Gretchen Carlson is one of the nation’s most prominent news anchors, having hosted “The Real Story” and “Fox and Friends” for a combined decade. In 2016, she became the face of sexual harassment in the workplace when she spoke out about the former chairman and CEO of Fox News, Roger Ailes.
Carlson spoke to The Politic’s Molly Shapiro about #MeToo, Time’s Up, and her most recent book, Be Fierce.
The Politic: You told POLITICO that conversations around sexual harassment in the workplace are “totally different from when I jumped off the cliff 18 months ago by myself.” Can you describe what it’s been like to watch these women come forward?
Gretchen Carlson: It’s been surreal and so empowering to see that the gift of courage is contagious. When I jumped off the cliff all by myself in July 2016, there was no MeToo hashtag or Time’s Up. It was just me alone taking on an incredibly powerful man.
One of my favorite quotes is, “One woman can make a difference, but together we can rock the world.” And we are seeing that play out right now. One by one women have felt empowered to finally speak up, I believe, because they saw in my case that there were consequences for the accused. I received a settlement and, more importantly, a public apology from my company. Women said to themselves, “Maybe I can come forward too and have similar results. Maybe I will be believed.”
Do you think that the number of women who have come forward has in some way weakened the impact of each individual claim?
No. Because the problem is a pervasive epidemic, just the opposite. Many awful stories haven’t even received the press coverage they deserve because there have just been so many stories to cover. Of all the thousands of women who reached out to me, almost all of the women who had the courage to come forward with a harassment claim before my case were promptly maligned, demoted, blacklisted and fired.
Ninety-nine point nine percent of them never worked in their chosen profession ever again, and that is outrageous. Their stories didn’t have much gray area. They were horrific. So even in 2018, almost every woman still has a story, and we must work to fix that. My greatest hope is that this tsunami we are experiencing, this cultural revolution, will trickle down to the everywoman story as well: the flight attendants, the waitresses, the fast food workers, the members of our military, the teachers, etc.
You are a vocal opponent of forced arbitration agreements. Can you explain why and the work that you have done to fight against them?
Arbitration is secret and has fooled our society into thinking we’ve come so far on the issues of harassment. Why? Because we haven’t heard about any of these cases, but the reason we haven’t heard about them is because women have been forced into the secret confines of arbitration never to be heard from again. I’ve been walking the halls of Congress for the last year to change that.
And in December, I’m proud to say I successfully introduced the End Arbitration Act For Sexual Harassment in the House and the Senate. Both are bipartisan bills—quite an accomplishment in the hyper-partisan world we live in. Now we have to get it signed and on President Trump’s desk!
How did you approach writing your book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Back Power, so that it could be useful for every woman or man?
The impetus for the book was all the women who started reaching out to me right away after my story broke. I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless. And also it was surprising how many men reached out to me as well. The majority of men want safe work environments for women, and so many men are already doing great work to make sure that happens. In my unscientific study of men on the streets of NYC, I actually found more men stopping me and wanting to shake my hand and saying, “Thank you so much, for my daughters.” So, I wanted to honor men in my book. The “Men Who Defend” chapter ended up being the longest chapter in Be Fierce!
You have been a pageant queen, a news anchor, an author, an advocate, and so much more. What career advice would you give to Yale students?
First, I almost went to Yale. I chose between Stanford and Yale and as a Minnesota young woman couldn’t resist the warmer weather, but I’ve always admired Yale from afar. The message of my life is that I’ve [had] many unexpecteds! I started as a concert violinist as a child and moved onto becoming Miss America using that violin talent, and then I got into television news, even though I thought I was going to be a lawyer, and I never thought I’d be the face of sexual harassment. But here I am.
The one constant is that I work hard at everything I do and take on any challenge before me. And now, as the first woman Executive Chair of the Miss America Organization—a huge volunteer job—I plan to bring my Be Fierce empowerment movement to that organization as well, so stay tuned for changes!