The Boss's Daughter And Sexual Harassment

By Ruth Nemzoff, Ph.D., Author of Don't Bite Your Tongue and Don't Roll Your Eyes and Ellen Offner, Principal, Offner Consulting, LLC, Health Care Strategy and Program Development

Listen up! Eric Trump and Donald Junior say: "[A] Strong, powerful woman . . . wouldn't allow herself to be subjected to it {sexual harassment}." But Ivanka, being a woman, had a more moderate response. "I think harassment in general, regardless, sexual or otherwise, is totally inexcusable and if it transpires it needs to be reported and it needs to be dealt with on a company level," she replied.

She went on in a New York Magazine interview: "We have a very strong HR team at the Trump Organization, who is equipped to deal with these issues if they arise . . . and you hope you have a culture in which they don't arise. But when they do, it needs to be dealt with swiftly." Great in theory but even she admits it's not true in practice.

The Trump kids are trying to cover up their father's insensitivity to women. Donald, reacting to the ordeal of Roger Ailes, one of the biggest harassers since Bill Cosby, commented: "The issue came up in an interview Mr. Trump had with USA Today . . . . A columnist asked him about comments he had made on 'Meet the Press' on NBC about the sexual harassment case that led to the ousting of the powerful Fox News chairman and chief executive Roger Ailes. Mr. Trump, who has himself faced strong criticism for his remarks about women -- including derogatory and sexually charged comments about their bodies -- said it was 'sad' that former Fox News employees were 'complaining' about being sexually harassed, and he appeared to question the truthfulness of their accusations.

Ivanka additionally admitted that: "The workers never realized I was the boss's daughter when they started hooting and hollering, and it didn't much matter how I responded," she wrote. "I'd laugh it off and act as if it were no big deal." But in deciding how to respond to comments, Ivanka described a "no-win situation" that many women know all too well: "If I ignored the inappropriate remarks, I might come across as weak. If I responded too harshly, I'd be a tightly wound witch." Her advice to readers was: "Learn to figure out when a hoot or a holler is indeed a form of harassment and when it's merely a good-natured tease that you can give back in kind."

Although neither of us is the bleached, plucked, and molded ideal beauty that Ivanka is, we too have made these judgments. It takes time and energy and detracts from the work. A recent case in point is Roger Ailes' dismissal by Fox News, after he elevated that station to its place on the peak of TV news stations.

We don't know all the facts. But Roger Ailes, a former Republican operative and the guy who built the Fox news empire, kissed a few women and made some suggestive remarks. My conservative friends are already ranting: "The guy's a genius. They are crazy to fire him over a little flirting. You can't talk to anybody these days with this 'political correctness.'" Who of us hasn't made a mistake and insulted somebody by using the wrong pronoun or asking an Asian person where they're from? Or allowed a server to take us before the African-American or Latino person ahead of us in a restaurant? It is this grain of truth that excuses a lot of nasty talk. Because it's not just talk. It is part of a long tradition of exploiting and controlling women. There's a straight line from Roger Ailes' "flirting" to the young woman in India whose own brother strangled her for being too sexy. The Republican Party exploited this tradition with the virulent misogynist chants and paraphernalia at the Convention.

Fortunately, the Murdoch family has decided to put principle above profit by terminating Ailes' contract in response to a suit brought against him by former anchor Gretchen Carlson. Or perhaps they have recognized that times have changed and they cannot keep him. Rupert Murdoch in assuming the CEO role may maintain the Fox News conservative stance, so successful for viewership and the bottom line, or may adapt to circumstances defined by the unconventional Trump candidacy--which has so many traditional Republicans distancing themselves from his new Populist, demagogic "brand" of Conservatism, and his admiration for Vladimir Putin-- by moderating the network's stance. Megyn Kelly, the beautiful and talented Fox anchor who so ably confronted Donald Trump during the debates, weighed in to support her colleague's allegations, saying that Ailes had engaged in inappropriate behavior with her too. The word of this much admired anchor undoubtedly helped to nail Ailes and shake the longstanding support of the Murdoch family.

