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When whispers have to become shouts

When some people – and sorry guys, but I mean primarily men people – talk about how #MeToo and related anti-abuse movements have gone too far, I do tend to wonder: what, or who, are you hiding?

There’s been a good illustration of that this week, when multiple unconnected women in the video games industry have named men who’ve attacked, sexually abused and gaslit them. It began with a blog post by Nathalie Lawhead, a brave act that encouraged other women to speak out.

As the award-winning writer Leigh Alexander commented:

for each abuser you heard about today there are like 10 more we can’t talk about because of the retaliatory threats they’ve made to their victims, for whom it would be inappropriate to speak

Today it’s video games. Maybe tomorrow it’ll be music, or publishing, or civil engineering, or education, or bar work, or anywhere else men in positions of authority, formal or informal, are in a position to abuse their power.

I know it’s not all men. But it’s too many men. And one of the reasons they get away with this is power.

Power is partly because of the lack of diversity that’s still prevalent in too many industries. When you’re a member of a minority group, you have very little power. Who’s going to believe you? Who’s going to take your side?

This week’s exposé of abuse in video games is an example of that. Nathalie Lawhead didn’t speak out, because who would she speak to? Her abuser threatened to destroy her career, telling her “it’s me or bust”. And then he raped her.

Many of these men’s behaviour is an open secret. Women in many industries operate “whisper networks”, where they can privately warn one another of predatory men. But the behaviour is often well known to other men too: the men they work with, the men they socialise with, the men who laugh along when they describe something awful.

Earlier this week, a woman who works for a law firm shared a message her boss had intended for one of her co-workers but accidentally sent to her. The message said that he “hopes Sarah has her tits out” and that “one day I’m just gonna have to fuck her.”

Most people are rightly appalled by the content of the message (but not everyone, because it’s the internet: some are piling on the woman for daring to shame her unnamed boss). But one question I haven’t seen anybody asking is pretty important.

Why did the boss think it was okay to send that message to anyone?