The whisper network
October 20, 2017 7:39 PM   Subscribe

“[The] news has brought to the surface the private conversations women have been having — the warnings whispered to each other to avoid getting hurt. As women have written in the past few days, these whisper networks are a lifeline...
They have helped keep me safe. But a concern keeps gnawing at my conscience, and I don’t have an answer: What about the women who don’t get this information?
Relying on a whisper network isn’t enough; the current situation is unacceptable, and we need to think about what we can do to change it.”

It’s time to weaponize the "whisper network”
posted by Grandysaur (104 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Me: Hey hon, I just sent you a link to an article about the Whisper Network
Boyfriend: The Whisper Network? Is it about new online monitoring tech?
Me: Oh. No. Remember what I was talking about before dinner? About how women warn each other about which guys are rapists, or stalkers, or get touchy-feely without asking? Yeah, that's the Whisper Network.
Boyfriend: What industry is it for?
Me: It's not for an industry, it's for everyone. All women. All of them.
Boyfriend: Is it a website?
Me: What? No.
Boyfriend: A web forum?
Me: No, it's... Well, someone did make a Google Doc which is why there's an article about it. But no, it's women talking to each other. Like, you pull the new girl aside and you warn her who the creeps are. And you don't do it publicly or in a way that someone could overhear, because there could be consequences for that. You often, literally, whisper.
Boyfriend: *looks confused*

I envy him that naïveté. I've been participating in the Whisper Network since I hit puberty.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:51 PM on October 20 [64 favorites]


Vox is letting a Jacobin writer into their treehouse so you know this story is important.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:15 PM on October 20 [7 favorites]


"The informal whisper network needs to be formalized"

Would this be practically similar to Facebook having a star rating for you as a human or perhaps LinkedIn giving you a worker rating?

We all, men and women, should resist this strongly because this may be what the beginnings of those systems look like. The road to perdition...
posted by 517 at 9:27 PM on October 20 [9 favorites]


Vox fired a VP over this yesterday
posted by fluttering hellfire at 10:15 PM on October 20 [4 favorites]


The whisper network can be positive, too, and not just focused on sexual assault. At least a couple of times I've overheard female friends vouching for me as not just safe but also supportive and otherwise a decent human. (Overhearing something like that from people you like is basically the best thing, ever.)

If you think the whisper network or the concept of it is dangerous or unfair, consider that it exists only in desperation because the establishment and justice system hasn't really ever taken sexual violence seriously because like everything else it is mainly or entirely run by men.

If sexual assault, harassment, stalking, rape and sexual violence and coercion of all kinds were actually taken seriously, there would be no need for a whisper network. Because the people who would be listed on it would have verifiable public criminal records. Or because women (and men!!) could openly talk about these things without fear of retribution or violence - including from the institutions of justice or law enforcement themselves.
posted by loquacious at 10:41 PM on October 20 [65 favorites]


That's the way America works (and has for my entire life and long before). The men have all the structures of power and authorities, and the women (and other 'lesser groups') have a Whisper Network.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:52 PM on October 20 [14 favorites]


We all, men and women, should resist this strongly because this may be what the beginnings of those systems look like.

This is also why we should not have police, because they are obviously the beginnings of the police state. QED.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:21 PM on October 20 [22 favorites]


Reducing assault and unmasking monsters is an excellent goal. I'm having a hard time imagining a version of this that works well, but I remain hopeful.

It seems like this could go badly for people of color and other minorities.

IANAL but it seems it would be difficult to do this without legal repercussions.
posted by poe at 12:15 AM on October 21 [1 favorite]


Would this be practically similar to Facebook having a star rating for you as a human or perhaps LinkedIn giving you a worker rating?

Has everyone forgotten Peeple already?
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 1:16 AM on October 21 [10 favorites]


Vox fired a VP over this yesterday

Over which? Sexual harrassment by the VP? the whisper network? the spreadsheet? This article?
posted by msalt at 1:22 AM on October 21 [10 favorites]


I think the advantage the in person whisper network has is that you can judge the information alongside the person giving it. I.e. is This person generally trustworthy etc. Then you can adjust accordingly.

Having anonymous reporting with no requirement for proof or investigation is a very dangerous path. Two people at my workplace nearly had their careers ruined over a false rumour invented by persons unknown.
posted by 92_elements at 2:52 AM on October 21 [6 favorites]




We all, men and women, should resist this strongly because this may be what the beginnings of those systems look like. The road to perdition...

So what are you proposing in its place to help protect those women who are outside the whisper networks? Or is men not getting falsely accused so much more important than women not getting assaulted?
posted by Dysk at 3:57 AM on October 21 [34 favorites]


This has made me think of how many times I've been involved in one of these conversations, and actually how lots of them have been beyond even whispering. Sometimes it's just a series of non-verbal gestures - eye rolls and wrinkled noses and grimaces.
"And about John..."
"Yeah?"
"Just...*gag face* *recoil*"
"Oh?"
"Yeah. Ugh."
"Ok."
We've all been there so often it's in shorthand. Which says something all by itself.
posted by billiebee at 4:12 AM on October 21 [32 favorites]


My take-away from this article wasn't that the whisper network is a bad thing to have, or unnecessary, but that some women aren't plugged into it - for whatever reason. They're "naive and alone" to quote the article. Should they just be thrown to the wolves - too bad you don't know the right people, sucks to be you? As TFA mentions, these women are more often women of color, and/or new to their careers or social circles.

Do we weaponize the whisper network and make it public? Even in this thread, the "whaaaat about the menz who are FALSELY ACCUSED?" is coming up. Or, if the whisper network must stay whispered, how do we make sure no women are left out?
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:17 AM on October 21 [31 favorites]


Increasingly, these noisy voices are recognizing the limits of their transference of online strategies into the real world and vice versa - taken together, I say their whining will either die down or relegated back to the dusty corners of the basement again.

The orcs are coming and so is winter.
posted by infini at 4:28 AM on October 21 [1 favorite]


Trauma sells and gets clicks, but we won’t stamp out these problems by changing social norms or improving “workplace culture” alone

I also don't think we'll stamp out these problems by using clickbaity terms like "weaponise the whisper network," and am really not thrilled by the framing here. Though the piece offers some usable frameworks, I don't really see it solving the problems whisper networks have had in my experience:

1) that sometimes the information is useless/inactionable (more like gossip than data -- I don't care if people are consensually involved with each other; if so-and-so started dating such-and-such before such-and-such's divorce came through it doesn't necessarily make so-and-so "a predator") and
2) that sometimes it comes too late ("don't be alone in a room with this dude" would have been useful information two months ago, thanks, but trust me, I already know.).

These weaknesses tie into the method's strength: it's based on personal relationships, and those go both ways. You can evaluate data based on what you know of the person informing you (this person is trustworthy, this person likes drama so proceed with caution, etc.), but you only get data based on who you know/who talks to you. If you fix the data problem with a spreadsheet, you remove the verification step. Mentor networks or some sort of supplemental workplace structure (like HR, but for the employees, not the employers) would be great ideas, but "weaponizing" is.... not.
posted by halation at 4:40 AM on October 21 [11 favorites]


My instinct, when reading the words "weaponize" and "whisper network" in the same sentence, were to think more of the kind of cliquey in-girl stuff that messed with my shit in junior high. It also may be why not every woman is plugged in - there are women who are in, and women who are out.

I agree that every woman should be plugged in. But my jr. high fear is that strengthening the network is going to end up looking more like broadening the range of things that the people already on the network talk about, so it further enforces who is "in" and who is "out".

Case in point - the Pantsuit Nation group on Facebook. It ostensibly began as an "inclusive" space for Hillary Clinton supporters. But in time, certain behaviors became subtly less "accepted", certain suggestions started getting cut down, certain people started getting quietly shunned....and it started getting cliquey, and that's the point I left.

Even when there's a common cause, some people can't help using what little power they have to try to institute other pressures on people, and that's my fear. Instead of giving women a bigger place to whisper in, bring it out ot the public.

Or better yet, the authorities need to start taking their god-damn complaints god-damn seriously, so there isn't any need for women to whisper advice to each other about colleagues in the first god-damn place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:47 AM on October 21 [44 favorites]


if the whisper network must stay whispered, how do we make sure no women are left out?

