This past week, a light was finally shined on Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long sexual harassment allegations, but the domino-effect of unveiling the industry’s mistreatment of women began over a year ago when former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a suit against her boss, the late Roger Ailes, that ultimately led to his ouster from the cable news network.
In the months following Carlson’s fight, numerous women came forward with accusations at Fox News, including Dr. Wendy Walsh, who was one of the many women who went after anchor Bill O’Reilly before he was fired.
Over the past year, both Walsh and Carlson (whose book “Be Fierce” hits shelves on Tuesday, with all proceeds going toward her Gift of Courage Fund to empower women and girls) have become fierce women’s rights activists.
In separate interviews conducted by Variety, Carlson and Walsh spoke about the Weinstein scandal and how all workplaces can move forward to end the silencing of harassment.
The Harvey Weinstein allegations took decades to come out. Why do you think it took so long?
Carlson: Weinstein was a powerful person and sexual harassment is about power, not sex often. Women have not had the courage to come forward because nothing good comes from it — except for now. Once I jumped off the cliff, I truly believe others could see that it could happen and you could be OK. I’m proud to know that one woman can make a difference, and look at how empowered others are now. I see so much progress now.
Walsh: The climate for women was so different. If you recall, even a few years ago, the narrative surrounding women who were sexually harassed was “she is sleeping her way to the top.” We now know that when a man signs a woman’s paycheck, she can’t really give consent. Also, the fact that many, many women were forced to sign legal gag orders meant that sexual harassment was dealt with in secret. Victims had no way of knowing that they weren’t alone. And I suspect many wrongly blamed themselves.
A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie didn’t speak up for 20 years. As a victim of sexual harassment, can you explain why it takes so long to find the courage to speak up, no matter who you are and how famous you may be?
Carlson: Building courage is a process. It’s not like a light switch that you click on and off. It takes time. Women just want to work and have careers and work in a safe environment. We actually just want it to go away. But whether its 10 minutes or 10 years later, I still commend anyone who comes forward. It takes guts.
Walsh: The timing had to be right. Women needed to be believed. Even in my own case, the New York Times and Lisa Bloom spent months attempting to get me to go on record. When Emily Steel told me about all the women who were silenced and who had disappeared from the media industry, highly educated, competent journalists and producers, I felt I had to take the risk of being their voice. I was in a unique position of seeking no claim and I was the only one free to talk.
Were you scared to speak up about the harassment you endured?
Walsh: I was terrified. I was afraid this powerful man with his aggressive lawyers would take my house. I’m a single mother so this thought was debilitating. I was afraid I would be attacked by the media. I was afraid I would lose my job or my sponsors. In the end, none of this happened. I was sent a lot of love by the media, including social media, much of it by progressive men. Lisa Bloom batted away his angry lawyer letter, and the trolls online were few and far between.
What was the moment that you finally decided to speak up and what gave you the courage?
Carlson: When I realized a career I’d worked so incredibly hard for after 26 years was probably coming to an end, I realized I had to fight for me and every other woman who ever had to endure the scourge of this epidemic — but mostly for my children and for their generation, to make it better for them so that they wouldn’t have to endure similar indignities.
As a society, how do we stop workplaces from accepting these power plays of men in positions of power threatening women with sexual advances?
Carlson: Speak up, and encourage bystanders to also speak up and not normalize this behavior inside corporate culture. We are now seeing women and men come forward. We need men to help us in this mission. It shouldn’t all be on our shoulders.
Walsh: We’re doing it. We are shining a bright light on the most aggressors and powerful offenders as an example to every other employee out there. But the most important thing we must do is make gag orders illegal. Release all prior victims from their gag orders. Give those women back their voices. Great healing can come from talking.
With the Harvey Weinstein scandal coming to light, is this a step in the right direction for awareness of sexual harassment?
Carlson: Yes. This is progress.
Walsh: It’s never happiness for me to see anyone suffer. I’m actually worried about Weinstein’s mental health in the face of this lynch-mob, though I cry for the victims, too. It’s all sad. But this is how change happens. It’s never pretty. It’s never easy. It is progress though.
After Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Harvey Weinstein’s scandals, do you think society is more educated on sexual harassment and we’ll see less of these instances as generations evolve?
Carlson: Society is finally paying attention, but this is happening in every profession. It’s my hope that the next generations will solve this issue. It’s why parenting our sons to respect women in the right ways is so crucial.
Walsh: Yes and no. I think some men are also confused, afraid to have meetings alone with a woman for fear of some misunderstanding. This sure won’t help women. But for the most part, companies are getting more serious about sexual harassment complaints. They’ll be very serious when they stop issuing confidentiality agreements, NDAs that allow them to hide the serial harassers. No more operating under a code of silence!