This is not a comment about a presidential candidate who should know better. It is a recognition that many Americans--including a PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE- continue to be clueless about sexual harassment-- what it is and how pervasive it is in the workplace.
Former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson surprised many when she filed a lawsuit against Roger Ailes, the Founder and longtime Chairman CEO of Fox News and Fox Network. Carlson claims that Ailes told her “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago.” She also alleges that after she rebuffed his advances, her career suffered and she was let go.
Carlson’s story resonated with women like me across the country because we know sexual misconduct continues to be a major factor in workplaces. Anita Hill spoke for us when she faced a hostile unsympathetic all male Senate committee nearly a quarter century ago. She was forced to recount humiliating and unsavory interactions with now long serving Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Awareness about sexual harassment significantly increased after that.
But, despite new laws and more awareness, sexual harassment is still often dismissed. And when powerful men like Roger Ailes are accused, it is often other women who pretend it doesn’t exist. Fox network stars Greta Van Susteren, Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Laura Ingraham all denied that Ailes had ever been sexually inappropriate. And, FOX male personalities Sean Hannity, Shepard Smith, and Juan Williams strongly defended him. But when rising star Megyn Kelly apparently weighed in --citing Ailes harassment of her --Roger Ailes was forced to step down. Meanwhile Vanity Fair magazine is reporting that multiple Fox women employees taped their conversations with Ailes.
What makes me mad about this latest public conversation is the number of people who say they are shocked, shocked-- that other Fox executives might also be involved. Are you kidding me? Sexual harassment rarely operates in a vacuum. Behind closed doors, yes, but an open secret among those who witness the misconduct and say nothing, and other harassers who actively work to cover-up the boss’ tracks and their own dirty deeds.
Republican candidate Donald Trump says fighting sexual harassment has “got to be up to the individual,” not understanding that this is a systemic problem deeply embedded in the American workplace. Sure the billionaire’s daughter Ivanka Trump is privileged, and can find “an alternative” work environment where her Dad says “she’d be taken care of better.” But, there are few alternatives for the millions of women--and even some men-- trying to keep their jobs while fighting off unwanted touching, enduring sexually suggestive comments, and worse.
“Sad in 2016 we’re still victim blaming women.” That’s a tweet from Gretchen Carlson. A lot more Gretchen Carlsons will be needed before people get it. And before sexual harassers comfortably shielded by silence and tacit approval are forced out of the shadows