I think the fact that some women are left out is because of the misogyny associated with women sharing information, c.f. some of the words in this thread. It's "gossip", it's someone out for "drama". Women talking is at best empty noise and at worst dangerous (those spiteful shrews out to hurt teh menz.) Personally I'd feel comfortable having a quiet chat with a friend joining my organisation, but if it was a new woman I didn't know my internalisation of the notion of "bitching" to her about a man based on nothing much (to the authorities) would hold me back. It's not that I'd be leaving her naive and alone because of some clique mentality, but I'd be afraid of it not being my place. So now I think I'd be more open to feeling it was ok, if not my duty, to include her. Maybe we just stop believing bullshit about what we should and shouldn't say to each other for fear of looking like we're being slanderous or attention-seeking or whatever and just allow ourselves to speak the truth.
posted by billiebee at 4:58 AM on October 21 [20 favorites]


Maybe we just stop believing bullshit about what we should and shouldn't say to each other for fear of looking like we're being slanderous or attention-seeking or whatever and just allow ourselves to speak the truth.

The problem I personally have experienced is that 'the truth' varies a lot, person to person. In one previous workplace, a woman took it upon herself to meet with nearly every new female employee and tell a long elaborate story of a particular workplace relationship. This was a relationship that was allowable under workplace guidelines, consensual (according to both parties), and between two employees of equal status (so promotions/power dynamics were not in play). But the woman who did this felt that she was 'warning' newcomers about a 'predator,' so she kept doing it. For two years. Said 'predator' remained in just that one relationship, and they eventually married, but she still felt he was a predator because he initiated that workplace relationship. I do not know why she felt this. It seemed to be a moral rather than a safety issue? But that was her 'truth,' and she shared it widely, and about a third of the women informed of this 'truth' agreed with her and shunned the 'predator' and pitied the 'victim' (said 'victim' felt extremely weird about all of this, but didn't know how to get the woman to stop). The other two-thirds of the informed, and those not in the whisper network, just kinda tried to work around this mess. The whispers affected both members of the relationship, when it came to advancement. They eventually both left the workplace.

This does happen, with whisper networking. It doesn't mean that useful information isn't shared. But whisper networks are comprised of people, and have the same strengths and flaws and issues that people do.
posted by halation at 5:20 AM on October 21 [12 favorites]


That's an incredibly unrepresentative example of what we're talking about here, I feel.
posted by billiebee at 5:39 AM on October 21 [20 favorites]


The issue with whisper networking seems to be that experiences vary, which is my point. I've seen it work. I've seen it fail in different ways, including the example above. This is my experience, which won't match everyone's. But that experience (and others) makes me really dislike the whole language of "weaponizing," and it's hard for me to say so without people rolling their eyes and telling me to stop "what about the menz?!" ing. Which I don't mean to. But I've seen whisper networking work as bullying, at times, even as I've also seen its uses.
posted by halation at 5:44 AM on October 21 [6 favorites]


Having anonymous reporting with no requirement for proof or investigation is a very dangerous path.

More dangerous than having no possible reporting except ones that have only negative repercussions for the reporter, despite any proof they might have, and where the investigation is often turned against the reporter rather than the accused, if there is one at all?

Because once you recognize that that is the reality in most if not all settings, it sounds like what you're saying is that this concept may be slightly more dangerous for men, so better to maintain the status quo of all the risk being assumed by women*.

*It's not only men who commit sexual assault and harassment. It's not only women who are the victims. Sometimes the people involved don't identify as either. I am using these terms and this dichotomy because the general power structure reinforced by this sort of reaction is the same patriarchy that installed these systems in which the reporter becomes the accused. But man, woman, genderqueer, whoever you are, I want you to live somewhere that you are safe from harassment and assault.
posted by solotoro at 5:57 AM on October 21 [14 favorites]


Lupita Nyong'o had a really good op-ed in the NY Times this week about her interactions with Harvey Weinstein that shows the limitations of having only the informal warnings to go on:
So I tried to vet this famous producer by asking my dinner-table companions what they knew of him. A woman who was a producer herself cautiously advised me to “keep Harvey in your corner.” She said: “He is a good man to know in the business, but just be careful around him. He can be a bully.” And so I exchanged contacts with him in the hopes that I would be considered for one of his projects.
I'm not sure that the suggestions in the article would work well, but the underlying suggestion that this be taken seriously and more broadly than an internal company issue is completely correct. Right now it is a lot easier to get away with being a creep for years than it is to speak out, which is completely gross and wrong.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:58 AM on October 21 [19 favorites]


More dangerous than having no possible reporting except ones that have only negative repercussions for the reporter, despite any proof they might have, and where the investigation is often turned against the reporter rather than the accused, if there is one at all?

I would like to fix that part.
posted by 92_elements at 6:16 AM on October 21 [2 favorites]


I think the fact that some women are left out is because of the misogyny associated with women sharing information

Or because of racism, or classism, or transmisogyny, or, or...

There are a lot of women who get excluded because other women don't want to include them.
posted by Dysk at 6:33 AM on October 21 [24 favorites]


True Dysk. I didn't mean to elide that, only to say that even when prejudice is absent and intentions are genuine we still don't always feel like we should tell other women things in case we're judged as being spiteful rather than helpful.
posted by billiebee at 6:43 AM on October 21 [2 favorites]


I hope this doesn't become like Rate My Professor.
posted by mecran01 at 6:51 AM on October 21 [2 favorites]


Wasn’t there an app a few years ago for rating guys you know/dated? I remember it hooked up to your Facebook and you could rate guys on criteria like “loves his mother” “creepy” “honest” etc. That was a thing, right?
posted by Grandysaur at 7:31 AM on October 21


The Internet is littered with various attempts. Remember LuLu in 2013, which was briefly a Facebook app for rating men, preceeded by DontDateHimGirl.com in 2005, though that focused more on cheaters. Outside the women's solidarity movement, Blind has been trying to be the anonymous workplace gossip app, with unsurprising toxicity.

From past experience, it's simply prudent to distrust in our fellow human beings' ability to put aside their baser emotions and not be petty and spiteful for important matters (such as "don't be alone with him; will try and rape you"), that makes an anonymous forum an impossibility - but knowing Ke$ha refuses to work with Dr. Luke is an impossibly juicy piece of gossip for TMZ prior to 2014, so if it's not anonymous, it's also not useful. A Google Spreadsheet is very functional place to start, but given how confusing and limited Google Docs' sharing is, I'm not even sold on how intentional the anonymity aspect of it was.

An app (with a bulletproof privacy policy) which required a verify identity to login and was limited to rating others on a number scale (ie no free form text), and then only surfaced the rating on the worst offenders, would still be imperfect given open signups. However, as mentioned by other commenters, closed signups also hurt the systems' usability. However, perfect is the enemy of the good, and the worst reaction in the face of these (technical) challenges, would be to do nothing, and I commend whomever made the Google Spreadsheet for taking action.
posted by fragmede at 7:42 AM on October 21 [3 favorites]


If you’re going to talk about weaponizing a whisper network, you should probably talk about using it to hurt sexual predators, not just help women avoid them. The most useful part of formalizing it somehow would be to generate collective leverage (and threat of bad press) to push an employer to a) believe victims and b) take meaningful action against an offender. You make a workplace safer by removing the predators, not by tolerating them and building systems to try to inform people informally. That’s just the stopgap for the shitty world we live in. The new, the young and the vulnerable will never be 100% informed by a whisper network, no matter what kind of structure you put around it. This isn’t a problem where the solution is “there’s an app for that.” Fire the damn predators.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:54 AM on October 21 [22 favorites]


I think that the things that are powerful about the whisper network are also the things that would make it hard to weaponize. It's powerful because it can't be rules-lawyered to death; because we can speak our truth without having to defend it beyond the slightest doubt; because the whisper network can be the one place in the world where we can start from the premise that our safety is important and not secondary. It's powerful because it's ephemeral: it can't be pinned down for long enough for anyone to punish us for using it. One you formalize or codify it, those things go away. It becomes visible to and beholden to systems that don't value our safety and dignity and that will punish us for putting those things before the comfort of abusers.

I think that whisper networkers are both invaluable, given the power disparities we all live with, and really inadequate. They're subject to the same limitations and biases that any other social networks are. They're definitely not going to solve anything, and the solutions are, I think, going to have to involve some more fundamental social shifts. Whisper networks are a tool that people without power use to negotiate situations in which they're fundamentally disadvantaged. The solution is to make them unnecessary by not disadvantaging whole groups of people, not to weaponize them.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:26 AM on October 21 [14 favorites]


If you’re going to talk about weaponizing a whisper network, you should probably talk about using it to hurt sexual predators, not just help women avoid them.

Yes. THIS.

