Gretchen Carlson is an acclaimed television journalist and female empowerment advocate. Her new book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back, is available for pre-order now. All opinions are her own.
My first thought when I heard about Harvey Weinstein? “Here we go again.”
The bad news is that sexual harassment is back in the headlines, with tales of another powerful man preying on women, insulated by enablers and victims too ashamed to come forward.
The good news is that sexual harassment is back in the headlines, precisely because women are finding the courage to tell their stories, and the strength to demand this sick behaviour stop.
Sexual harassment isn’t a partisan issue. From Bill Clinton to Donald Trump to Harvey Weinstein, misogyny transcends party and ideology. It is hard-baked into our culture, and cultivated by the silence of women and men alike.
Nor is it some relic of the Mad Men era, or something we just see in locker rooms. It is widespread in virtually every profession and every walk of life. But through the courage of those now coming forward, we have an opportunity to transform the very culture that has allowed for such widespread workplace harassment. We are at a turning point.
We are stigmatised as troublemakers, liars, bitches, and can have our careers taken away in an instant simply by standing up for ourselves.
When I came forward with my story about my own workplace harassment last year, women reached out to me. I was stopped in airports and restaurants, and received hundreds of emails from women telling me their own stories, from seasoned professionals to college graduates just starting their careers. These women became a source of strength for me, and eventually, gave me a sense of purpose. They also illustrated a pervasive reality. You can be sexually harassed if you’re young or old, if you’re strong or not strong, if you’re an elected official, a college student or an intern. I heard from TV broadcasters and Wall Street bankers; saleswomen and sports executives. There were stories from waitresses, interns, soldiers, tech workers, and executive assistants — from virtually every profession and walk of life.
The fact that all of these women were willing to open up to me, a complete stranger, speaks volumes about the culture of silence and acceptance that women are forced to reckon with, and how eager many are to tell their story to someone without fear of retribution when they know the person they’re telling gets it.
The costs of coming forward are high. I know first-hand what can await. We are stigmatised as troublemakers, liars, bitches, and can have our careers taken away in an instant simply by standing up for ourselves. That explains why even today, most sexual harassment incidents are never made public. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 71% of women who experience sexual harassment at their jobs don’t report it out of fear of the personal and professional repercussions.
So how do we change our so avant-garde 2017 harassment culture? We must start earlier and encourage young people to use their voice. We must educate teenagers — boys and girls — about sexual harassment. We must really celebrate men who speak out as well.
There are practical steps every working woman can take. Here are a few from my Be Fierce Playbook: Research the employer before you accept the job. Document every incident. Assert yourself verbally. Know and follow complaint procedures. Consult with an attorney first.
These are not easy actions. But silence is the weapon of the harasser. It’s not just silence of the victim, but also those who simply shrug off harassment as “locker-room talk” or “boys will be boys.” Millennials and Gen Z have a special opportunity here — both as digital natives and generations challenging long-held ideas about gender — to give victims voice. There’s plenty of work to do: Twitter’s suspension of Weinstein accuser Rose McGowan’s account reminds us that silencing isn’t a relic of some distant past.
But by speaking out, we help others do the same. I have been blown away by the courage I’ve seen as women demand to be heard in their fight for respect. Against unbelievable consequences — shame, retaliation and even derailing their careers — women are refusing to remain quiet. Increasingly, men are, too. It’s especially important that younger men are on the forefront of this shift, because they can effect long-term culture change. Remember, guys: Silence equals assent.
This truly is our moment. This is the tipping point — and I am proud to have sparked this national dialogue. We can look at the headlines and be disgusted by another story of another powerful man who was enabled by too many for too long. Or we can seize the opportunity, open the floodgates, and keep this issue front and center.
Together, we can take control of our lives and our own personal power. We will not be underestimated, intimidated or held back. We will not be silenced. We will tell the truth.
And we will always Be Fierce.
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