WOMEN ON A MISSION
Late in 2018, an online spreadsheet of men in the media accused of sexual harassment became public, sparking a media firestorm.
According to Chandler Baker, whose novel “Whisper Network” enters the list this week at No. 12, that kind of list is nothing new. “Women have been working to protect other women for ages,” says Baker, who also works as a corporate attorney. “I often think about the women at Brown University who, back in the 1990s, created a list on the bathroom wall of the library” of the men who had sexually assaulted them or someone they knew.
Baker believes that what happened at Brown “was a real prototype for the digital, anonymous contributor lists we’re talking about now. An executive for university relations called the Brown women ‘Magic Marker terrorists’ because they were supposedly out to destroy men’s reputations. As though the most efficient way to destroy a man’s reputation was a localized list in a bathroom stall. But one woman wrote on that wall, ‘If we don’t take care of each other, no one will.’ And I think that about sums it up, doesn’t it?”
In an author’s note at the end of her book, Baker reveals that she, too, benefited from a whisper network, back when she was a summer associate at a law firm. She recently got a message from a reader who told her, “I bet I know who you’re talking about.” Baker finds that “simultaneously comforting and depressing,” adding, “A woman might have a bad experience with a man she knows professionally, maybe even a dangerous one, and she’ll confide in another woman only to hear ‘Oh, yeah, he’s known for that.’ Open secrets are still secrets, and sometimes the information just isn’t shared early enough to take meaningful action.”
That’s what happens in “Whisper Network,” which follows a group of women at a Dallas corporation who mobilize when a known sexual harasser is about to waltz into the C.E.O. slot.
“I wanted the book itself to feel like its own whisper network — the Greek chorus of women in the novel telling the reader how it really is to be a working woman in today’s climate,” Baker says. “While the world’s attention has been turned to the #MeToo movement, I know so many of us have been wanting to jump up and down and say, ‘Oh! Oh! While you’re finally paying attention, let me tell you about all these other things we’re dealing with.’ The motherhood handicap, default parenting, the gender pay gap, a bias in favor of male credibility, demands on our time, the list goes on.”
Follow Tina Jordan on Twitter: @TinaJordanNYT
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