Right now the whisper network is yet another thing that puts the onus of a woman's safety from sexual harrassment on the woman. Let's put that burden on the men where it belongs.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:29 AM on October 21 [16 favorites]


We have one where I work. We know a guy was fired from his last job for sexual harassment. We've warned women not to be alone with him. But there are lots of women in our company and I don't know them all. And the real question is, why did our firm hire a guy with that record? If we know, why didn't they? Did they not care? Why isn't important enough to make him less hireable? He's not a superstar, even. Just average at his job.
posted by emjaybee at 8:52 AM on October 21 [19 favorites]


I’ve been thinking a lot about the lack of accountability for treating women horribly since the Weinstein details came out. The thing is, everyone knew he was a jerk (if not all of the details). And there are countless others. This industry and many others are about power at the top and powerlessness at the bottom. When Scott Rosenberg admitted that of course everyone knew, and he wasn’t sure what he could have done it was the most true reaction from a man I have heard:

Everybody knew
What would you have had us do? Who were we to tell? The authorities? What authorities? The press? Harvey owned the press. The Internet? There was no Internet or reasonable facsimile thereof. Should we have called the police? And said what? Should we have reached out to some fantasy Attorney General Of Movieland? That didn’t exist
I also wonder - how do you hold someone accountable who owns his own company? Or if he doesn’t, when HR doesn’t care or listen? I “know” a lot of things through the whisper network, but have no evidence and have not been a witness, and it may not rise to a crime, so I can’t go to the police. What do we do? I am heartened that people seem to care now, for a little while, but we need some way for the rumors to be investigated and for consequences to happen. The one I personally know was fired for harrassment twice and landed at another Hollywood company as a senior executive.
posted by rainydayfilms at 9:02 AM on October 21 [1 favorite]


I support this bittersweetly. I am convinced that this has been effective and in the absence of a massive change to social norms and laws it's what women have to defend themselves and keep one another safe.

I have a personal experience where I was "whispered about" by an ex, spreading distortions that for her personally helped her cope (demonizing me in order to fend off her own self hatred). The consequences were terrible to live through - losing friends, being closed off from social connections that could lead to opportunities, etc.

But compared to the assault and abuse that women have to fear in our current society, my complaints are negligible. The sad irony is that being whispered about falsely was mitigated by the fact that people are not inclined to believe women of color. It's sad all around but I'm not going to pretend the consequences of one person's mental illness on my social world outweighs a society that hates women.

Over time I can "redeem myself" in people's eyes, I retained the trust of people close enough to talk to me about my side of the story. The women around me have no such opportunity to escape the hatred and violence of men.
posted by idiopath at 9:44 AM on October 21 [6 favorites]


If we know, why didn't they?

I think this is indeed one of the issues with whisper networks; what may be "common knowledge" within it, may be completely unknown without. Abusers are often good at masking bad behaviour. It's quite possible "they" didn't know if they weren't plugged in.

Also, speaking as one who does hire fairly often, using side context info like that can be a challenge in a corporatized interview structure, especially, ironically, those that have been designed with transparency and fairness in mind. Everything has to be surface, no sub-text.

So the whispers need to come out into the open to be actionable in these sort of contexts. But that causes all sorts of complications, nit-picking and formalized mediation/dispute mechanism issues. It's easy on the other side to turn this into workplace harassment/hostile environment arguments. It can get really messy. I don't know how to solve that beyond really formal procedures where everyone has to get a hearing.
posted by bonehead at 9:54 AM on October 21 [3 favorites]


I don’t think there’s a way to formalise it, let alone weaponise it. Every attempt do do so is going to run aground on the same rocks of contradiction:

- if you don’t have any way of verifying claims to some degree, it will fall becaude everyone will worry about false accusations;

- if you do have some way of verifying claims, you’ll miss all the still-useful knowledge that gets passed around that can’t be reported or checked. “Watch out around Wilbert. He came out to the pub with us a few times and he always seemed to turn the conversation round to sex lives, and maybe it’s nothing, but I just picked up some vibes, you know? And one time I think he grabbed my backside when I was standing on a chair getting those decorations down at the last Christmas party, and he says he was just steadying me because I was wobbling, and I was pretty drunk to be fair but, I just don’t think he was. And Emma told me once not to be in a room alone with him but she wouldn’t say why and I know she’s all sorts of weird anyway, but... well, just watch out around Wilbert.”

As a warning system the whisper network is hugely flawed, but the system that necessitates it in the first place has left us with only hugely flawed options.
posted by Catseye at 10:33 AM on October 21 [4 favorites]


The problem with weaponising or even formalizing is that it makes it unsafer than it already is. The reason women gatekeep the network is that being outed as a source could be fatal or a career-ender PLUS if you let the wrong person in, they can flood your network with noise.

See also how you can rarely get more than a couple months of peace in any subreddit that's not for the pleasure of cis white men without people trickling in to fuck with it for fun or hatred, which is almost worse than flat-out brigading because it's slow and insidious.

And yeah, the gatekeeping itself can be driven by all kinds of otherisms, these networks can become petty dictatorships, meangirling is a serious issue, and they're prone to the weird pitfalls of secret societies that run on rumors and murmurs. Their nontransparency is the only thing that allows them to operate at all, as flawed as they are, though. Formalizing - or worse, some dude deciding to monetize them - means turning it into a chan or ratemyprofessor.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:47 AM on October 21 [22 favorites]


I've seen whisper networking work as bullying, at times, even as I've also seen its uses.

Exactly this. High-school girl-clique cyberbullying is structurally indistinguishable from a whisper network, and there are plenty of documented cases of girls having been driven to suicide by that.

The danger inherent in a whisper network is the same danger inherent in the systems that make whisper networks necessary in the first place: the existence of garbage human beings who will avail themselves of all the tools available to them, without a shred of compunction, to punish challengers and whistleblowers.

Talk of "weaponizing" whisper networks makes me very uneasy, because weaponizing social power tools is what abusers do. Unlike abusers, those of us who do our best not to be garbage human beings have to care about the accuracy of the rumours we allow ourselves to act upon. And yes, that is an exploitable weakness in not being a garbage human being and yes, its frequent exploitation does cause a great deal of suffering and injustice.

I wish I knew what to do about that, but I don't.
posted by flabdablet at 11:26 AM on October 21 [11 favorites]


Personally I'd feel comfortable having a quiet chat with a friend joining my organisation, but if it was a new woman I didn't know my internalisation of the notion of "bitching" to her about a man based on nothing much (to the authorities) would hold me back

Yuuuuuup.

Look, the whisper network isn't without social risk, either. Who ever said it was? When I consider warning a person I know about an offender she may have met (or not), I run the risk of having her decide that I am a troublemaker or that I am paranoid or socially anxious or, just generally, weird. I run the risk of being overheard by someone I trust in some circumstances but not others (including, say, several of my superiors), or by someone who is then going to challenge me and mansplain to me what is "really" going on. I run the risk of being told I am starting trouble or identified as a drama queen or a bitch or an aggressive person.

Formalizing it makes it scarier. The more formal and less anonymous, ephemeral, and based on existing strong social networks it is, the less valuable the whisper network will be--and you know, that should be the case, except that our explicit harasser network--call it our shouting network--is so overwhelmed by people who prefer not to deal with or believe accusations or even record them that it cannot function. So in lieu of that, we have this other thing that is structured less to actually make sure everyone knows who will damage their coworkers in the work place and more to allow individual warners to maintain plausible deniability. And that sucks.

And I mean, I have had a colleague share all his whisper network information with me, and much of it was simple paranoia about how actions would be perceived by others, and that shit did suck! So I see why some women, especially younger women, reject warnings like this as weird or reflecting poorly on me if they haven't had a bad enough experience to appreciate and understand them.

I deliberately use my own grad student whisper networks to notify as many new folks as possible about known predators, but I am very, very careful about what I say to whom and in what medium, because if I fuck up and rant to the wrong person my job is on the line. So is my professional reputation. I think the comparison to teenage girls is fucked up because it elides that--no one's career is in jeopardy because the mean girls learning how to navigate these kinds of indirect socialization rules don't yet have careers to threaten. I gamble with my future when I choose to warn people about other people, and I typically don't do it unless the threat to me is relatively minimal--which is, generally, because the social status of the predator himself is fairly minimal and/or outside of my own "chain of command."
posted by sciatrix at 11:47 AM on October 21 [23 favorites]


I am so fucking sick of the onus being on women to strategize on how to avoid assault. Women sharing information covertly is unfortunately necessary, but I'd love to see a way for some of that information to get to men and have them act on it.

Men, clean your shit up and get your brothers to behave better. I want to see articles talking about how men need to include all men in their attempts to get other men to stop being predators and bullies and sexist douchecanoes instead of articles wondering how we can include more women in the whisper network and weaponize the feminist backchannels.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:50 AM on October 21 [36 favorites]


I think the comparison to teenage girls is fucked up because it elides that--no one's career is in jeopardy because the mean girls learning how to navigate these kinds of indirect socialization rules don't yet have careers to threaten.

That's true, but they do have reputations they care about at least as strongly as adults care about their careers.
posted by flabdablet at 12:16 PM on October 21 [1 favorite]


Unlike abusers, those of us who do our best not to be garbage human beings have to care about the accuracy of the rumours we allow ourselves to act upon.


