend of mine deployed his most indulgent 1970s Esquire guy voice to dispense writing advice to vapid Condé Nast bloggers. We “broke the internet” bestowing a $10,000 reward upon an anonymous staffer who submitted a pre-retouched recent cover image of a major women’s magazine wherein the subject, Faith Hill, looked … like a normal 40-year-old woman, as opposed to the Olsen twin doppelgänger on the cover of the magazine. Denton made us write a “manifesto listicle” about why we hated women’s magazines so darn much, and we used the opportunity to cast ourselves as the voice of a Silent Majority of women who did not expect life to imitate Sex and the City.

In part to offset all the vitriol and scorn we were heaping upon wretched women’s media, we augmented posts critiquing Vogue and Cosmo with ones hating on, well, men, duh, but also, ourselves. I wrote vivid TMI posts about my hemorrhoids, my Adderall habit, my drinking problem, the time I got a tampon stuck inside the nether regions of my vagina for 10 days and it smelled sort of like Cantonese stinky tofu but worse, my drinking problem again, a time in college I got date raped. (All of this predated XoJane, which wouldn’t launch until 2011.) Part of this was our “rebellion” against the era’s tyrannical virgin-whore Brazilian waxed sterility: In another memorable early page view getter, Jezebel editor Jennifer Gerson dissected the actor Terrence Howard’s revelation that he flat-out refused to court a woman if she kept merely toilet paper and not baby wipes in her bathroom. (“If they’re using dry paper, they’re not washing all of themselves. It’s just unclean.”) But also, like Amazon drivers, we had quotas to fill. It was exhausting. Just because I wanted to cancel late capitalism and institutional anorexia did not mean I thought of myself as any sort of moral authority.

It is odd in hindsight to consider how little I pondered how aggressively—and yet thoughtlessly—I toiled each day to make new enemies who were exponentially more powerful than I was. By the end of 2007, for example, I had redirected much of my energy toward antagonizing supporters of Hillary Clinton, and by 2008, Jezebel was recognized as one of the most shamelessly pro-Obama sites on the internet. This infuriated the same general ilk of slightly older feminists who later went apoplectic over Bernie in 2015, including a Brandeis professor named Linda Hirshman, who in 2008 wrote a column about how my generation of feminists had “ignobly” abandoned hers, essentially because we were flighty and spoiled. That June, the Washington Post commissioned me to write a rebuttal to Hirshman’s op-ed, and shortly after that, I was invited, along with my fellow Jezebel editor Tracie “Slut Machine” Egan, to appear on an alcohol-themed comedy show during which the host ambushed us with strange, accusatory questions about our sexual habits and why I hadn’t reported my college date rape to the police, then wrote up the event on the Huffington Post accusing us of, inter alia, being “drunk” when her producer had literally handed me two beers upon my arrival at the studio and instructed me to “get drunk.” I did not realize until much later, by which point Hirshman had repeatedly invoked the incident in screeds blaming Jezebel for the deficiencies of millennial feminism, that we’d walked into a pretty obvious trap designed to discredit us, and Jezebel, for, I guess, being naïve enough to think we could be slutty drunks with serious opinions, like we were nonviolent Norman Mailer or some shit. It soon turned out we were all naïve: Obama was every bit the narcissistic neoliberal shill I worried Hillary would be, and by the next Hillary campaign, both I and my comedian inquisitor Lizz Winstead were solidly in the Bernie Bro camp, while Hirshman, for her part, conceded that young feminists who insisted they should feel safe getting drunk at fraternity parties were “more radical” than she was.

It would ultimately become apparent that Jezebel’s gleeful “Start Snitchin’ ” ethos could be harnessed to create a media landscape as toxic and deranged as the nihilistic libertinism that had enabled so many bad actors to operate with impunity during the Bush years, because the same clique of wealthy and powerful gatekeepers ultimately and inherently decides who will and won’t be canceled.

Soon after I left Gawker Media a few months post the public shaming, to that end, I began hearing about lawyers who wanted to help former employees sue Gawker and Nick Denton. One particularly persistent private investigator contacted me in 2012, advising me that he was working “on an academic study of workplace practices in the constricted economy”; over beers he said a wealthy client he could not disclose had essentially sent him on a fishing expedition. I felt sickened by the implications of what he was saying and started working in restaurants not long afterward. I assume now he worked for Peter Thiel, who the year earlier had reportedly begun bankrolling a legal fund masterminded by a Clinton Global Initiative operative that would ultimately finance the Hulk Hogan sex tape lawsuit that bankrupted Gawker and ultimately “canceled” the enterprise entirely, supposedly out of spite over a (borderline adoring) 2007 post in Valleywag outing him as gay. There’s probably more to the Gawker assassination conspiracy, but what is known is unsettling enough.

