Ailes is dead. Weinstein is in rehab. Yet, the culture they thrived in remains intact.
Women know sexual harassment doesn’t end at Hollywood or with Harvey Weinstein. While we “hope” (and most men actually believe) we have moved past sexism and sexual assault; the reality is we have not.
In the past year, women have come forward regarding high-profile, powerful men that have violated and preyed upon women for decades: Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump, and now, Harvey Weinstein. Many men are shocked by these revelations; women in America’s workplaces know these are just the high profile examples of the many low profile, unreported wrongs that happen everyday across the country.
Now, through the #MeToo movement where women recount their own experiences of sexual assault and harassment, society has been forced to recognize the gravity and sheer number of instances of this occurring in our society. Some men may have thought this wasn’t as prevalent a problem, but the latest allegations coupled with many women speaking up – men have no excuse not to recognize the enormity of this situation and join in the struggle against those in power that would use their position to prey on women. It’s high time to draw their attention to the plight of what a majority of women quietly sweep under the rug, laugh off, or look the other way at on a regular basis. Society is diseased with a culture that denigrates women and enforces their silence.
Weinstein’s rape and sexual assault accusations have been discussed and celebrities have disavowed his actions the past few weeks. Some reports suggest, however, that several outlets and celebrities have known about these rumors for years and either stayed silent or looked the other way while Weinstein preyed on women.
Yet, Harvey Weinstein is just the latest example of a man in power abusing his position. Women in the workplace know this narrative and can readily cite their own examples, just by different names.
As if the pain and subjugation of those overt times of harassment weren’t enough, there are those subversive times where women are forced to question aspects of their employment. My own story is colored by this culture. When Roger Ailes was sued by Gretchen Carlson for sexual harassment, I had been selected for the “Roger Ailes Junior Reporter Program.” I was excited to be at a top news outlet and optimistic of the opportunities that lie ahead of me in broadcast news.
The allegations against Roger Ailes followed the trajectory of all allegations women level against men in power. The usual accusatory, attention-seeking comments are made. “She’s looking for money.” “She’s mad because she was fired.” In the case against Ailes, slowly, more and more women stepped forward to the point it became irrefutable. The final blow came when the network’s primetime slot, Megyn Kelly admitted she too, had been harassed.
I read many articles as the program was on hold and watched the news unfold. I remembered one story in particular, a former employee of Ailes’ recounts to the Huffington Post how Ailes’ chose female on-air talent:
“He always brags to people about how he doesn’t do polling or testing when he chooses his on-air talent. He told me that if he was thinking of hiring a woman, he’d ask himself if he would f— her, and if he would, then he’d hire her to be on-camera,’ the employee said.”
Reading about Ailes-style harassment led me to wonder whether my selection into the program was a result of my own merit, or if I was chosen for something else. It is not a good feeling to begin to downplay your work, and feel as you did not actually earn, what at one point, felt like a high achievement, but perhaps chosen because someone saw with an ulterior motive at play.
Ultimately, Roger Ailes left the network quietly with a hefty 20 million dollar settlement. Countless injustices later, I am witnessing the fallout from Harvey Weinstein, and it is easy to imagine how he will enjoy a similar golden parachute fate away from any semblance of justice to victims.
Sadly, there are more Harveys and Rogers out there. Women who are assaulted or harassed are afraid to come forward because there are people, including other women, who will cover for these men. I can think back to several experiences in my life when I stayed silent to be polite or to not stir up trouble, as though it was somehow cause a problem to bring attention to a situation.
I recall interactions with male classmates, former bosses, and educators and shudder with regret the amount of times I gave them the benefit of the doubt to those that held my trust. Older men at a golf course I worked at in college were full of inappropriate comments and threateningly teased, “Give me a hug, or I’m not giving you a tip.”A tenured college professor proposed giving me a shoulder massage when I was early to class after I complained of not feeling well. One of the more disturbing memories is of an older male classmate in the same high school club, who slowly assaulted me for years.
My experiences are far from unique. In many walks of life, women inherit the unwanted trespasses of those that have gone before them and the codified rules for dealing with that particular male coworker passed on from family member to family member, friend to friend, coworker to coworker. The advice is as empty and hopeless as it is discouraging.
“Don’t stir up trouble.”
“He didn’t mean anything by it.”
“It’s called flirting.”
“You brought this on yourself.”
“This will backfire on you.”
These words are not malicious by any means, but they have become a practiced turning of our heads away from a systemic problem.
Ailes is dead. Weinstein is in rehab. Yet, the culture they thrived in remains intact. As Hollywood heals from Weinstein’s behavior, we must look towards the future and be grateful to the women that spoke up, especially in a society that tells you to keep quiet and endure. It is and will always be bravery – to lay reputation, career, and personal life on the line. It was selfless, because they knew if they remained silent, it might happen to someone else, it could have been me.
More than that, we must look inwards at ourselves. The next time a coworker crosses the line and makes a joke that makes you or someone else feel uncomfortable- let them know publicly. When you see someone taking an interest into someone who clearly does not want it, step in. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. And as a society, we must stop blaming women coming forward as attention-seeking. The last thing any woman wants to do is talk about how she was assaulted by anyone else. It’s even worse when those listening think she somehow wants attention for it.
Today, I find myself reflecting on the courage that victims showed by putting a voice to end behavior that no woman should be subjected to in the workplace. The stories we hear are only the ones that women can bare to tell. I hope that in my career – wherever it may lead – I may follow the example of these women to look out for those that come after me.
Men and women must stamp out this sore in our society so that no woman in the future ever has to second guess why they were hired or jump inappropriate hurdles or endure harassment in their work. We can move industries forward through our courage and commitment. It is my hope, collectively, men and women, will recognize this systemic problem needs to die here.
Aubrey Strobel is public relations executive in New York.