Let’s start with a simple thesis: Sexual harassment remains a serious problem in the workplace.
We don’t need the high-profile harassment scandal still unfolding at Fox News to prove our case. But we can thank Gretchen Carlson and other women at the network who stepped forward, alleging truly wretched behavior by Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and others, for bringing the issue back into the light.
And it is still an issue. A report published in June by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission looked at a wide array of different surveys of working women and found disquieting levels of sexual harassment.
Per the report: “The most widely used survey of harassment of women at work, the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ), not only asks respondents whether they have experienced unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion, but also asks whether they have experienced sexist or crude/offensive behavior. … When sex-based harassment at work is measured by asking about this form of gender harassment, almost 60 percent of women report having experienced harassment.”
When surveys narrowed the definition of sexual harassment to mean only unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion, 40 percent of employees said they were victims of that behavior.
A survey of Silicon Valley workers from earlier this year found 60 percent of women in tech industries had been sexually harassed.
A survey published in May in the Journal of the American Medical Association found 30 percent of female doctors have faced sexual harassment, and 66 percent had experienced gender bias at work.
Carlson’s complaint against Ailes paints a picture of Fox News as a pit of sexual harassment and innuendo, a place where harassers were protected and women’s careers were stymied by powerful men.
The complaint alleges that Ailes said to Carlson: “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.”
Carlson and Fox News’ parent company agreed to a $20 million settlement in the case last week. That, and Ailes departure from the company, gives me 20-million-plus reasons to believe the environment Carlson described was accurate.
Former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros also has filed a lawsuit, saying in her complaint: “Fox News masquerades as a defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.”
Here’s my question: Where are the men in all this? Carlson stepped forward. Tantaros stepped forward, along with other female Fox News employees.
But what about the men who work there, both high-profile pundits or reporters or behind-the-scenes employees? There’s no way this toxic, sexist stew went unnoticed by male workers.
And that’s the point I want to drive home today: Men should be standing up against this kind of behavior, be it flat-out sexual harassment or even the more broadly defined gender harassment that comes with sexist comments or crude sexual jokes.
Women can and will stand up for themselves, and it’s because of that bravery to step forward that progress has been made. But we men are valuable allies, and it’s incumbent upon us to not just sit on the sidelines and wait for our workplaces to fully evolve.
I discussed this with Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women.
O’Neill described a workplace where she was “known as ‘the feminist.’” She went to sit down with some people in the lunchroom and a guy known for being inappropriate said, “Well, I guess Terry’s going to take offense to what I just said.”
“So he told me what he said and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s a really inappropriate thing to say, don’t say it again or I’m telling,’” O’Neill recalled. “That really had an impact, it made him think about what he’s saying. That guy talk is extremely corrosive because it shuts down the women really fast. You sit there at the table and someone says, ‘I’m a leg man. Are you a leg man or a breast man?’ The women really freeze. But if a man steps in and calls that out, it can shut it down.”
As the resident feminist, she was able to say what she said without paying a cost. It was expected of her. That can also be true for men in the workplace.
“I don’t think it’s saying that women are too weak to stand up for themselves,” O’Neill explained. “Women need to calculate the costs to their careers of standing up for themselves. And they are constantly doing a cost-benefit analysis. When a bystander pays the cost for them, that’s all that’s happening. It just changes the calculus. It doesn’t mean the woman is weak. It just means the woman has some numbers on the positive side. That is something that allies can definitely do, particularly if they’re male.”
I tire of whining men who bemoan political correctness and write off their own bad behavior as the fault of others being too sensitive. That’s insecure nonsense.
A real man has the guts to stand up to behavior that harms others. And in the case of sexual harassment, in all its forms, I think we need more real men to lend a hand.
Sexual harassment should be a thing of the past. It isn’t. Fox News has given us evidence of that, writ large.
So let’s work together to make things better. And not fear the wrath of small men who think women should bend to their will.
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Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @RexWorksHere.