I dare to say that almost every woman has either experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace. While you could probably ask any women if this is true and they would most likely say yes, this is not something that immediately comes to mind when we think of women in the workplace. We would like to think that the gender equality has been fought for more or less, but as we women know, there is a long way to go.
This week, former Fox News commentator Gretchen Carlson showed just how far we have and haven’t come. Carlson filed a lawsuit against Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. This came as a shock to many, but not for the right reasons. The shock should come from the fact that we should be appalled that an esteemed figure would disrespect a well-established talk show host. The shock should come from the disbelief of sexual harassment. Rather, the shock comes from the fact that this wasn’t an internally settled issue and that Carlson is fighting against such a powerful figure.
The catalyst for the suit seems to be Ailes comment: “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.” Carlson has also said she had refused to sleep with him repeatedly, as he said sleeping together would make some problems easier to “solve.”
This past month, Carlson’s contract was not renewed, ending her time on her afternoon show “Real Story with Gretchen Carlson” in late June. Carlson is citing her unrenewed contract as related to the sexual harassment she experienced at Fox News. She has filed internal reports of Steve Doocy, although no lawsuit against him as been filed.
Some have chosen to politicize this story, referencing the Fox New’s conservative political and social views, which can be related to traditional gender roles, as causality for this sexual harassment. However, I would like to shy away from this argument, if not outright reject it.
Sexual harassment happens to everyone. It happens to women, men, transgender people. No gender, sexuality, religion, political views, race, or ethnicity is safe from it. Among those sexually harassed in the workplace, 79% were women, while 21% are men. People are sexually harassed in the workplace both by their coworker and superior. Most frequently, sexual harassment occurs at the executive level, which is exactly what happened to Gretchen Carlson.
And it’s unacceptable. This is not the first time Fox news has had problems, though. Regardless of their political views, they clearly have done nearly nothing to ensure the safety of its employees. They have continuously disrespected women and objectified them on various shows. Carlson has said that she was forbidden to wear pants on the show while the network’s camera has been said to linger its on-air women panelists’ legs, known as a “leg cam.”
While Ailes said, “This is a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract,” in a statement, this is just the classic blame game, in an attempt to silence a victim. The statement also reads, “This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.” Before the lawsuit was filed, however, a statement was made by Fox News, stating, “We take these matters seriously.”
How seriously can you take them when Ailes is prepared to publicly announce, “Gretchen Carlson’s claims are false”? How can you expect Carlson’s claims to be investigated internally without bias when they are against the head of the network? Ailes is doing anything he can to secure his position and invalidate Carlson’s.
This is expected, but let us take a moment to respect Carlson’s bravery for taking this issue up. Just because a woman is in a position of power, it doesn’t mean that she is immune from misogyny, harassment, and objectification. These are qualities interbred in the media and the minds of many.
I suspect Ailes did do those things and say those things, and I also suspect that he saw absolutely nothing wrong with them. That’s the real crime.