In addition to being sexually inappropriate, Ailes had alienated Rupert Murdoch's sons, James and Lachlan Murdoch. As the Washington Post reported, "The Murdoch sons, eager to assert authority over their father's vast media and entertainment holdings, were reportedly at odds with Ailes long before Carlson's suit emerged, and their efforts to dump Ailes hint at the degree of their animus." It's hard to imagine a cultural revolution at Fox that would truly upend the gender politics there, but it's significant that Megyn Kelly, a power at the network who has a reputation for being a bit of a feminist, in the Fox context anyway, is now reportedly on the record as one of Ailes' accusers. This week the large print is in the headlines about Ailes and his rapid ouster from the brand he built. It is heartening to see this vile perpetrator and powermonger getting the punishment he so well deserves, while his accuser is vindicated.

But the conservatives say, "Don't be ridiculous, there's a difference between killing and flirting and words and actions." This may be true, but at some point, the encouragement of one leads to the other. In India, for example, a young woman who was supporting her family was killed by her brother, whether out of jealousy or the need to attain the upper hand. He could not tolerate her gaining more power than he claimed as his birthright. Roger Ailes throws women off balance. And abused his power over them to keep them on their toes. The Republican convention demonstrated much misogyny with its chants of "lock her up" and its female hating paraphernalia.

Keeping power often demands manipulating others. That is what Ailes did, and this is what the Indian brother sought to accomplish; fortunately the Indian police have taken him into custody for his abhorrent action. There are an estimated 500 honor killings annually in India, but few get the publicity this one has attracted because of the beauty and fame of the unfortunate victim.

Everyone has many identities. Whoever oversimplifies himself or herself, or to use politically correct words, to recognize social change, "theyself," disappears into abstractions and forgets actual life. We gravitate to an identity group because it feels comfortable and safe, but in time we realize we disagree with some of our identity compatriots and we learn that no two of us have exactly the same experience. Like the cat, we all have nine lives. We are children, we are adults, we are parents, we are aunts, we are uncles. We are black, brown, yellow, red, or white, we are also women and men and transgender. We are Christians, Muslims, Jews, and many other religions. We are in the majority some of the time and in the minority at others; It's hard to put us in a box. and sometimes hard to sympathize with identity politics, partly because it simplifies us. We are all far more complex than a mere label.

In our youth we may have been searching for "who am I?" We latched on to any group that would have us fighting fiercely for our rights. Now with years of experience under our belts it's hard to pigeonhole us. The fact of the matter is, society keeps changing and what was considered acceptable in the past we now look on as cruel or rude. All should be ashamed of Jim Crow laws and girls' exclusion from sports.. But shame gets us nowhere. Let's take the learnings from the past and apply it to the present. Roger Ailes may be a media genius, but he's forgotten that women anchors and others must be treated as respected professionals, not sex objects. We can't allow him and others of his ilk over power their female colleagues for their own sexual pleasure; nor can we allow perpetuation of behavior that was acceptable in the 1960s Mad Men workplace.

We, the authors, fit into many categories. We are a crosshatching of identities. But on this one we react as women----we have experienced it all. We are also trying to use what we have learned throughout the course of our lives to understand how Ailes was able to get away with his egregious behavior for so long. We understand why our conservative friends poo-poo political correctness. It does sometimes stymy discussion. We too have felt hurt when we were accused of insensitivity. Rather than blaming political correctness and thus discounting the real criticism, we can see that we too have a role in diminishing others. Perhaps our understanding, gained from other aspects of ourselves, will help them relate to our complaints. Our anger so far has widened the chasm between us, with our differing perceptions and responses to what we perceive as injustices committed against women as sex objects, and it will be challenging to find ways to traverse it. Maybe if we acknowledge their discomfort and its roots in the past, maybe then we can discuss and educate others about why we are incensed, even though we do not want to,or feel we should need to. But frankly we've explained many times we wonder what would help others understand.

You can't blame political correctness for all the animosity. There's also a straight line from Roger Ailes to the vitriol in national dialogue. He has harassed the American people by normalizing divisive conversation in daily political discourse. As the debate over workplace sexual harassment continues to unfold, it will be illuminating to watch how the sons and daughters in these two powerful families address the issue. We would predict that the Trump kids will continue to cover up for their father and the Murdoch kids will try to move their empire into the post-feminist world to distinguish themselves as men dedicated to advancing the protection of victims of harassers.