This is super easy to say when it isn't your own safety on the line. Personally, I'm happy to avoid people based entirely on rumour. I don't owe anyone my company, my time, or my trust.
posted by Dysk at 12:16 PM on October 21 [17 favorites]


Unlike abusers, those of us who do our best not to be garbage human beings have to care about the accuracy of the rumours we allow ourselves to act upon.
Honestly, we don't have to care. Even if I'm not sure that those rumors about Bob from Accounting are true, I'm still probably not going to accept a lift home from him, even if that means that I have to wait 45 minutes for the bus. It's ok not to go out for drinks if Wilbert is coming, even though he has not been convicted by a court of law of being a creeper. Those decisions cost us things: they cost us wasted time and missed social opportunities and sometimes missed work opportunities. But we get to weigh those tradeoffs, because our safety counts for something. We aren't obligated to put ourselves in unsafe situations because you have decided that ascertaining the accuracy of rumors is more important than my dignity.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:33 PM on October 21 [25 favorites]


You misunderstand me. The reason the comparison between this and teenage gossiping is on the line is insulting is because whisper networks are about strategizing to keep oneself and one's career safe. It doesn't matter how high the teenager thinks those stakes are--they aren't actually on the level of women trying to educate themselves to avoid harassment and abuse. And for fuck's sake, I would have agreed as a teenage girl, by which time I was already thinking about my career hard enough to not have time for petty games or status jockeying. The fact that you think this whispering is equivalent to status jockeying is troubling. Particularly since you only ever get the specific types of interactions that we refer to as a 'whisper network' in the presence of threats and the absence of enough status to demand actual safety, in fact.

Ideally, then, we would not need to resort to this kind of gossip because HR would actually track reports and no one would be penalized for even sharing red-flag types of things, the little things that add up in the aggregate to great big warning signs. We do not live in an ideal world. How do we make company (and university, and governmental department) HR departments do the jobs they ostensibly exist to do, then?
posted by sciatrix at 12:34 PM on October 21 [10 favorites]


And whooo-eee, I missed that little line about having to be 'responsible' about the accuracy of the rumors I spread about whether so-and-so is an actual, potential threat.

Look, if I hear that so-and-so was living in the apartment unit above a colleague, and he terrorized her so badly she had to call the cops on him once and then fled to hiding until she could move, fled the department, and dropped out... and I hear this secondhand from a labmate of the colleague... and I know so-and-so, and I've seen so-and-so drive a rotation student out of a lab, and I've seen so-and-so behave very, very differently in a public social situation and in a work situation....

You know what, I'm gonna fucking believe that, and if I know junior people who want to work with so-and-so, I'm going to fucking tell them that I have serious reservations about his character and why I have them. I tried bringing those reservations up with so-and-so's supervisor, and he blew them off--minimized them, didn't want to hear it, loudly missed so-and-so when he went to a new job--and I made sure another authority figure heard about them. Past that point, well, he went on to an excellent new job without those warnings apparently following him at all, so I guess that the people who could do something and whose position is less precarious mattered more. Best I can do, knowing that patterns of behavior aren't taken seriously when they are reported, is make sure that the people I can reach without sacrificing my career on the altar of his hear about things before it's too late.

And if that sucks for so-and-so, so fuckin' be it. The woman he harassed dropped out, and her career in our field is absolutely gone. The woman he drove out of the lab found another spot, thankfully; who knows whether she'll stay.

I'm always torn on my personal networks, in fact, whether to share even as semi-publicly as this who the enablers are--who are the guys who are themselves A+ standup guys, men in power who I trust with my own life, who nonetheless fail the instant a woman tries to tell them that someone else specific is a threat. You know, the ones who aren't predators, but certainly serve as blinds for predators to hide behind, diluting warning calls and signs so they're easier to miss.

What's your call on that, sir? Because I absolutely do in fact warn positively for men I know who hear this shit and do something about it, and I encourage people I know to work with them and to pick up jobs with them. I speak in glowing tones about those men to anyone who will listen, and I tell junior people actively that they are good to contact.

But I'm never sure whether to say that "I love dude A, but he won't have your back on this" caveat. It sucks. It sucks worst because I genuinely like talking people up, I like to be glowing about my colleagues and my friends and my collaborators, I love talking about the good things about people--

--but that thing sits. And it lurks. And it waits.
posted by sciatrix at 12:48 PM on October 21 [26 favorites]


I'm a poly person. On a social site for people like me, a stranger friended me after we met briefly somewhere. An actual friend sent me a message asking if I knew him. When I said no, she told me that he was a known consent-violator who was allowed at events anyway. Last weekend I was working the registration table when the guy checked in. I was working with someone I know but not well. I asked her if she knew him. Turns out she knew him very slightly. So I repeated to her what my friend had told me about this guy. That he was untrustworthy. I would not have told a different woman sitting next to me because I'm not a part of the leadership of this group and I have no idea what this guy's role is within it. So that is my contribution to the whisper network. I don't know what else I can do. I don't have any proof, only the words of someone I trust. And I willing to share that with some people but not others because I don't have first-hand knowledge of what this guy is actually like. But I'm going to believe my friend and avoid this guy and I hope the person I confided to does as well.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:00 PM on October 21 [8 favorites]


It sucks that the onus is on potential victims to try to take action not to become victims. But until men get groped and raped and harrassed as often as women do, there's not going to be any major change IMHO.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:02 PM on October 21 [4 favorites]


Also: not recommending groping and harassing and raping. Of course not. Just saying that people who are well nourished don't tend to notice the hungry people outside the restaurant.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:04 PM on October 21 [2 favorites]


So a list like this was circulated around the Vancouver dance scene last week and the second man named on that list killed himself yesterday. I've just learned of this in the last couple of hours... But one of the comments I saw on Facebook read something like, "One down, six to go" and come the fuck on. So there's that.
posted by jokeefe at 1:12 PM on October 21


I can't work out from your comment whether you think that's a good thing or a bad thing.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 1:24 PM on October 21 [2 favorites]


I don't know. As someone who doesn't fit in, I don't get whisper network warnings about people. Informal networks like this scare me- they were used against me in middle school and high school. (I should mention that I have never sexually harassed anybody) How do we make sure that networks like this don't get used to exclude and victimize harmless people who just don't fit in?
posted by Anne Neville at 2:03 PM on October 21 [3 favorites]


No, I don't revel in anyone's death. I do not think its a good thing, and why would I? People celebrating this suicide-- and there are some-- are working from some sense of vengeance I don't understand.
posted by jokeefe at 2:55 PM on October 21 [2 favorites]


Well, ideally, we'd aggregate reports and engage in due process, because that's what the rule of law is for. We'd take these reports seriously, every time, and we'd have an actual job/division in every workforce for follow-up and honest outsider investigation into anyone who accrues, say, three independent reports from three different people. We'd put our societal energy into actually identifying and sanctioning harassers, the way we put energy into dealing with other kinds of bad actors.

Kind of like how we don't have to whisper to each other:

"hey, Such-and-Such is a known office thief; better not leave your bag unattended near them, because stuff goes missing around them. I tried to tell Such-and-Such's boss, but the boss just laughed at me so what can you do? Such-and-Such only steals items from lower-ranking staff, but they don't even care about plausible deniability--they don't even seem to think anything's wrong with what they're doing. So-and-So says their grandma sent them enough money for their birthday to save up for a really nice set of headphones, and So-and-So turned their back for a second to go to the bathroom, and Such-and-Such was wearing them and said the headphones were theirs now--and I mean, I see Such-and-Such wearing those headphones all the time, and they're clearly the ones I saw So-and-So wearing constantly for a few weeks right after So-and-So had that party.

"And then there's Whatseirface, who said they saw Such-and-Such try to steal their bag right under their nose and grab a wad of cash out of it, and when they tried to make Such-and-Such give it back Such-and-Such just laughed. Just give them a wide berth and keep an eye on your stuff and you should be all right. Don't bother putting your name on it, though; no one will investigate. It sucks, but what can you do?"

Instead, we have HR intervene in cases like that. It only fails to happen when Such-and-Such exclusively targets marginalized people in a way that the local leadership doesn't give a shit about. Which, hey, sexual harassment fits that bill!

Failing that, this is what we get. If you're worried someone is sharing uncomfortable things around you behind your back, congratulations: women worrying about being harassed do that too. God knows I worry whether people are secretly calling me an asshole constantly. Hell, I worry that my engaging in warning other people about known bad actors qualifies, and I encourage people to use their own judgement, just to watch out. If it bothers you that women do this, fucking help to make sure that any reports of harassment you hear get a full and thorough investigation from disinterested third parties. That's pretty much the only way that you make people feel safe enough not to share this information behind closed doors, in private, over hushed lunches and cold coffees and ephemeral chat services: remove the threat that they're afraid of. And if you are genuinely innocent of this behavior, you should have plenty of women willing to vouch for you and plenty of people who meet the investigator with glowing support. After all, the guilty folks certainly dig up enough.

