The whisper game: is the underground warning system working for women?
A few months ago, at a party in Soho, a woman I didn’t know grabbed my arm. “Don’t get in a cab with him.” She said firmly, almost whispering. “He likes young brunettes. Just so you know.”
‘He’ was a senior producer. And I had heard the same thing from eight other women that evening.
As a lady, in any industry, you dismiss the whisper game as gossip or jealousy at your peril. If you are warned, you should definitely be wary. If you are warned twice, you should avoid him like the plague. I get that this isn’t always possible: networking is the lifeblood of career moves and limiting yourself out of fear of abuse can be counterproductive. And obviously, you can’t always predict when someone’s a predator, so don’t blame yourself.
I’m a hardcore networker, by the way. I love meeting people and I’m not stopping any time soon. But the whisper game stirred something up in me this morning when I woke to a message from my actor friend in Australia.
Her: Sooooo G Rush (Geoffrey Rush)
Me: Wasn’t that ages ago
Her: No it’s a new one. They’ll be more. We all warn eachother. My friend’s agent won’t send her to projects with him on it
Me: I’m so angry no one said anything to these women then
Her: You’re only safe if you are in the whisper circuit hun
And that’s hella true, frankly. If you’re the young lady on the fringes of a party or event, you’re easy prey. You don’t know the group or the dynamics, you don’t know what techniques the director or whatever uses to get you on your own, or that the threats he makes against your career are empty. Tess of the D’Urbervilles is still true. The worst words you’ll ever hear will be “Why didn’t you warn me?” a hundred years on from when they were written. Innocence kills.
We’ve all had a guy lock the car door when we’ve wanted to leave, had a director with his hand up your thigh or, worse, the producer who insists on coming backstage when you’re undressing: and after a while, you know who does what.
Chorus girls talk. And we warn eachother. So what stops us speaking out?
Well, there’s a difference between telling your mate Jessie that a director is a bit of a pervert and talking to The Guardian. But whisper too loudly or warn too many women and you risk being sued, thrown off a cast or with a director who has a personal vendetta against you. In an already wobbly profession, that’s not something a young actress wants.
And there’s your problem. If you don’t get warned, you’re in real danger because these powerful men know they can get away with it. Trust me: the only thing #MeToo has done in theatre is make directors and producers more aware of CCTV and how to file for an injunction.
We need to open up about abuse without being scared. In the last week, I’ve been sent four blacklists of men to avoid by women’s groups and other support pages. All these women who came forward changed their dates and names out of sheer terror at being exposed.
#MeToo is still underground. Let’s bring it to the surface.