It’s hard to find a woman who accused of a man of sexual harassment and then carried on with her life and career as normal. Think Anita Hill, or the actresses who rejected or complained about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, or the untold numbers of women who speak up about discrimination and wind up fired from their jobs, or blackballed from entire industries.
But on Monday, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson did just that; she announced her own comeback. Carlson plans to host a new documentary series, set to air on the A&E network, focused on telling stories about workplace sexual harassment.
The move marks her first return to TV since former Fox chairman Roger Ailes forced her out of the network in 2016, after Carlson rebuffed his sexual advances and complained about sex discrimination.
Even as an increasing number of media outlets devote stories to the potential redemption of the many prominent men who’ve been accused of sexual harassment in this Me Too moment, Carlson’s comeback is a poignant reminder of the careers that truly are ruined when sexual harassment is allowed to flourish. Typically, it’s the victims of harassment who vanish.
Focusing on the men is a “slap in the face,” Carlson told HuffPost in a phone interview on Wednesday.
Carlson filed suit against Ailes nearly two years ago, before the hashtag Me Too was a phenomenon. She triumphed. Ailes was ousted from the network he helped found, though with a $40 million exit package. She walked away with a $20 million settlement. Many more women at Fox soon came forward with their own stories.
Since then Carlson’s become an activist on sexual harassment, lobbying Congress on legislation, speaking at conferences and writing a book called “Be Fierce,” published last fall.
She spoke with HuffPost about her comeback, the future of Me Too and another new project she launched this week with the nonprofit March of Dimes called Gretchen Carlson Advocacy Fellows, which broadens her recent focus from sexual harassment to a wider range of women’s issues, including racial disparities in maternal and infant health, maternity leave and post-partum support.
You’ve written about how women are permanently sidelined from their careers after speaking up about harassment. Is coming back to TV particularly meaningful for you?
Yes. 100 percent. I wanted to be able to go back to my passion and what I worked so hard on for 27 years of my life. I want to be an example to thousands and maybe many millions who have lost their professions for having the courage to talk about harassment.
Of the thousands of women who reached out to me [with their stories of harassment], 99 percent of them were never afforded the opportunity to work in their chosen profession again. It’s outrageous on its face. I want to make sure I’m sending a message of hope to other women that they too can make comebacks.
What do you make of the recent rash of media stories about harassers ability to comeback?
Those stories are a slap in the face to all the women who have lost their careers as a result of doing nothing wrong except having the bravery to come forward. I’m not sure there is even evidence that these men are making a comeback.
Even writing the [comeback] story perpetuates the idea that harassing is not that big of a deal. We should write stories about all the women who haven’t been able to go back and imagine how brave it would be for those companies to hire some women to come back. That would be a good story.
What do you think is next for Me Too?
It’s one thing to talk about the famous people, those stories attract a lot of attention. Harassment is an epidemic everywhere, not just with famous people.
I feel like we’ve come to the far end of the tipping point when we focus on everyday-women ― members of military, police, teachers. I want to make sure I give them a mouthpiece. My first special for A&E will focus on these women.
How has your tolerance for “harmless” sexism changed over the years? In your book you speak of the “drip, drip of misogyny” being like torture. On Fox and Friends your co-hosts were often incredibly sexist and you managed to handle it with grace.
I can’t talk about Fox [editor’s note: her settlement with the network prohibits it], but you iterated what was happening. My hope is that women have been empowered to not just sit there and take it. Women are seeing that their voice matters. They’re mobilizing and standing up and saying not so fast. So yeah, I do think millions of women have felt empowered to not just sit there and take it.
I’d make the argument that part of this entire movement has trickled down to the effect we’ve seen with the Parkland high school students.
Even with all these women speaking up, and the Me Too movement catching on, we still have an accused harasser sitting in the Oval Office. Is that disheartening?
I get asked that at every single event that I do. A lot of people are feeling disconnected on that.
Do you think there’s a bit of fatigue with hearing from victims?
I don’t feel that way. I’m of the opinion that we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. There’s been massive progress ― a cultural revolution.
If you look at how I was treated and what happened to me a mere 21 months ago and you look at how that changed in just a year-and-a-half, from women not being believed to omigosh, now we actually believe women. Men not being immediately fired to now harassers being fired. Men not issuing apologies, to on the same day they’re issuing apologies. That’s a major transformation.
So I really believe we’ve made immense progress. I hope we haven’t come to the end of the journey.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.