After 11 years with Fox News, host Gretchen Carlson was dismissed from the network in June 2016. Two weeks after being fired, Carlson made headlines when she sued then-Fox News chief Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. The suit prompted an internal investigation of Ailes’s interactions with women throughout the company.
The controversy quickly mounted.
Just weeks after the Carlson filing, Ailes was out of a job, though he left with a princely sum. Later in the summer, Carlson secured a $20 million settlement from Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, as well as an apology.
Since then, she has continued to speak out about her experiences at the network. Ahead of the release of her new book, “Be Fierce,” she talked to us about sexual harassment in the workplace, Harvey Weinstein and her future plans.
The Lily:Why did you write “Be Fierce”?
Gretchen Carlson: After my case became public, I heard from thousands of women who said they were so glad I did what I did. People would stop me on the street or in airport lounges, tearfully thanking me or telling me their own stories. Many of them told me that seeing the way I stood up for myself gave them courage to speak up in their own situations. I was so overwhelmed by this response, and I felt I had an obligation to not just walk away from the battle. I saw that I could use my profile to make a difference and to give others a voice.
TL: Why did come forward when you did?
GC: People always ask this. I was fiercely trying to hold onto a career I’d built over 25 years. I’ve spent my whole life working. In situations like this, you keep thinking it will change. You put your nose to the ground at great personal sacrifice. Women often feel like they can fix these kinds of situations. And we’re afraid we will be labeled troublemakers, and that nobody will believe us. It takes immense courage to go up against powerful people. It’s an excruciating choice, made with the knowledge that your own reputation and career could be destroyed.
There is an assumption that if a woman doesn’t immediately stand up and challenge a harasser, she isn’t credible. But there are a lot of reasons for the delay, including trauma, fear of being hated, and wanting to keep a job. You’d be shocked at how many women are fired, demoted or blackballed in their industries after they report harassment. The consequences of taking action are very real, and they can be career-destroying.
TL: What is the biggest misperception about sexual harassment in the workplace?
GC: That it doesn’t injure people. Time and again people opined that I was overreacting. One woman wrote that I should stop whining because it isn’t as if I were physically assaulted. Of course, some of the women I interviewed for the book wereassaulted physically. But for those who don’t think verbal and environmental harassment is a big deal, you try working in a place where you’re demeaned or hit on or undermined every day. When women told me their stories, they often burst into tears — their loneliness and sense of isolation was so great.
TL: You write about how this is a men’s issue as much as it is a women’s issue. Talk about that.
GC: When my situation became public, I was surprised by how many men approached me to thank me for speaking up. Often, they said they felt strongly about the issue because of their daughters or their wives. They wanted to be part of the solution. And I realized that we can’t fix this problem without men. It’s a societal issue, and women alone are not going to solve it.
So, I began to interview men — some of them prominent — for my book, and it was a wonderful experience because I saw how many men were unwilling to tolerate the old culture where they are considered weak if they support women’s issues. The comedian Larry Wilmore said it perfectly when I interviewed him: “I never saw sexual assault and harassment as a partisan or black and white issue. It’s one hundred percent a human issue. I have a daughter, but even if I didn’t have a daughter, I’m a human being and shouldn’t be silent.”
TL: What are your thoughts on the recent news about Harvey Weinstein?
GC: Once again we have the revelation that for 30 years a powerful man has harassed women and the companies they run have enabled it, covered it up, and shut up the victims. This happens in all industries and it must stop. Most disturbing is that fact that this company required employees to agree to secrecy before they were even hired. Women who are brave enough to complain about harassment are forced to sign confidentiality agreements. So, the harassers are free to harass again, sometimes for decades, and the women are forever silenced.
TL: You also address young women on college campuses. That seems to be an issue that affects you deeply.
GC: Most young women going to college are away from home for the first time, and they are especially vulnerable. I think about it all the time, because my own daughter will be going to college in a few years. We know that sexual assault on campus is a big problem; one study shows that it affects one in five college women. But our attention to this issue has been woefully inadequate. So, I wanted to give college women support and a roadmap in my book. We have to make it our goal to empower them and change the campus culture.
TL: You also say that change starts in the home, and talk about how your own fierceness was instilled in you as a child.
GC: I was lucky because I was raised by parents who were wonderful role models. Every day my mom told me I could be anything I wanted to be, if I worked hard. Both of my parents encouraged me to dream big, and to follow those dreams wherever they led me. This was the origin of my passion to pursue goals, my fire in the belly, my competitive spirit and the fierce determination that underlies everything I do.
Let’s face it, by the time people reach adulthood, it can be too late to teach values of how to treat others. We must start early.
TL: How has what happened to you had an impact on your own children — and what do you say to them?
GC: When my daughter Kaia, who is 14, returned to school after I no longer had my job, and my face had been all over the news that summer, I was worried about what people would say to her. I was afraid she’d be harassed too. To my surprise, she came home from school and told me, “Mommy, when people asked me about what happened to you, I felt so proud to be your daughter.” And two weeks later, when she told me that she had finally found the courage to stand up to two girls who had been giving her a hard time, she said, “I knew I could do it, Mommy, because I saw you do it.”
I was incredibly touched by that, and I thought if my one act had enabled my daughter to be braver, it was worth it. But I do what I do for my son, Christian, too. It’s just as important that he has a strong woman as a role model. In the book, I offer tool for parents that will help in raising kids to be respectful and empowered human beings. It’s our most important job. I also ask parents to take a pledge to raise my daughters and sons to be full, happy, healthy human beings, who can achieve anything they set out to do.
TL: You’ve started a fund to help this effort.
GC: Yes, I’m donating all proceeds from the book to my “Gift Of Courage” Fund. I started the Gretchen Carlson “Gift of Courage” Fund to financially support organizations empowering women and girls.
Also, as part of my foundation’s work, I’m partnering with the All In Together Campaign, a nonpartisan women’s civic leadership organization, on the Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative to empower and train underserved women to get involved in civic and political leadership — and to have a voice. I’ve always believed that when women’s voices are heard, on an equal footing, whether that’s in local communities or the halls of Congress, change can happen. The GCLI will hold workshops in nine cities across the country in 2017–18 and also offer women in lower socioeconomic statuses helpful counseling on domestic violence and sexual harassment.
TL: Do you have plans to return to TV?
GC: During the last year, I’ve had many professional challenges that are very fulfilling. In addition to those I’ve mentioned, I’ve been blessed with some unique opportunities, such as being invited to give a TED talk this November. And I was thrilled when an iconic television producer asked me to be part of his amazing upcoming (soon to be announced) documentary series, which is just starting to shoot.
So, my future is wide open. And, yes, I plan to be back on TV. Stay tuned.