On Wednesday, a Google spreadsheet titled “SHITTY MEDIA MEN” circulated among women in journalism and publishing. The list, which eventually named 74 men before being deleted on Thursday evening, included accusations that ranged from “Creep af in the DM’s” to “rape” and “hitting and punching.” Women editors and writers stared in disbelief at names they didn’t expect to see and nodded knowingly at the well-established industry creeps. Some were thankful for the resource — “I saw some of the names and thought: fucking finally. Finally, the grossest men in media will be exposed,” wrote Doree Shafrir in BuzzFeed — while others thought it dangerously lumped together the office flirts with serial rapists, undermined sexual-assault reporting, and failed to demand enough accountability from accusers, since anyone could anonymously add to the doc.
Despite its imperfections, the media shit-list is just one example of how women across all industries are banding together in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations to call out the predatory men in their fields. While whisper networks in which female colleagues informally swap stories about creepy peers have always existed — Ann Friedman wrote in 2012 about the coded language she uses to warn women about the “bad guys” — the incessant barrage of news stories involving high-profile abusers has spurred women to turn back channels they’ve created over Slack and email threads into more concrete systems.
When Tamara Saviano read about Weinstein, she saw that the stories paralleled her own experience being sexually harassed by at least three men in the country-music industry (most notably, by a record executive who stuck his hand up her skirt at a company event.) The 56-year-old, who now owns her own production company, wrote a Facebook post to her fellow “Nashville music industry women” on Tuesday night: “Who is willing to get together to talk about the gross and creepy men in our business and discuss the possibility of outing them so we can shed light on some of our own Harvey Weinstein characters?” In the comments section, which has 122 responses, women brainstormed about a website that warns “the news girls to Nashville” about lecherous men — “kind of like an Angie’s List” — or a Facebook page that acts like a “bathroom wall” where they can anonymously post names.
Saviano plans to meet up with interested women in person to devise a plan. “What I’m really interested in knowing is if the same names keep coming up, which I expect they will,” she says. “There are already rumors about certain people.” But she also has hesitations. She’s already approached one man about his predatory behavior on behalf of two young women, and his response was to call her a “prude.” Sexual harassment and assault are so ingrained in the music industry — Saviano references the “casting couch,” on which women are expected to perform sexual favors before they sign a publishing deal — that many artists assume speaking about the abuse would be career suicide. “I can’t imagine anybody right now getting fired in [Nashville] if they are a man in power,” she says. “It’s country music and it’s the South and the industry is very conservative.”
Jenise Morgan, a documentary producer, was in tears after reading about Weinstein’s accusers. So on Thursday, she emailed a group of 350 women called the “Media Mavens” to strategize. “I was like ‘I’ve been thinking about this idea where escorts have bad date lists where they talk about ‘This guy robbed me or this guy tried to assault me,’” she wrote, which prompted a discussion about warning systems women can create. “It’s one of those moments where you’re kind of like ‘What do we do?”
Though they ultimately didn’t come up with a plan — people raised legal questions and pointed out the fact that female bosses can also be abusive — it’s a concept the women will hash out at an upcoming monthly happy hour. Ultimately, Morgan is relieved to have a space where she can vent about the constant news involving abusive moguls. In an industry made up of mostly freelancers, they have formed their own grassroots HR department to police male behavior. “We’re all trying to figure out how do we protect one another [from] the people who at the end of the day are responsible for our livelihoods?” she says. While she’s keen to develop an online system that holds the bad guys accountable, the Weinstein allegations have also reminded Morgan to meet in person with her younger industry friends —the ones who are most likely to be intimidated by men.
At least one group of women has already taken a concrete step toward ensuring a Weinstein-type figure won’t flourish at their company. Kendall, a 31-year-old lawyer who asked that her last name not be used, gathered with 20 of her female colleagues earlier this week to discuss their own workplace issues in light of the Hollywood mogul’s downfall. They worked on a “manifesto” full of grievances ranging from subtle sexism to overt harassment that they will circulate to the firm’s senior partners. The document will call out problematic behavior and suggest how male colleagues can be better allies for women. Some of Kendall’s own experiences will be listed, including the time a colleague put a hand on her leg, and a male partner said she’d be fired for missing a typo. The lawyer has also discussed ways to issue a “PSA” about predatory men with her peers. “So often there’s an individual incident with a guy and the person thinks it’s isolated,” she says. “It’s very hard to get data on whether someone is a repeat problem.”
Creating systems that help women get rid of exploitative employees is obviously fraught with logistical and ethical challenges. Any list or network needs to be closed enough to maintain accountability standards but open enough to have reach. The more public the allegations, the more they need to be vetted, since putting someone’s name in a spreadsheet could have real consequences.
But a few programs have already turned the benefits of back channels into more established structures. A group of female astronomists wear red badges at conferences to signal that they are lifelines for any woman who is being sexually harassed, whether she needs to talk or have someone walk her home. In L.A., women comics have used discussions from a private Facebook group to launch a police investigation and ban three alleged sexual harassers from some of the city’s theaters; schools such as the University of San Francisco and Pomona College offer an app for sexual-assault reports called Callisto, that notifies students about whether anyone else has filed a complaint about the same perpetrator.
Kathryn Clancy, an anthropologist who studies sexual assault and harassment in the science world, says whisper networks and their more formalized versions offer an alternative to the “traumatizing experience” of reporting sexual assault or harassment. “[They prioritize] the victim’s narrative rather than worrying about the perpetrator,” she says. “They give victims a chance to share their stories and not feel like there’s something wrong with them.”
The fact that whispers are becoming action points may very well help stave off predatory men. But it will take more than a list or network to stop guys from groping their colleagues at office parties. While women can mobilize to protect one another, not much can change until men examine their own problematic behavior and call out their predatory peers.
“The next step is that men have to step up,” says Clancy. “With Harvey Weinstein, how many men have been protecting him or shutting down his stories? Either men don’t want to believe what they are being told or they want to bury it.”