When Gretchen Carlson came forward with sexual harassment claims against Roger Ailes at Fox News, becoming one of the first women to topple a powerful leader with influence and deep pockets, the incidents weren’t her first inappropriate encounters with men in the workplace.
“I had two sexual assault experiences with top TV executives and top L.A. publicists,” the former Fox & Friends anchor revealed during a special conversation on Tuesday night presented by Build Series and Makers. “And I thought that they actually wanted to help me because I was smart and talented. I didn’t know that meant getting into my pants.”
Carlson’s story as a young professional in the entertainment industry echoes similar tales emerging recently about Harvey Weinstein and others, from the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon, and more.
And it’s because of these women coming forward — and the thousands of others who’ve shared their #MeToo stories — that Carlson, whose book Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back was just released, believes that this is a tipping point. “More and more women are speaking up, and I think a lot of predators are shuddering in their boots because they’re wondering who might be next,” she said. “And I say more power to all these women who have found the bravery and the courage to come forward.”
Yahoo Lifestyle sat down with Carlson to talk about Weinstein, trolls, and her advocacy for a proposed bill that would prohibit forced arbitration, allowing women to sue for sexual harassment in open court.
Yahoo Lifestyle: Where did the title Be Fierce come from?
Gretchen Carlson: Be Fierce came from a lot of thinking about how I wanted to describe what it takes to build the process of courage, and “fierce” just seemed to be the right word that we should use to describe women. And we’re not being angry — we’re just being who we’re supposed to be, which is standing up and speaking up for any injustice that we face. I think “fierce” is just the perfect description of that. It used to be that we weren’t supposed to describe ourselves that way, and now it’s like we’re badass and we are fierce and we’re proud of it.
The flap on your book calls it “timely,” and that couldn’t be more true. How has the experience been watching the Harvey Weinstein story unfold from your position?
Obviously I had nothing to do with any of that, as far as the timing of it, but I would like to think that I have played a role in inspiring those women to come forward. We saw not only the Harvey Weinstein situation, but also Uber and Silicon Valley — sort of this moving up towards these bigger stories. I feel like this is a tipping point; I really believe that. This has been going on for 10 days and we’re still talking about it. So the idea that we’re still having this conversation, that there’s new revelations every day, and now the [head of] Amazon Studios, [Roy Price], just resigned, more and more women are speaking up, and I think a lot of predators are shuddering in their boots because they’re wondering who might be next. I say more power to all these women who have found the bravery and the courage to come forward.
So many celebrities have come forward in the wake of Harvey Weinstein, but what your book does so well is tell the stories of real women. Why did you think it was so important to tell their stories?
Because I heard from them every day. Even in the first week, I bet I heard from 200 women. And my good Midwestern upbringing told me to write back to them. My parents taught me to always write thank-you notes — and actually my mom just warned me about a question I was maybe going to get on a television interview and she was right, so I’m, like, moms are always right! So it was just something about the way I was raised, and throughout my career I’ve always signed my own autographs and written my own notes to fans; that’s just something that I’ve done.
I felt like I wanted to respond to these women because they were laying out their stories for me and sometimes they hadn’t ever told anyone else — not even their husbands — so I felt this sense of duty. And as more and more of these stories came in, they started getting into the thousands, and I was printing them out in my office and there were huge piles, and I looked at them one day and I was, like, I owe it to these women who’ve never had their stories told, from all parts of our country, and all different professions. And if I’m not going to do it, who is? And so I guess if there’s been one thing in my life that’s always been a constant it’s that I take on a challenge that’s before me, and I felt like I had to not only tell their stories but provide advice and move the ball forward on this issue and look where we are. I really feel like we’re making progress.
You start your book describing the kind of social media abuse you receive. Where did you find the confidence to power through the criticism?
I started that way not because I feel sorry for myself but because I learned a long time ago from being Miss America that you have to have thick skin — unfortunately, that doesn’t make it right. But what I’ve seen since the Weinstein story is that the trolls have kind of gone into hiding. I think because everyone’s sort of talking about how great it is that more people are coming forward, their attacks on people who do come forward aren’t as effective anymore, and it’s just my unscientific study looking at it I’ve noticed that they’ve kind of gone away. And also more people are shaming them by writing back. I’ve even retweeted some of them and said, “Here’s what we’re up against,” and I think that’s incredibly effective to show that we have a lot of work still to do. There are a lot of people in our society who probably don’t understand sexual harassment and all the myths associated with it, and they don’t think it’s as prevalent as I know now that it is.
does your company know u tweet things like this? If u haven’t seen it the women at your company are lucky https://t.co/ukbGf82Lsu
— Gretchen Carlson (@GretchenCarlson) October 17, 2017
A lot of chatter, specifically from Mayim Bialik and Donna Karan, has been around how women are “asking for it” because of what they wear. What’s your reaction to that?
That’s a myth. And I say in the book that you can wear a skirt, you can wear hospital scrubs or Amy fatigues, and in every case you can be harassed; it doesn’t matter what you wear. We need to shift the blame game. This is not something women — typically women are the victims — it’s not something we’re doing, it’s something that’s being done to us, and so we should not feel ashamed for the way we dressed or whether or not we had on makeup or we did or hair or we had a ponytail in. That’s not how we should be shamed. The person doing it should be shamed, and that’s what we’re starting to see now, and that’s why I really believe the tipping point is happening. We’re shaming the perpetrators, and that is an incredibly effective tool at changing the dynamic.
During an interview prior to filing the case, you said that “pants were not allowed on Fox & Friends” and that seems to show that there are such subtle ways women are sexually harassed in the workplace that they might not even be aware of.
Well, all I can say about that now is I love pants. I’ve gone back to my almost all-black wardrobe, New York City wardrobe. I love pants, hashtag pants.
Did you ever experience any sexual harassment or see anything of the sort — like President Trump and Miss Universe — on the Miss America or pageant circuit?
I wasn’t in pageants growing up. Miss America was sort of a one-off for me. I did it because of my violin talent. I was a tomboy growing up, so I didn’t even watch pageants. As far as sexual harassment, I never experienced that when I was participating in the pageant, although I met Donald Trump when I was a contestant for Miss America. That was the first time I met him. And he had his boat in Atlantic City and all the contestants went there for lunch and had their photo taken with him. That was interesting. That was before he owned Miss Universe, and he obviously had a lot of casinos in Atlantic City, so I don’t really know why he was there, but that was something that we did as contestants, and that picture has been floating around ever since of the two of us together, and of course I’ve interviewed him countless times since then.
The president very famously watches Fox & Friends every morning. If you were still on the show, what message would you be directing at him knowing that he was listening?
I’m not sure he really wants to hear any message from me, but maybe he should: It would be great if he came over to my side and wanted to take the secrecy out of arbitration. Because if I’m successful at getting this bill passed, he’ll have to sign it.
I have my work on Capitol Hill, I’m working with an iconic movie producer producing a show that’s going to be out in the spring, I’ve been asked to run for politics, other TV opportunities — one thing I know for sure is that I’m going to be working because I’ve worked my whole life, so that’s the one for sure thing.
Editor’s note: While Carlson says in the video that it was during Miss America that she “had two sexual assault experiences,” it was later clarified that these took place instead while she was working as a journalist at a conference.
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