"Is he on The Island?" On the (lack of) professional consequences for sexual harassers

I used to have a very elaborate inside joke with a few other women in media. It was called The Island, and the narrative went like this: All of the editors we know to be sexual harassers or professional bullies are on a plane together, probably heading to some sort of “ideas festival,” when the plane goes down on a small island. There, they are forced to live out the rest of their days with only each other to harass. In their absence, the rest of us go on to remake the media industry into a creative, forward-thinking, gender-equitable paradise. Fin.

It was funny to picture this scenario, but also sort of a sad coping mechanism. We knew these dudes were too professionally powerful, too entrenched to really be held accountable for their behavior. The Island became a code for telling each other who was a good guy and who was a bad guy—which upper-masthead men actually wanted to mentor us, and which ones just wanted the thrill of having a cocktail with an attractive younger woman under the guise of professionalism: “Is he on The Island or not?” Or, “Watch out, that guy’s totally on The Island.”

And so today, even though I’m on deadline for about four other things (sorry, editors!), I can’t stop reading about all of the drama at The Oxford American.

Most of the time, sexual harassment is not easily verifiable, not obvious to outsiders. Sure, sometimes there are emails or—shudder—voicemails. Irrefutable proof. But mostly harassment is a series of seemingly minor infractions: a quick “joke” about your legs, lots of inquiries about your sex life, three compliments about your looks for every one compliment about your work, a creepy gaze, a lingering touch. Lawyers will tell you to keep a log—to write down each of these little incidents. But it can build up so quietly. You might have a bad feeling about a dude, but not quite be ready to call it harassment until it’s gone on for months. In other words, it creeps up on you. Creeps creep up on you. That’s how they do!

The reason these guys still have jobs? Because the (typically) young (typically) female people they’re harassing have a lot to lose. Because a public accusation would instantly turn into a “he said, she said” situation. Because this situation would become a defining aspect of the accuser’s professional life, very likely wrecking it. Because it’s much safer to talk about this with our peers—usually just our female peers—over drinks or in Gmail. This chat is off the record.

There’s a reason The Island was a private joke, never a dramatic op-ed that named names. But I agree that knowledge is power. And, among women in the profession, there are definitely men in media who are well known as creepsters. There are names that pop up again and again in those Gchat conversations. 

I can’t help but think there’s a technological solution here. Some way of creating a private message board where users are vetted but anonymous, where women can take this knowledge about who belongs on The Island and share it without fear of retribution. Kind of a professional version of Don’t Date Him Girl, only… better. I know, I know: There’s a potential for abuse with anonymous accusations. But really, it’s 2012. It’s a collective embarrassment that this behavior is still so common, and it warrants a collective response—one that goes beyond a series of private conversations and inside jokes.

  1. racheloris reblogged this from annfriedman and added:
    As a female preparing to graduate and head into the journalism realm, this topic is especially worrisome and worthy of...
  2. susanmernit reblogged this from annfriedman
  3. kazeren reblogged this from sorayachemaly and added:
    I used to have a very elaborate inside joke with a few other women in media. It was called The Island, and the narrative...
  4. verdanthandshake reblogged this from sorayachemaly
  5. ktlizzie reblogged this from sorayachemaly
  6. snowyanna reblogged this from sorayachemaly
  7. beedogkimono reblogged this from sorayachemaly
  8. kitty-fatale reblogged this from sorayachemaly
  9. sorayachemaly reblogged this from annfriedman
  10. merici reblogged this from annfriedman
  11. sojournalista reblogged this from annfriedman and added:
    newsroom perverts are/were....her right mind would name
  12. asoundthatquakes reblogged this from annfriedman
  13. astray-thought reblogged this from annfriedman
  14. babysbreathflower reblogged this from probablywriting
  15. probablywriting reblogged this from jessicavalenti
  16. amorimsamya reblogged this from annfriedman
  17. rikashmoonsword reblogged this from notemily
  18. fix-denied reblogged this from annfriedman
  19. nomadicwanderer reblogged this from notemily
  20. ballerinaduck reblogged this from notemily
  21. imaginethatchristie reblogged this from notemily
  22. notemily reblogged this from annfriedman and added:
    This whole thing is excellent.
  23. whichwitchery reblogged this from annfriedman