And again, we ain't talking about who's going to who else's sleepover party this week. We're talking about whether someone is going to make your workplace environment hell, whether someone might assault you or steal your work or make your work hell if you catch their attention. I've been describing in some detail the kinds of things I warn for on the whisper network, with of course the serial numbers sanded off--even under a pseudonym, this is too public for me to name names, because I'll suffer if I do. Those of you who are worrying about "mean girl" experiences in high and middle school, what specifically are you worried about?
posted by sciatrix at 3:05 PM on October 21 [17 favorites]


are working from some sense of vengeance I don't understand.

Well. Rape/sexual harassment/assault/Domestic violence ruins lives. But society seems to have thrown its hands up and said "we can't do anything nope." So I don't begrudge a person's victim from feeling deep relief and happiness upon their demise. Especially since a lot of times if the perpetrator doesn't die, the abuse will never stop. Rapists don't stop raping. Wife beaters don't stop beating. harassers don't stop, etc. etc. So since the justice system will do nothing about it, since friends will often chose the abuser over the victim, yeah, when an abuser dies people feel good. Because for many women/some men, death is the only way it stops. Usually with the death of the victim. So It's nice feeling when it's the death of the perpetrator.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:11 PM on October 21 [13 favorites]


Would you guys be as opposed (those who are opposed) to a Whisper Network Whitelist? It wouldn't contain just men but any company, academic department, non-profit, network, hobby space or group, where women can have a better shot at success? That's something I'd like to see. Just along the lines of: Women are doing well here; People of color can succeed here; You can find mentors here. Because I'd like to opt out of male dominated spaces and put my money and my time in places where I have a better-than-average-for-a-woman shot at success.
posted by amanda at 3:32 PM on October 21 [13 favorites]


Unfortunately, these same informal networks have also been used to spread rumors about LGBTQ people, people with disabilities (including things like autism that affect social skills), and people of the "wrong" race, religion, social class, or ethnicity. With no oversight, it means you don't have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, but it also means it's not easy for people who have been targeted unfairly to get redress.
posted by Anne Neville at 3:36 PM on October 21 [4 favorites]


Those of you who are worrying about "mean girl" experiences in high and middle school, what specifically are you worried about?

That I've seen people with varying definitions of "predator" or "bully" make this designation against other people in the workplace, sometimes pointing to incidents that I personally observed but which to me seemed more like personal disagreements. That I've seen people use this kind of networking to start whisper campaigns against targets in workplaces, often without making reference to any kind of pattern of behaviour or even a specific incident, just 'a feeling.' That, as someone AFAB but who is not straight and sometimes has not presented as a cis woman, I'm often left out of networks altogether (like the workplace where it was common knowledge that there was a Problem Person but it was decided I didn't need to be warned because 'well we figured you were a lesbian so' -- if you knew he didn't care about interest or consent why would you think orientation would stop him?), or I'm perceived as somehow threatening or intimidating myself, sometimes to the point of having whispers started about me. (Please note: I did not harass anyone. I just used a workplace changing facility. Someone apparently found my doing so 'threatening.')

I understand that people are often uncomfortable talking about what harassers and abusers have done to them. I understand that it is neither possible nor fair to hold people in that position to a specific burden of proof, and I understand the impulse to warn. The impulse is usually genuine and people are usually doing the best they can. But things can go badly when whispers get "weaponised." Especially when things shift away from an impulse to warn and toward an impulse to punish.
posted by halation at 3:42 PM on October 21 [7 favorites]


And again, we ain't talking about who's going to who else's sleepover party this week. We're talking about whether someone is going to make your workplace environment hell, whether someone might assault you or steal your work or make your work hell if you catch their attention. I've been describing in some detail the kinds of things I warn for on the whisper network, with of course the serial numbers sanded off--even under a pseudonym, this is too public for me to name names, because I'll suffer if I do. Those of you who are worrying about "mean girl" experiences in high and middle school, what specifically are you worried about?

Slut-shaming or excluding women from the whisper network simply because people feel they aren't "team players" or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:57 PM on October 21 [10 favorites]


I'm worried about whoever is in charge of the network taking against people (of all genders) who they don't like, even though those people haven't done anything to harm anyone else. The mean girls example shows that rumor networks do get used against such people. It is possible to get a bad reputation without harming other people.

What if whoever is in charge of this network hates LGBTQ people or polyamorous people, even if all their sexual activities are consensual? Or what if they decide to start trouble for someone because they don't like how that person dresses or talks? What if racists or anti-Semites or Islamophobes or other bigots are contributing to the list?

You get into unconscious bigotry, too. Are sexual overtures from white and black men considered differently by some people? Are attractive and unattractive people treated equally?
posted by Anne Neville at 4:37 PM on October 21 [3 favorites]


Slut-shaming or excluding women from the whisper network simply because people feel they aren't "team players" or something. Very much this. The women at my college victimized by the one guy everyone knew was dangerous were women ostracized by other women for being sluts or queer or not rich enough, from the wrong families or just weird. And when they tried to warn each other, they suffered that much more.

I don't know how to fix this, but I know that the answer is not women stepping up and shielding one another. It's men shunning those men who assault. It's men examining themselves to know why they assault. This onus is on men.
posted by crush at 4:38 PM on October 21 [15 favorites]


I want to make sure this doesn't become just another way for popular people to victimize marginalized people. Us mostly harmless misfits don't need that.

There are people who are scared of any expression of gay or trans sexuality. The bathroom bills provide a clear example of people who are scared of any evidence of the existence of trans people. How do we balance believing people who have actually been harassed (and who may not have proof) with keeping that kind of thing out?
posted by Anne Neville at 5:09 PM on October 21 [2 favorites]


We can't solve the problem by saying we won't believe any allegations against marginalized people, because some marginalized people do harass others. There have been cases where autistic or trans or disabled people have committed sex offenses. Social misfits are human, and are capable of doing bad things.
posted by Anne Neville at 5:21 PM on October 21 [1 favorite]


I am sympathetic to the women who protect their whisper network by excluding the "wrong" women because I know it's a function of navigating every day misogyny that you learn how easily letting the "wrong women" benefit will bring a nuclear strike to something that threatens the patriarchy, but gets ignored because it helps a marginal number of "safe" women.

So I'm not against whisper networks. I am most assuredly not against women believing one another, warning one another, shielding one another and naming the names of men who assault us, even if the naming is done in whispers.

I am not supportive of the idea that weaponizing whisper networks is any sort of solution. Not just because it perpetuates internalized misogyny but also because--as I just said--it leaves the onus on the victims. That is the thing that must change. Place the burden on the perpetrators and their enablers, not on their targets.
posted by crush at 5:21 PM on October 21 [1 favorite]


I use the whisper network myself on occasion-- when we have a highly placed predator and nobody will go on the record, fi. It is an essential tool that women have had since forever, and when all else fails-- as imperfect as it is-- it has its uses. The idea of "weaponizing" it concerns me though because it does have so many flaws.

Flaws which worry me:

-- Exclusion. I've had a recent case with some young female high potentials in our parentorg. They're in the absolute minority, and they tend to use the whisper network to protect each other. However, one young woman in the group is sleeping with a very senior married executive and she is not included in the whisper network. They don't warn her. I'd go so far as to say they would argue she brought it on herself if something happened.

--Content. I'm in a work culture right now where sexual infidelity and affairs (consensual ones) are considered nearly as bad as sexual harassment. (Possibly even worse?) One middle manager who was secretly separated from his wife (secrecy at her request) and was photographed by a very junior coworker having a late dinner with another (single) woman in the company. She didn't report to him, it was totally consensual-- nbd, in my view. Still, that photograph was *widely* circulated. In another case, an executive woman was falsely accused of an affair. She ended up leaving the company when the rumours spread too widely. In both those cases, as a manager, I confronted coworkers who I knew were spreading the gossip. They felt quite justified since they saw the moral failings in both cases as a threat to the company. How can I support the whisper network in some cases and not others? I know that I do, but I wouldn't be able to explain why.

I would *much* rather see us push to develop a culture of rule-based accountability, and treat the whisper network as it should be-- a last resort when all else fails.
posted by frumiousb at 5:26 PM on October 21 [11 favorites]


If we have a whisper network whitelist, how do we keep it white? People like to talk about bad things that have happened. Social and religious disapproval of gossip hasn't stopped it. And how do we keep fake positive reviews off it?
posted by Anne Neville at 5:30 PM on October 21


This is... extremely germane to my workplace, where a lot of the top exec engage in indescribably toxic behaviour, and 100% of the HR department is a single man who was our dreadful CEO's best man. This latter fact has only become clear to several women after they flagged some or other piece of awful behaviour, for which flagging they are dragged in and given the hairdryer treatment.

