Gretchen Carlson celebrates change in attitudes about harassment
GREENWICH — As each day seems to bring new accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct against men in powerful circles, many who attended the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce’s Women Who Matter Luncheon on Thursday remarked that it was appropriate for Gretchen Carlson to serve as the event’s speaker.
The town resident, who sued Fox News after years of harassment by the channel’s founder and CEO Roger Ailes, did not hold back. Carlson, who had been a high profile host on the channel, spoke not just about her own experiences, but the many women coming forward to reveal what they have endured.
“The pace and the volume of stories is like an avalanche, a tidal wave, a tsunami or any weather term that you want to use,” Carlson said at the luncheon at Greenwich Country Club. “For those in the audience who have been sexually harassed or assaulted, and statistically that’s almost all of you, I hope that all of this news has you saying to yourself, ‘About time.’”
Sexual harassment is something that can happen to anyone, regardless of job or skin color or political party, she said, relating bad experiences in her own life before she even got to Fox. One her way up she ran into publicists and news executives who felt any help they provided her entitled them to do whatever they wanted, she said. One time a station fired her right after she got married, telling her she would be OK now that she had a husband.
While admitting she never envisioned becoming the face of the issue, Carlson said she still constantly receives harassing remarks on Twitter, from people telling her they hope she never gets a job, that she should stop whining or that she is too ugly to be sexually harassed.
“Jumping into that abyss was the toughest thing I ever did in my life,” Carlson said. “But once I told my story, thousands of other women started reaching out to me and I realized what an epidemic we’re facing in this nation. The floodgates really opened and we started hearing more stories.”
Carlson most recently authored the book “Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back.” A copy of the New York Times best seller was given out to everyone in attendance, and she drew from themes of the book for her remarks, urging women to speak out about harassment because so much still goes unreported while criticizing a society that protects powerful men and ignores and belittles women, making it difficult for them to report what happens to them.
She noted that many of the women she talked to for her book were victims of harassment who not only lost their jobs but never worked in their chosen professions ever again.
“My latest challenge to companies is this: Please start hiring back all the women who lost their jobs for being brave and having courage,” Carlson said. “Please give the American dream back to these women who worked just as hard as anyone else. And let’s stop talking about how we’re going to rehab the alleged harassers and when they might go back to work. Let’s hire the women back first.”
Carlson said proceeds from her book are going to her newly formed Gift of Courage Fund, which she said she established to empower women and girls.
She is scheduled to testify before Congress in 2018 where she will discuss workplace inequality and the damage caused by mandatory arbitration clauses, which she said rob people of their Seventh Amendment right to an open jury process if they happen to get into a workplace dispute. She said 60 million Americans have contracts containing the clauses, which she said serve to protect harrassers and their employers.
The sold-out luncheon, in its fifth year, had an attendance of 240. Chamber president and CEO Marcia O’Kane said Carlson was a great choice to represent what the event is about.
“Our luncheon series derives from the viewpoint of the speaker,” O’Kane said. “She is speaking from the heart, not the bio. What matters to her and what decisions did she have to make that ultimately led to her success?”
Carlson told those in attendance to help by telling their stories, by keeping their companies accountable and by supporting victims.
“Women will no longer be underestimated, intimidated or set back,” Carlson said. “We will not be silenced by the ways of the past or the establishment. We will stand together and we will use our voices together. We will show our courage. We will be the women we were always meant to be.”