For those who don’t know, the whisper network is a chain of communication among women through which they share and alert each other of the history of sexual misconduct of a particular man in an organisation. It allows women to speak up and question the perpetrator that they couldn’t do while being alone.
It also helps other women to be alert whenever they are around such men. Often, the whisper network is dismissed as gossip that is intrinsic to women’s nature. But according to me, any gossip that helps and empowers a woman is healthy gossip and a whisper network is one of them.
Whisper network came to light during the #MeToo movement against Harvey Weinstein. It has been existing ever since men and women started working together. But it flared and spread beyond Hollywood after the Weinstein story. Many women suffer from harassment at work and are not able to raise their voice because of the fear of losing their job.
But through a whisper network, women at a workplace can get an outlet to express their experience and also warn and empower other women. The experience of one woman can help in saving 10 others in the organisations. It also helps in forming a sisterhood that is the best challenge to an oppressive patriarchal structure. Whisper Networks are evidence that women can connect through the thread of empathy and common experience and empower each other.
The reason why whisper networks are “whisper” is that women before did not have the courage to question the men in power.
But through the whisper network, many women gained the strength to speak about sexual harassment at work, sometimes beyond the whisper network. Although for a woman the tendency in our patriarchal society is to assume silence whenever they are harassed. But it just takes a push and a supportive environment for a woman to speak up. And whisper network provides that.
This sisterhood of women help in recognising the fact women do suffer from sexual harassment. Often, their issues are invalidated by statements like she must be lying, she is just rooting for money or that she is taking revenge. But whisper network, formed intentionally to give women the surroundings and support to share their experience validates every sexual assault as a reason to question the perpetrator in power.
Do We Need These Within Families?
Before you raise an eyebrow, think about it. There is no such group of women at the house who inform each other about the sexual misconduct of certain men in the family. Even if there are discussions, the efforts taken to avenge that are rarely present. In my house, we once formed such a group by accident. At the hour after family lunch, the women of my family sat together and started talking about the history of sexual misconduct of certain men in the family. I was astonished to listen to many stories, one of which was of my mother. But, once the sun set into the horizon, the discussion ended and everyone was back to pretending as if nothing had ever happened. After that discussion, I even mustered the courage to tell my mom about my sexual harassment. But my mother didn’t react and asked me to adjust.
One has to however be vary of one important thing in the whisper network – its tendency to shush the experiences of sexual harassment. In a way, it showcases how deeply rooted is patriarchal control. So for a whisper network to be completely successful and revolutionary, it is important that apart from rumours and information, there should be actions taken to question the harasser and make the lives of other women better.
Moreover, it should not be restricted to big workplaces alone. Such networks should penetrate into homes, kitty parties, small organisations and many more. Because, of course, sexual harassment is not limited to big workplaces. It is just that instances of harassment at home or in small offices do not get media coverage and are nipped in the bud. But that doesn’t invalidate their experiences.
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