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Gretchen Carlson takes on new role as warrior against sexual harassment

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Sexual harassment?
“It’s all about power. It’s rarely just about sex,” said television broadcaster Gretchen Carlson, addressing the recent Women Who Matter Luncheon sponsored by the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce at the Greenwich Country Club. “The overwhelming amount of sexual harassment in the workplace is not reported.”

Gretchen Carlson
Author and television journalist Gretchen Carlson addresses the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Phil Hall

Carlson’s sexual harassment lawsuit in July 2016 against Roger Ailes, the chairman and CEO of Fox News, which followed the network’s termination of her contract, gave a new impetus to the issue. Yet she had encountered sexual harassment from the start of her career as a television journalist, said Carlson, a Minnesotan who was crowned Miss America in 1989 and went on to study at Stanford University.

She recounted how a television news executive and a high-profile publicist, neither of whom she identified by name, assaulted her during introductory interviews. A cameraman who accompanied her on an early assignment in rural Virginia became so intense in his harassing comments that she contemplated jumping from the moving vehicle they were in, Carlson told her Greenwich audience.

“I didn’t realize getting into the business meant getting into my pants,” she said.

Carlson’s new book, “Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back,” details her experiences with workplace sexual harassment and the feedback she received after her lawsuit against Ailes, which ended in a $20 million settlement with Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox Corp. Ailes resigned in the same month that Carlson filed her lawsuit after several other female employees at Fox reported incidents of sexual harassment by him.

“At that time, it felt like jumping off a cliff into an abyss all by myself,” Carlson said. “My Twitter feed, on a daily basis, didn’t help in that mission.”

“Here’s just a taste of what I received this morning (via Twitter): ‘I hope nobody ever hires you, skank!’” The tweet drew a collective gasp from her audience. “‘Grow up and stop whining,’” she read from another tweet. “’You are too ugly to be sexually harassed. You wish you looked that good.’”

Carlson said she brushed aside the haters and focused on the scores of stories she received from women across the country who shared their experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace.

“I’ve heard from executives, tech workers, police officers, teachers, lawyers, bankers, military officers, waitresses, flight attendants, executive assistants,” she said. “Apparently in 2017, it’s true that every woman still has a story. There were thousands of stories that I read, responded to and cried over. After I dried my tears, I had a lot of work to do. But let me be clear: I never envisioned that I would become the face of this issue.”

When women speak up about sexual harassment from male colleagues or superiors, Carlson observed, those women are more likely to leave or lose their jobs, and a “vast majority” go into different professions. As a result, she said, most cases of harassment go unreported, even in companies that have personnel policies designed to address these types of incidents.

Carlson warned her audience to review their employment contracts regarding arbitration clauses, which she claimed serve only to prevent harassment victims from receiving an open and fair review of their grievances. Her Fox News contract had an arbitration clause, but she waited for the contract’s expiration before filing her lawsuit against Ailes.

She also issued a dare to companies to “start calling back all of the women who lost their jobs for being brave and having courage. Let’s stop talking about how we’re going to rehab the alleged harassers and when they might go back to work. Let’s bring the
women back first.”

Carlson said the proceeds from her book will go to her newly created Gift of Courage Fund, which she described as a vehicle for empowering women and girls.

“Women will no longer be underestimated, intimidated or set back,” she said. “We will not be silenced by the ways of the past. We will stand together, we will use our voices together, we will show our courage, we will be the women we were always meant to be. And, above all, we will always be fierce.”

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