Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson’s allegations of sexual harassment against Fox CEO Roger Ailes have been met with both support and disbelief from the public. Tweeters, Fox News pundits, and the conservative blogosphere have jumped through hoops to poke holes in Carlson’s story in order to discredit her ― a theme we see repeated when women accuse powerful men of harassment or abuse.
Though there’s a dispute about whether Carlson officially reported any harassment while she worked at Fox ― Fox says she didn’t, her lawyers say she did ― that has no bearing on whether the accusations are true.
One of the most repeated sentiments is that if Carlson had really been harassed at work, she should have just quit.
Carlson’s tenure with Fox News began in September of 2006 when she was a host on “Fox and Friends,” and many of her critics are wondering why she would have possibly stayed at the network for a decade if Ailes really harassed her. Critics are accusing her of waiting until her contract expired to desperately seek attention.
There are a lot of reasons why a woman will stay at her job even if it means dealing with some creep’s inappropriate sexual advances or lewd comments.
Vice President of the National Women’s Law Center Fatima Goss Graves said in a 2015 press release that even though one in four women will experience workplace harassment, most of the women won’t take action. She said:
Workers in low-wage jobs often have little bargaining power and can least afford to risk their livelihoods by reporting harassment. And women who have succeeded in breaking into higher-paid, nontraditional jobs have already overcome many hurdles, including cultural biases against their participation in nontraditional fields. Because of the significant barriers to entry, women who suffer harassment in nontraditional jobs may be especially unlikely to report harassment for fear of retaliation.
The Huffington Post asked readers about their own experiences with workplace harassment and received harrowing stories from waitresses, engineers, teachers, tech support workers and more. Each woman’s reasons for staying at a job were personal and completely valid: financial hardship, genuine adoration for one’s job, or successful HR complaints that made it easier to coexist with a colleague.
Here are just a few of their stories, which have been edited and condensed.
“This is a male dominated field, so harassment feels like it’s constant.” ― Melissa*, Tech Support, 30
I often don’t notice it anymore. More often than not, field guys will give me “cute” nicknames or talk to me the way they would their buddies, rather than a peer in the workplace. One “gentleman” in particular felt that since he “looked like my boyfriend,” it was totally OK for him to make lewd comments and send questionable photos. Eventually, I became friends with one of the guys working in the region they covered and his commentary went from sexual harassment to some kind of implied slut shaming. You know, since being friends with a person of the opposite sex can only mean one thing... It got so bad that I had to block him on Facebook, through my cell carrier and get HR involved (he’s not allowed to contact me at work by phone or email). He was sending photos of my boyfriend and I to me telling me he “knows what I’m up to” and that I’m married and should know better. He also went as far as to attempt to contact my boyfriend, my coworker’s wife and then drag other parties from work into it. We both still work for the same company. It’s a shame that I have to choose between a job I like (with people I mostly like) and not being harassed on the regular.
“They implied... that I was being too friendly to him and smiling too much in the beginning so he probably got the wrong idea.” ― Anna*, Retail, 27
When I was in college, I worked in a building where I was sexually harassed by one of the maintenance workers. I often worked late at night, mostly alone. He was just really chatty at first, but then would start following me outside on my breaks, or following me into the alley to take out the garbage without saying anything. It gave me creeps, but then one day he started asking me really personal questions about who I was dating, etc. I told him to stop but the next night he came back and went on about it again, even asking me if I was a virgin. I reported it to my boss after that, and they seemed to take it seriously at first, but he was unionized and I was told that the union was putting up a fight so they couldn’t fire him because it was all he-said-she-said. They also implied that he was married with kids, so he shouldn’t want to hit on me, or that I was being too friendly to him and smiling too much in the beginning so he probably got the wrong idea. Gross. They implemented a rule that he had to maintain a certain distance from me at all times. He didn’t violate that, but sometimes he’d stand the appropriate distance away and stare at me. It was uncomfortable and I didn’t feel safe working there anymore, but I had bills to pay and it was essentially the only job in my city I could have full time and still attend school during the day so I had to stay.
“You don’t just leave the military.” ― Jenny*, US Navy, 36
When I first joined the military in 1998, all of the females in my command were forced to get up early and attend a weekly “sexual harassment” class. The content included information on how not to get raped (don’t go to parties, don’t get drunk, don’t wear suggestive clothing, etc), consistent reiteration of the consequences for making a false claim of rape, warnings that claims of rape or sexual assault destroy morale, and plenty of stories that correlated with their content. At the end of the first class, I raised my hand and asked when the guys have to take the class. The presenter responded, “Why should they have to come? They’re not the ones filing claims of assault and rape, women are.” So that pretty much told me everything I needed to know about how those kinds of cases would be handled. And, no, I didn’t leave, because you don’t just leave the military.
“Being a young woman of colour is bloody hard in an old (white) boys club!” ― Lisa*, Finance, 27
I’m now 27, but when I was 24 I was working overseas for a very well known private bank. I was on a fixed term contract (because of my visa) and working as a junior relationship manager, which meant I worked really hard for my Director, but didn’t bring in my own clients.
My first after-work drinks, a senior RM grabbed my ass. I told my manager, who proceeded to tell the RM, who then confronted me and insisted I enjoyed it.
At the work Christmas function, a senior VP followed me home, and I had to get the security guy in my apartment building to escort him out. He also sent me unwanted sexual text messages and voicemails. He was in his 50s, and was married.
When I approached my manager about the VP’s conduct, I was told he was too valuable to the company, and if I pursued it, I might be the one out of a job, as I was just “a little girl with no portfolio”.
I couldn’t leave the job as I was living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, so I stuck out my contract, declined an extension, and moved away from the country. It was rough :(
PS: I can fill a notebook with other such stories from the banking industry. Being a young woman of colour is bloody hard in an old (white) boys club!
One thing that just about every woman we spoke to agreed on is that sexual harassment is not only a part of the job, it’s a part of life.
Because here’s the thing: if women walked out of every situation after being harassed or objectified, we would never leave our homes.
Women learn to expect small, daily instances of harassment ― on the way to work, when grabbing Starbucks, when meandering through a local 99 cent store. Gretchen Carlson’s choice to stay at Fox News for a decade, even in the face of what she says was regular objectification and harassment, does not negate the trauma of it or invalidate the experience.
Because, as one reader responded most poignantly: “Why do women stay in jobs where there’s harassment? Well, where are we going to go?”
* Names have been changed