There’s an interesting conflict happening in my brain right now. One that shows that even as a feminist, I can sometimes have the problem of wishing the “right” victim is involved in a case. See, on the one hand, I’m (again) a feminist. It’s my automatic instinct to be on the side of the female victim in any dispute regarding sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, etc. But on the other hand, I hate Gretchen Carlson. Or as she is classified in my brain, “one of the blonde ladies on Fox News who isn’t Megyn Kelly” (which actually, is a fairly imprecise classification system, seeing as we’re talking about Fox News). I think that she’s spent most of her career putting a pretty, civilized veneer on conservative hatred and histrionics. Despite graduating summa cum laude from Stanford, she apparently either plays dumb or has had her brain slowly liquefied by the general ambience of the Fox studio. Of course she’d have to play dumb to the point of catatonia to be as bad as Brian Kilmeade, but I’m generally not a fan of women being forced to hide their intelligence (or choosing to hide their intelligence). In my heart of hearts, I don’t really think that she’s a good person.
But she is a victim of sexual harassment. In fact, she’s been sexually harassed multiple times in her career, and even spoke up about the early incidents in an essay last year. Now she’s officially filed a sexual harassment complaint against Roger Ailes, the mound of tapioca pudding begrudgingly poured into a somewhat-human-shaped Jello mold who runs Fox News. The complaint also covers her former Fox and Friends cohost Steve Doocy.
Frankly, the behavior of both men is disgusting. Doocy did everything he could to marginalize her, including shushing her on air and belittling her during breaks. When she complained about this behavior to Ailes, he called her a “‘man-hater”’ and eventually moved her from Fox and Friends to her own show in a worse time slot and with less pay. But sadly, that’s the least of Ailes’s bad behavior. In addition to punishing Carlson for complaining about sexist treatment (like the fact that women on Fox and Friends aren’t allowed to wear pants) Ailes just acted like an all-around sleezeball. He’d watch Carlson in her office, comment on her figure and her legs, and asked her to turn around so he could see her ass. He also suggested that all of her problems could have been solved easily if Carlson had just been having sex with Ailes. Ailes has a long history of being sexist scum, but somehow has managed to get away with it for multiple years. Ultimately Carlson’s contract was not renewed, which Carlson claims is a result of her complaints.
I know how I should react to this news. I know how I would react, in nearly any other situation. Yet when I first read about the lawsuit, my initial instinct wasn’t towards sympathy, but towards schadenfreude. It was perfectly encapsulated by a comment made to me at dinner a couple nights ago: “What did she think was going to happen?” What kind of environment did Carlson think she was entering when she signed up with Fox News? In the words of Christina Cauterucci:
Here, Carlson confirms what many have suspected of the network that’s made its name by blaming women for men’s problems, lying about abortion, characterizing rape as “regret sex,” and reducing female soldiers to their breasts: that its day-to-day functioning is just as hostile to women as its programming.
My first thoughts on the matter were something along the lines of a sarcastic “quelle surprise.” But this thought is unfair to Carlson, and not much different, ideologically speaking, from “well what did she think was going to happen when she wore that?” Carlson is involved in an institution I don’t approve of, but that doesn’t mean that she is responsible for, or “deserved” her treatment, any more than a woman wearing a miniskirt “deserves” to get catcalled. Carlson’s lawsuit has revealed some fault lines in my feminism that I didn’t know I had.
We can, and should, question Carlson’s decisions to support a network based on fear, hate, and misogyny (choices, after all, don’t take place in a vacuum.) But these choices don’t discount her experiences, or place Carlson in any way at fault for her treatment. I hope that Carlson’s lawsuit causes a major shift in the way that women are treated at Fox News. At the very least, I hope she takes Roger Ailes for every bloodstained dollar he has.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not coming to terms with the flaws even in her own feminism, she studies gender in popular culture.
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