By Kristin LaFratta MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson spoke to thousands of professionals during the Simmons Leadership Conference in Boston this week. Carlson powerfully articulated her journey from a Miss America winner in 1989 to a top news anchor at CBS and later Fox News. At every level of her career, she recounted experiences of sexual harassment.
MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass.
It's been almost two years since former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson revealed she was a victim of sexual harassment by the network's then-chief executive and chairman Roger Ailes.
She remembers the Internet trolls who attacked her at the time. "Kill yourself, hag!" she recounts the Twitterverse told her. "Dress like a businesswoman, not like a whore."
"At first it felt like I literally landed in hell," Carlson said in Boston Thursday. "Turns out, those horrible voices were and hopefully still are the minority."
Carlson spoke to thousands of professionals during the Simmons Leadership Conference at the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center in Boston on Thursday afternoon. Carlson powerfully articulated her journey from a Miss America winner in 1989 to a top news anchor at CBS and later Fox News. At every level of her career, she recounted experiences of sexual harassment.
"For 26 years I felt shame and embarrassment and responsibility," Carlson said. "It took me a quarter-century to say I had been assaulted."
It was July 2016 when she stepped out of her spotlight as a TV personality and into a new limelight, as the woman who accused the leader of the most popular cable news network of sexual harassment.
Following the news of Carlson's accusations in July 2016, Ailes vehemently denied the allegations. But dozens of women followed Carlson's lead with similar accounts, and Ailes was forced to resign. He later died in May 2017 at the age of 77. Twenty-first Century Fox later issued a public apology and settled Carlson's claim for $20 million.
"And let me be clear, there was no #MeToo hashtag then," Carlson said. "There was no 'Time's Up' pins. No nothing. There was just me, taking on one of the most powerful men in the world."
Carlson has since embraced her role as the public face of sexual harassment. She penned the best-seller "Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back." In January, she became the chairwoman of the Miss America board after inappropriate e-mails by organization leaders were exposed. She said the new position provides her a chance to "elevate women," though would not definitively answer questions on whether the competition will eliminate its swimsuit competition.
"The idea that by pursuing public life that women invite assault is one of the most insidious myths out there," Carlson said. She later added, "We will not be silenced by the ways of the establishment or the relics of the past."
Since Carlson shed light on the toxic culture at Fox, the movement dubbed #MeToo has exploded: across industries and status, victims have come forward to describe their accounts of sexual harassment in the workplace. Even prior to her experiences with Ailes, Carlson recounted two separate traumatizing instances with male executives who forced themselves on her while "helping" her find work after winning the '89 Miss America pageant.
"I thought, 'What did I do to bring that on?' 'Was he not interested in my talent?'" Carlson said. "I didn't realize at the time, to break into the business meant him trying to get into my pants as well."
For many victims of sexual harassment, forced arbitration clauses in employee contracts make it impossible to seek true justice. Instead of settling a dispute publicly in court with a proper jury or judge, the arbitration process creates what Carlson called a "secret chamber" in which employers internally settle cases. Oftentimes, the process leaves accusers hung to dry. "The majority...never work in their chosen profession ever again," Carlson said with tears in her eyes.
She explained how she has spent the last year roaming Capitol Hill while working on a bipartisan bill to stop forced arbitration clauses.
She praised Microsoft for ending such clauses in their employee contracts in December.
The TV personality said she worked to change the norms for future generations, like her son and daughter. Carlson said the change should start with young men and boys who must have as much courage to speak out as the victims themselves.
Carlson noted, "sexual harassment is not a women's issue, it's a man's issue."