Now to be sure, the energy of cancellation could be used for good: The year after the bankruptcy, the New York Times broke the three-decade-old Harvey Weinstein scandal, the Miami Herald busted open the long-shuttered, similarly ancient Jeffrey Epstein case, and the spirit of #MeToo undoubtedly bolstered the prosecutions of two staggeringly prolific abusers. Eighty-seven women ultimately accused Weinstein of rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment, and about 150 victims were identified in Epstein’s sexual blackmail ring. But even “outing sexual predators” quickly proved an unreliable way to create positive change: #MeToo almost instantaneously begat the Shitty Media Men list, to which invited individuals could anonymously report “bad behavior” allegedly perpetrated by “media men” on a spreadsheet.

I was years removed from said shitty media, literally crumbing the tablecloths of the ruling class, when I heard about Shitty Media Men, and was overcome with emotional solidarity with its contributors when I did—until I finally beheld the list itself. It contained a few men I knew to be both legitimately creepy and semipowerful, a few more I knew to be slutty but not terribly powerful, and a lot more I would describe as heavy drinkers who liked Bernie Sanders. That didn’t, of course, make them incapable of sexual misconduct, but coupled with the anonymity and the vagueness of the allegations, it opened the door to the possibility in my mind that some of the list’s contributors might have had ulterior motives and/or been outright lying, and the subsequent epiphany that the truth actually didn’t even matter, the sexual offenses in question were in fact just a sideshow to the bigger problem of eroding media profits and the imperative of heads to roll. I personally had, after all, been canceled for 1.) attempting to make a joke about why I hadn’t reported my sexual assault to police, and later, for 2.) writing a column commending Julian Assange’s sexual assault victims, whose accounts I believed, for ceasing to cooperate in an investigation they understood to be driven by the desire to cancel his journalism. Just as sexual predation had been long weaponized to reinforce power structures and quash dissent, sexual misconduct accusations could easily be deployed to serve the same end, often by the same damn people.

My dad once told me that in the same spirit with which Mao pronounced Stalin “70 percent correct and 30 percent incorrect” and Deng Xiaoping gave the same grade to Mao, Chinese traffic cops will assign some portion of fault to both drivers in an auto collision. I’m not saying we should normalize blaming sexual misconduct victims for a portion of the trauma they have endured, though the criminal justice system effectively does this anyway, which is a major reason women refrain from pressing charges. I’m saying we should all feel pretty ashamed that the concept of “nuance” and the understanding that humans are inherently fallible is so much more thoroughly entrenched in a fucking totalitarian state than in this titular democracy.

Jezebel, like communist revolution and most things in life, was a mixed bag. It was a place where, as one tribute put it, women could publish “unapologetically feminist, rigorous and honest stories about pop culture and politics.” But it was, like so much of the internet, also in some respects a content farm, squeezing out—eh, so to speak—everything the writers who staffed it had to offer, sometimes answering the question of “is this mode worthwhile” with traffic statistics rather than a real future-oriented reflection on values, consequences, and the sustainability of the whole enterprise. Many loyal readers may mourn its demise. But maybe the real mystery is why the gatekeepers allowed it to live as long as it did. While it always attracted an obsessive readership of highly educated women, its all-abiding contempt—even among Jezebel editors who legitimately enjoyed shopping—for the gratuitous consumption at the heart of women’s media made the site almost comically toxic for advertisers who were accustomed to editorial content acting as a kind of foreplay to the intercourse of commercial transactions.

From Day 1, we were constantly, endlessly told this would be the end of Jezebel—that even the most gregarious, nattily attired, and ingratiating sales representative on staff, the one I never saw when he didn’t have a little baggie of cocaine he was more than ready to share, could not sell advertising against our “chaotic” content. Rich Juzwiak, who worked on and off at Jezebel from 2008 until the very bitter end, says he heard that line a thousand times. “That was always, always the line, that no one could sell ads on Jezebel. And yet we kept going.” Perhaps most astonishingly, it kept on for 4½ years under the ownership of a private equity firm that clearly, conspicuously, wanted to destroy it completely every single day of that period.

One day when it no longer matters, maybe we’ll learn what Jezebel ultimately did to get itself canceled. Revisiting the site during its last weeks to check in on its Swift-Kelce coverage, I found that the site’s “Tayvis” beat writer Kylie Cheung was also doing her damndest to antagonize the powerful with harrowing dispatches from a Gaza maternity ward and the Kansas City Police Department, where an insane scheme to fabricate evidence, rig investigations, and extort money and sex from poor Black women has embroiled numerous police chiefs. Mercifully enough, she hadn’t found anything worth canceling in Travis Kelce’s old tweets (though it wouldn’t be long before someone did). In times like these, Jezebel always understood, women need to believe in something.