So you betcha there's a whisper network. Which for all the good it's done, was also used by one woman to do all she could to drive out another woman who she didn't like who suffered ptsd and was very socially awkward. So overall I feel hard that the correct solution as an actual HR system obviating the need for the network, but we're not going to see this any time soon. So it's difficult.
posted by ominous_paws at 12:42 AM on October 22 [4 favorites]


It is possible to get a bad reputation without harming other people.

This already happens. Stepping whisper networks to, formalising them, whatever, it won't change this either way. It doesn't solve the problem, but it doesn't create it either. This already happens.

The fact is, in practice, that a lot of marginalised groups have their own whisper networks. The Trans community has a whisper network going to warn of chasers and transphobes. Queer women have a whisper network to warn of homophobes and the predators in that community (with a lot of crossover into the regular whisper network, because you still have live in a world with men).

Like, whisper networks aren't perfect. But all the issues people have with them, those issues exist anyway. Not formalising the networks will not make those problems go away. This isn't a choice between having those problems or not. The problems are there and are largely the same either way.
posted by Dysk at 2:33 AM on October 22 [5 favorites]


if I hear that so-and-so was living in the apartment unit above a colleague, and he terrorized her so badly she had to call the cops on him once and then fled to hiding until she could move, fled the department, and dropped out... and I hear this secondhand from a labmate of the colleague... and I know so-and-so, and I've seen so-and-so drive a rotation student out of a lab, and I've seen so-and-so behave very, very differently in a public social situation and in a work situation....

You know what, I'm gonna fucking believe that, and if I know junior people who want to work with so-and-so, I'm going to fucking tell them that I have serious reservations about his character and why I have them.


That's exactly what caring about the accuracy of rumours and acting on them appropriately looks like to me; it's a pretty much canonical description of a whisper network doing what a whisper network does best.

It's quite different to a "weaponized" rumour aggregation mechanism, which would inevitably bypass most of the chains of trust that allow whisper networks to fix more damage than they cause; weaponization runs a serious risk of creating just another weapon for predators and abusers to employ when it suits them.

The fix for people falling through the gaps in the existing whisper networks is not, it seems to me, to make the whispering louder. It's to make the whispering unnecessary by making it normal, instead of exceptional, FOR HR TO DO ITS FUCKING JOB and treat people as people rather than fungible "resources". On that, you and I are on completely the same page.

So then we come to the issue of how to make HR do its fucking job in the regrettably common case where the people the whisper networks are busily warning each other about are the people who hired HR.

I think the key thing to understand here is that the kinds of personal abuse we're discussing are not the only thing the kind of pricks who figleaf their abusiveness behind a compliant HR department perpetrate. Garbage human beings are garbage along multiple axes, and dealing with powerful garbage humans requires the creation and wielding of power at least equivalent to theirs.

The only way I've ever seen of that kind of power wielded to anything like an effective extent is by organized labor.

Unions have long had an awful reputation in the US. Less so here in Australia, but even here the neoliberal propaganda machine has had far too much success at undermining and busting them. But it seems to me that as long as unions remain widely perceived as every bit as corrupt and abusive and ineffective as management, workplace abuses are simply not going to go away; and the only way to change that perception necessarily involves the expenditure of a completely unfair amount of organizational effort by those most in need of genuine union protection.

It's often been said that it should not be on women to ensure their own safety in the workplace, and I absolutely agree that it should not. No more should it be on low paid chicken packers to ensure that the machinery they use will not be required to be run in a manner and at a pace that is going to cost them fingers. Union activity in workplaces should not be necessary, because workplaces should not suck. But unless we can figure out some way to stop sociopaths achieving positions of power in the first place, formally organizing against them is the best we'll ever do.

A "weaponized" whisper network is not and never will be a workable substitute for a genuine labor union.
posted by flabdablet at 3:58 AM on October 22 [8 favorites]


History...

Women: Try to organize a method to protect themselves from rape and sexual assault.


Men: That method is imperfect and most importantly might hurt men. We men don't know how to stop it and aren't going to bother to try to figure it out. There is really no solution to protecting women from rape and sexual assault doesn't hurt men so let's just let it keep happening as is.
posted by xarnop at 5:19 AM on October 22 [16 favorites]


Weaponizing the whisper network is dangerous, because it isn't only used against sexual predators. Whisper networks are also used against people who don't fit in, as those of us who have been victims of "mean girls" know from personal experience. It's kind of like weaponizing a contagious disease- you need some safeguards to make sure it only destroys what we want it to destroy. It's complicated further by the fact that there are people who would see using the whisper network against harmless outsiders as a feature, not a bug.

We really do need a more rule-based and transparent system, because it would at least be harder to use that against harmless people who meet with social disapproval. (I won't say it would never happen, but let's at least make it harder.)
posted by Anne Neville at 5:45 AM on October 22


The only way I've ever seen of that kind of power wielded to anything like an effective extent is by organized labor.
As TFA points out, the Harvey Weinstein situation wouldn't have happened if unions were a panacea, because Hollywood is a unionized industry. Most of Weinstein's victims were members of a union. I support unions, but it's incredibly naive to think they're a solution to the problem of workplace sexual misconduct. Unions reflect their membership. In instances where their membership takes sexual misconduct seriously, that means they can be a tool to combat it. In industries that are heavily male or socially conservative, unions may be a tool to protect perpetrators.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:53 AM on October 22 [10 favorites]


A "weaponized" whisper network is not and never will be a workable substitute for a genuine labor union.

Uh-huh,that's sure a great method for dealing with creepers in management, if your union takes that shit seriously and can get its members behind it (including all the men who'd rather look the other way or minimise it). But how does it help with union organiser creepers, or member-in-good-standing don't-want-a-witchhunt-now creepers? When, again, men do often don't see the problems or want anyone to act on it?

Unions are fantastic, but it's not the tool for this job.
posted by Dysk at 6:12 AM on October 22 [2 favorites]


In industries that are heavily male or socially conservative, unions may be a tool to protect perpetrators.

Quite so, and any organization - especially any large organization - tends toward inertia, which is exactly why I made the point that

as long as unions remain widely perceived as every bit as corrupt and abusive and ineffective as management, workplace abuses are simply not going to go away; and the only way to change that perception necessarily involves the expenditure of a completely unfair amount of organizational effort by those most in need of genuine union protection.

Even given all of that, it seems to me that building coordinated identity-protecting abuse report, support and response facilities within the organizational structures of existing labor unions ought to be easier than bootstrapping them from existing informal whisper networks, even if a certain amount of complacent timeserving deadwood requires cleaning out of the unions' upper echelons before this can be made to work.

Alex Press, from the related Patreon piece:
If this were an issue within one workplace, the clear answer is to unionize, and utilize the union as a vehicle through which to collectively stamp out harassment or assault in the workplace. I stand by that: there is no better option that currently exists than a union when it comes to taking action against abusers in a specific workplace.
And while it's perfectly clear that this is not only a per-workplace issue, the point I'm trying to make is that neither are any of the other issues that make workplaces shitty and unions therefore necessary. Organized labor has a long and proud history of successful improvements to a huge range of workplace issues, and I can think of nothing pertaining specifically to sexual harassment or abuse that would render them immune from that.

From the Vox piece:
Of course, unions aren’t a cure-all. At least one actress who says she was harassed by Harvey Weinstein, Mia Kirshner, has written about why she did not trust her unions — the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists (ACTRA) — to forcefully deal with the issues. Kirshner pointed out that the SAG union will typically ask the studio or production house to investigate any alleged abuse internally if a worker reports harassment to the union. “You can imagine its effectiveness,” she writes. “Especially when the person being investigated runs or owns the studio.”

Kirshner also proposed changes that the unions could institute, suggesting that a harassment complaint should trigger a third-party independent investigation, for instance, and that unions should ban one-on-one meetings in hotel rooms. Rather than give up on unions, we should strengthen them.
Emphasis mine. That's an egregiously useless policy, and I fully agree with Kirshner that one of the correct and necessary responses is for union members to work to make their unions better.

