In a World of Weinsteins, Here’s Why Women Need a Whisper Network
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I recently met a friend who’s moved to India from the United Kingdom. We met for lunch as we sat discussing her Eat, Pray, Love-esque move that would involve a few months of sabbatical, and a few more, after, of gainful employment in the capital. As we gabbed and she marked off on her little finger a list of possibilities for her Delhi chapter, she let it slip that she’d met a well-known male socialite at a party who had offered to help. “Don’t take up that offer,” I insisted with impunity. “I don’t know if anyone’s told you, but he’s a creep.”
My reasons, I assured her, were manifold, as I described an instance of having been hit on by the same socialite in question, while also narrating what other female friends had – through my years of knowing them – told me: stories of discomfort that had stayed in the shadows. My friend agreed to be careful and I remember returning home, feeling like I’d scored a tiny victory. What had I gained out of it? Who was standing in the shadows outside the restaurant, whispering, “Psst! Well done. You passed on the Holy Grail and helped save the world. Here’s your medallion – and welcome to the club.”
No, They Don’t Get a Medal
Because, hasn’t that been the nature of most antagonistic remarks levelled against the ‘whisper network’ on social media? That women have been shooting off their mouths, accusing everyone from celebrated comedians to TV stars with no rhyme or reason? What do each of these women get for “shooting off their mouths”? For finally mustering up the courage to talk about their abusers? A medal? Nope. Try again. Then again, so many of the women who’ve whispered about their abusers have chosen to go anonymous. Not a medal, then – or even public recognition. Could it possibly, possibly just be to put the next woman – the next potential target of harassment – a teeny, tiny bit on guard?
It’s Not, Even the Tiniest Bit, New
Not even remotely. Warning a female friend – or even someone you’ve just met – about a sleazebag has been common practice for eons. At a party a couple of years ago, a male acquaintance who everyone at the party knew, forcibly kissed a female friend. She was distraught, we were horrified and the acquaintance was given the boot, with little ceremony and much accomplishment. But we hadn’t accomplished anything, not really. No one had bothered to follow up when whispers had emanated through the years about his ‘antics’. A little whisper here, a little whisper there. No one had formally complained, right? No one had spoken out against him in public? What did a little harmless whisper matter in circles where the purported abuser tweeted for the Bechdel Test and demanded women march in New Delhi like they do in Washington?
It didn’t really matter – except, if the whispers were louder, the female friend wouldn’t have been left feeling violated at the back of a broom closet, with a man she’d just met trying to stick his tongue down her throat, insisting she’d like it.
Why Do You Think They Whisper?
Is it really a huge coincidence that around the time that the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, the only female celebrity name that could be found to have spoken out at the time of the abuse itself, was Ashely Judd? Judd was already a name to be reckoned with and perhaps felt she could take on the movie mammoth with some muster of her own. But what about the scores and scores of other names that have come tumbling out, since? Each name stands linked to the next by a common thread – that they didn’t think “anyone would listen”. Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o’s statement was perhaps the most telling summation – “I wish I had known that there were women in the business I could have talked to”.
Women whisper to one another, because they cannot scream with impunity. They whisper, because in a status quo that is skewed against them, it is the only way they can pass on an all-important message – “Don’t let what happened to me, happen to you”.
They whisper because they felt powerless at the time. Unable to push a Weinstein, a Louis CK, a Kevin Spacey off their bodies. They whisper because this is their means to claim their power back.
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