Whisper networks began as warnings passed privately between women which listed powerful men to avoid in a given industry. They pre-dated #MeToo, and have probably existed forever.
But if you think I’m just mansplaining here, you’d be wrong.
This post is about the other whisper networks — the ones run by men.
Of course, like fight club, the first rule of The List is to deny the existence of The List.
Ask any senior male manager in your workplace about The List, and watch their eyes when they respond. Your bullshit detector will ping. I guarantee there’s a whisper network in every larger organisation.
Transmitted mostly by word of mouth, they are by rule undocumented and by nature secure.
Why the secrecy?
Obviously to protect those involved. This works by maintaining plausible deniability, avoids active doxxing by hostiles, and safeguards against “accidental” discovery of texts or emails that could end men’s careers.
To be crystal clear, this isn’t “locker room talk” nor is it salacious gossip.
Men in 2022 don’t catalogue women by their attractiveness or reputation anymore — any reference to ‘hot or not’ is usually cautionary, as in: “Jenna in Accounting thinks she’s hot: WATCH OUT!”
We catalogue them by how dangerous they are to our livelihood.
Men’s whisper networks always involve female informants.
Call them “traitors” if you like.
They do it to curry favour from men, sabotage their competitors, and get revenge against frenemies. But it also puts them on the list, in the “Lisa from Marketing is a two-faced liar who can’t be trusted: WATCH OUT!” category.
Another distinction between men’s and women’s whisper networks is that the former are inclusive, the latter exclusive. Only powerful men usually make the women’s list. All women are on the men’s list.
Because only some men are dangerous.
You are a mid-level male manager. Your boss tells you, “Here’s Moira Donegan, she’s a rising star, mentor her.” You consult your mental rolodex and recall a conversation last month with Steve, who worked with her and warned she’s a back-stabbing bitch.
What do you do?
You are a high-level male manager. Your CEO tells you, “Here’s Cissi Wallin, she’s a rising star, sponsor her.” You consult your network to trace Cissi’s climb to eminence, and hear she’s filed false complaints against male colleagues.
What do you do?
Answer: You support her, dummy!
Not because, to quote Sheryl Sandberg, simply not-harrassing women is enough, but because that’s what you’d hope other men would do for your wife or daughter. Personally, the solution is professional distance. Always supportive, always cordial and polite, just no touchy-feely. With your help, they will have stellar careers, and while some may remember you as distant, “at least he kept his hands to himself.”
And kept his job!
So if you are female, reading this, and work in a larger organisation, chances are you’ve made The List. Are men cautious around you? Do the test: Ask to speak to a (male) boss behind closed doors and see how he reacts. If he claims an “open door policy” or calls for a support person, you’re on The List.
Don’t like how that feels?
It’s called equality. The idea that you pose “some kind of threat to some type of people at least some of the time“. Better get used to it, because we’re all on a whisper list now.