As Press points out repeatedly, sexual harassment and the whisper networks that form in response to it are not by any means restricted to workplaces, from which it follows that union-imposed sanctions against abusers would not catch them all. But they'd catch a hell of a lot of them in ways that actually make abuse a really expensive pastime, and it seems to me that given that total organizational effort is limited by the time and energy that people have available to put into it, channelling that effort through labor unions would probably be more productive than not.
posted by flabdablet at 6:37 AM on October 22 [2 favorites]


Except abuse isn't limited to workplaces. It can be social spaces, volunteering groups, informal gaming groups, hiking organisations, some of your mates' mates that turn up in the pub, con attendees, etc, etc, etc. Unions limit the scope of dealing with the problem to the workplace. This is not just a workplace problem.
posted by Dysk at 6:41 AM on October 22 [7 favorites]


Alex Press on unions is linked from both the Vox and Patreon pieces, but it probably won't hurt to link it from here as well.
posted by flabdablet at 6:43 AM on October 22 [1 favorite]


Even given all of that, it seems to me that
Well, then, I will certainly defer to your expertise on this thing that I have experienced many times and that you will probably experience rarely, if at all.

I really need to find a place to discuss this stuff where mansplaining leftist dudes don't come to educate us and suck all of the air out of the room.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:46 AM on October 22 [14 favorites]


I live in a country with decent unions (usually sector-wide rather than individual workplace unions). I've been a member of unions for most of my working life, and I've relied on my union twice to deal with a shitty work situation. Both times the union was fantastic. (Actually one time they basically just cleared their throat and my employer went "coincidentally we just found some money down the back of the sofa this very afternoon, no pay cut after all!", but that's another story.)

We still warned each other about sleazy, predatory men, because what the hell was the union going to do? Union disciplinary measures need to meet the same standard of evidence as general work disciplinary measures, and these men tended to sleaze their way through life juuuuust under the radar. I wouldn't have gone to my union reps for all the same reasons I wouldn't have gone to my bosses - very little chance of any penalty for Mr Grabby, and a big chance of negative results for me.
posted by Catseye at 8:54 AM on October 22


The hand wringing over whether or not to just 'whisper network' harder or to instead 'weaponize' it. Or unionize it. Well, why should n't a whisper network be deployed against men, men have a weaponized whisper network that works against women (crazy, bossy, sluty, tease, etc). It effects hiring, promotions, raises, responsibilities, targeting of victims etc. It has all the abuse of power and vindictiveness some commenters here have feared could/does happen, and it runs in reinforcement to patriarchy's general anti-female biases. There are no perfect weapons, use all weapons at hand.

My guess: This moment of (inter)national awareness will help more individuals and organizations rethink if they want to become the next headline or be sued, but not most, nor the worst actors. The counter-response to this will be media highlights of the few man bites dog exceptions showing mendacity in women accusing falsly for vengence or ambition.

Cosby and Trump will walk free, Weinstein will settle and the war for safety and equality will continue.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 10:10 AM on October 22 [12 favorites]


the powerless little-girl connotations of whispering -- the image of cupped hands held to ears, the palpable relief with which people greet the opportunity to hand-wring about "mean girls"-- does not match up with the delusion of limitless power that's also attached to the notion of a private female network. are women spiteful little children or are they terrifying witches whose lies can't be resisted or disbelieved?

because the idea that "whisper networks" are dangerous to the innocent because any woman can and will believe anything another woman tells them, even if she's a stranger, even if it makes no sense, even if it directly contradicts their own experience or the word of a third woman -- nobody could take this seriously unless they thought whispering to a woman was like programming an obedient computer. we do think about what we're told, you know. We are capable of suspending both belief and disbelief in a particular vague warning, such that we make no final judgment on a man's character right away but we still take care to never be alone with him.

but this is all just saying repeatedly that women are individual human beings with our own varying capacities for judgment and critical thought. and people who panic about "mean girls" don't believe that, and never will.

other women can and should do anything that they think is helpful. for me, I am not interested in whispering. people can ignore me just as easily when I speak at full volume, why should I help them. people who talk about "mean girls," when discussing anything except a mediocre film that gave misogynists the most popular catchphrase since I don't remember when, don't deserve my help and defense but they get it anyway. because nobody deserves to be the victim of sexist aggression even if they help perpetuate it themselves in their off hours.

(ever notice that people who talk about "mean girls" tend to have just as much contempt for their rhetorical opposite, the so-designated "Nice Ladies?" yeah you noticed.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:42 PM on October 22 [12 favorites]


It is possible to get a bad reputation without harming other people.

Sure is. Just ask about any publicly known survivor of sexual assault in high school or college.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:20 PM on October 22 [4 favorites]


flabdablet: Even given all of that, it seems to me that building coordinated identity-protecting abuse report, support and response facilities within the organizational structures of existing labor unions ought to be easier than bootstrapping them from existing informal whisper networks,

Multiple people have explained above why this isn't a good option, including the fact that unions can and often do perpetuate and amplify the problems of sexual harassment and/or assault in the workplace. You yourself admitted that unions are problematic in an earlier comment.

Why are you continuing to push this rather than listening to the women in this thread who are speaking from personal experience?
posted by zarq at 2:57 PM on October 22 [6 favorites]


This is also why we should not have police, because they are obviously the beginnings of the police state. QED.

I agree with this
posted by beerperson at 3:45 PM on October 22 [1 favorite]


I was at my most in danger when I was "not like other girls," when I would say "I just find it easier to be friends with guys." I was the most cut off from whisper networks - almost seemingly on purpose - and I paid dearly for it. Like these teen boys had already learned that when you separate girls from other girls, they become easier to mistreat. When I made it a point to create a strong network of women of many different types, my life became a lot safer.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 4:50 PM on October 22 [6 favorites]


a mediocre film that gave misogynists the most popular catchphrase since I don't remember when

I have never completely forgiven Tina Fey for this (nor Elizabeth Warren for "the two-income trap").
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:02 PM on October 22


Okay, except that my uneasiness about the whisper network isn't from having seen Mean Girls because I never saw it.

My uneasiness about the whisper network comes from two places -

1. I have been on the outside of the "in crowd" and not only missed out on things they discussed, I was targeted by them, and

2. Amplifying the whisper network reinforces the same old bullshit about how women's only option is to look out for ourselves as opposed to actually pressuring the authorities to fire the guys who are harrassing women in the first place.

Some of us have come to this place independently of Tina Fey.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:37 PM on October 22 [11 favorites]


Why are you continuing to push this

I push this because I am a father and husband who strongly wishes to increase the strength of social mechanisms that make it unnecessary for women in general and my wife and daughter in particular to spend their lives tiptoeing through a sexual harassment and abuse minefield; because many women have left and continue to leave comments here expressing misgivings at least as strong as mine about the creation of some kind of sex-offender Equifax; and because I perceive sexual harassment and abuse as one among many outrages that the organized labor movement exists to prevent and believe that the main reason it currently fails to do so in so many cases is that so many people have simply given up on expecting and enabling it to.

rather than listening to the women in this thread who are speaking from personal experience?

This is a discussion thread in an Internet forum. Taking turns is inherent in the form. Putting arguments in support of an opinion is not evidence of failure to listen to and carefully consider the opinions of others; nor is it evidence of discounting or ignoring their personal experiences; and nor is it talking over them, shouting them down, sucking the air out of the room, condescension, mansplaining or following them to their houses and demanding satisfaction.

The same cannot be said of comments casually imputing dishonourable motives to other participants.
posted by flabdablet at 10:16 PM on October 22 [1 favorite]


[Flabdablet, you've now stated and restated and restated your opinion on this, and can let it stand as is.]
posted by taz at 12:31 AM on October 23


because I perceive sexual harassment and abuse as one among many outrages that the organized labor movement exists to prevent

Sexual. Abuse. Does. Not. Only. Happen. At. Work.

Say it with me again.
posted by Dysk at 2:03 AM on October 23 [8 favorites]


2. Amplifying the whisper network reinforces the same old bullshit about how women's only option is to look out for ourselves as opposed to actually pressuring the authorities to fire the guys who are harrassing women in the first place.

Hence the talk of weaponising it, using it to hurt the men who abuse, rather than letting it continue to be the job of women not to be abused.
posted by Dysk at 2:06 AM on October 23


If you’re going to talk about weaponizing a whisper network, you should probably talk about using it to hurt sexual predators, not just help women avoid them.

Just wondering, is there anything like Creep Hunters in the US? While this volunteer-based movement has had its challenges and is still getting off the ground, the Creep Hunter groups in Canada and the UK seem to be speaking to a collective way for men (alongside women!) to be more pro-actively involved in discouraging predatory sexual behavior. Their focus is on catching men who look for victims via the internet by posing as online minors, collecting data, and then turning them over to the police.

I chatted with the Executive Director of Creep Hunters Canada Society (CHCS). While some CH groups really focus on the drama of "exposing" the creep, CHCS is relatively low-key and by-the-book. CHCS mindfully observes the laws, collects data, and are present (but do not video or post, so as to avoid lynch mob justice temptations) when the police make their arrest. Of course there's a major gap in effective criminal-justice follow-up and counseling or any mental health resources to address the problem behavior after the wake-up call with the police... but it's something. It's something, instead of the nothing that continues to happen.

I bring up Creep Hunters because they're an example of an online network that has somewhat weaponized. They will literally do something(!) if they become aware of an online predator trying to lure a minor, and they will do it even if the laws are still ineffective in supporting the problem to change. So far they intend to keep hunting down creeps until the laws change. Maybe something like that, or some similar strategies, could bolster the preventative efforts of the whisper network?
posted by human ecologist at 4:11 AM on October 23


The same cannot be said of comments casually imputing dishonourable motives to other participants.

Per the mod note, I'm not going to continue a discussion with you of the topic at hand.

However, I would like to make clear that I wasn't being "casual" in my comment. It was asked sincerely and seriously. Nor was I imputing "dishonourable motives" -- whatever you may think they are. I sincerely don't give a damn about your motives. I was questioning your behavior.

You were clearly ignoring or dismissing the points being raised by women responding to you in this thread. Some had resorted to repeating themselves. This seems especially relevant in a thread in which women are discussing reasons why they must resort to warning each other privately because men neither listen to them nor take their concerns seriously.
posted by zarq at 8:36 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


Just wondering, is there anything like Creep Hunters in the US?

I'll be honest, my immediate reaction was full-body recoil and oh fuck please no, spare us from self-important knights on white steeds who weaponize this kind of hobby into The Highest Moral Calling.

Like, we already have a big problem in this country of religious folks whipping each other up into a froth over "sex trafficking" and paying huge sums of money to ex-military hucksters to help them film themselves "infiltrating" brothels, usually in foreign countries with police departments happy to play along for some cash, as a sort of all-purpose fetish, maybe a chance to do some "infiltrating", and moral high ground to draw a veil over these same chads fiddling with half the congregation's kids and women.

These ghost hunters of kiddie porn need to sign some kind of guarantee they've located and removed all the bad uncles from the family reunion list before they start bugging police departments about the stranger-danger they've been encouraging online. If I had to date one, I'd want a guarantee they didn't get off on it first too.

Maybe I'm being harsh, but how come men can't just fix some shit without needing a medal and a "hit count" or whatever they inevitably call it so they can measure the size of their catches against other dudes? Why does it need to be a club?
posted by Lyn Never at 9:16 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


is there anything like Creep Hunters in the US?

Not a group I'd highlight nor a model I'd encourage. There are instances of these folks or related groups---hard to be sure what the affiliations are, they're all informal---up on assault charges for semi-randomly beating people up and for using images and logs to defame people.

More informal extra-legal mechanisms, including vigilantism, can't be the right answer. "Weaponizing" whisper networks into rough justice is to invite back all kinds of awful history.
posted by bonehead at 10:21 AM on October 23


Okay, I was just wondering. I am definitely not surprised that it doesn't exist in the US (because of all the kinds of wrong it would go), but it is pretty cool to see this sustainably take root in other countries. It is very clearly an anti-abuse movement that has been able to attract men volunteers (some who have been assaulted themselves, and are looking for empowerment to combat the problem).

For those concerned about anti-vigilism, the Creep Hunters movement has provided a variety of models worth examining for what the best "something but nothing" approach might be. Some have been anti-vigilism focused and short-lived. Others not so much, and much more successful, especially in terms of working with the police. I highlight CHCS because of how minimal their mob justice component is in their operation; I think that's a solid and admirable way for longevity moving forward.

Ummm, btw the creep hunters aren't asking for a medal. They're quite admirably working from a grassroots level to engage people and develop solutions for the problem (of sex predators targeting young women, girls and boys for sex at its worst). The men volunteers go and give public talks where traditionally women have been picking up the slack on this topic. It's greatly appreciated, and probably only possible in countries where the collective culture doesn't rely on firearms to solve all social problems.

Oh, and maybe in the UK but definitely not in Canada is it white-white knighty. In Canada, empowerment across ethnic identities is part of the overall strategy of dismantling the problem. We're not looking for white-only people to do the heavy lifting (but yes, certainly in the context of Truth and Reconciliation, and dismantling historical injustice, white people very much have a role here). In fact it works much better when a people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds are invested in working together to problem-solve this species-level problem. That's pretty much the barometer for how we'll know when we've found the solution that works -- when it's effective for all ethno-cultural walks of life, and not just something that works for the white-washed West.
posted by human ecologist at 11:58 AM on October 23


Oops, I probably meant "vigilantism" where I said "anti-vigilism", btw.
posted by human ecologist at 12:33 PM on October 23


the creep hunters aren't asking for a medal. They're quite admirably working from a grassroots level to engage people and develop solutions for the problem (of sex predators targeting young women, girls and boys for sex at its worst).

The group I'm particularly thinking of is active right now in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver. They're no where near as disciplined as you suggest.
posted by bonehead at 12:40 PM on October 23


Until the law takes the abuse against us seriously, vigilantism is about all we have left. We're not there on a societal scale yet, but we will be if "good men" don't start caring more about all the rapists walking around free instead of ringing their hands over the off chance that a woman will lie and say she was raped.

I honestly don't know if men, or women who don't talk intimately with survivors, realize just how close we are to huge poisoning campaigns or something. Many survivors I've talked to about this, including myself, at one point had actual murder plans - not just "gee, it'd be nice if that dude died" but like, "and then i drive to Toledo, hop a plane to New Mexico, and round it all back up in California - at that point either the escape plan works or we're in prison, but those fuckers are dead." Something has to give and we only have control of it from one direction.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 3:13 PM on October 23 [8 favorites]


No, I don't revel in anyone's death. I do not think its a good thing, and why would I?

My rapist was murdered by another victim's brother about 10 years after my assault.

I reveled. I rejoiced. I still do, and you know what? I'm OK if people think that makes me a monster.

I've been carrying the damage he did for 38 years now. PTSD sucks, so you'll pardon me if I manage a small bit of comfort that he's at least well and truly dead and can't hurt anyone else.
posted by MissySedai at 1:23 PM on October 24 [12 favorites]


MissySedai, I hear you. I carried the legacy of my exhusband for far too many years
posted by infini at 3:45 AM on October 25


Recently there has been discussion of a "Shitty Media Men" list, which apparently many journalists have seen but AFAIK none have printed it. Of the many recent resignations and firings for creepy behavior or worse, at least two were apparently named on the list: Hamilton Fish who was publisher of the New Republic, and Leon Wieseltier who was TNR's longtime literary critic and in line for an editor post at the new magazine planned by Laurene Powell Jobs (Steve Jobs' widow).

The list lost some credibility when Mike Cernovich of Pizzagate infamy got a copy and threatened to release the list, then backed off for legal reasons, but these job losses seem to confirm its accuracy at least in part.
posted by msalt at 3:11 PM on November 3


Ronan Farrow's new article describes how Weinstein had his own information suppression campaign, a kind of anti-whisper network by the sound of it, which was weaponized by hiring private security agencies:

Harvey Weinstein’s Army of Spies: The film executive hired private investigators, including ex-Mossad agents, to track actresses and journalists.
In the fall of 2016, Harvey Weinstein set out to suppress allegations that he had sexually harassed or assaulted numerous women. He began to hire private security agencies to collect information on the women and the journalists trying to expose the allegations. According to dozens of pages of documents, and seven people directly involved in the effort, the firms that Weinstein hired included Kroll, which is one of the world’s largest corporate-intelligence companies, and Black Cube, an enterprise run largely by former officers of Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies. Black Cube, which has branches in Tel Aviv, London, and Paris, offers its clients the skills of operatives “highly experienced and trained in Israel’s elite military and governmental intelligence units,” according to its literature.

Two private investigators from Black Cube, using false identities, met with the actress Rose McGowan, who eventually publicly accused Weinstein of rape, to extract information from her. One of the investigators pretended to be a women’s-rights advocate and secretly recorded at least four meetings with McGowan. The same operative, using a different false identity and implying that she had an allegation against Weinstein, met twice with a journalist to find out which women were talking to the press. In other cases, journalists directed by Weinstein or the private investigators interviewed women and reported back the details.

The explicit goal of the investigations, laid out in one contract with Black Cube, signed in July, was to stop the publication of the abuse allegations against Weinstein that eventually emerged in the New York Times and The New Yorker. Over the course of a year, Weinstein had the agencies “target,” or collect information on, dozens of individuals, and compile psychological profiles that sometimes focussed on their personal or sexual histories. Weinstein monitored the progress of the investigations personally. He also enlisted former employees from his film enterprises to join in the effort, collecting names and placing calls that, according to some sources who received them, felt intimidating.
(Here's a Wayback Machine link for those who've hit their article limit.)

That's really fucking disturbing.
posted by homunculus at 6:54 PM on November 7 [1 favorite]


It's horrifying.
posted by goofyfoot at 10:22 PM on November 7


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