Friday, July 08, 2016

Ranting On...Gretchen Carlson

Growing up, I knew the name of Gretchen Carlson well before she became a household name on Fox & Friends.  I was fascinated by the concept of lists, and of course of geography, and also being a young gay boy I was in awe of the fact that someone from Minnesota had once won the Miss America pageant.  My older cousin, whom I idolized, had even gotten to meet her and I remember asking my mom what her talent was and why Minnesota hadn't won any other titles (they had actually won two-clearly I skipped that section of the Almanac), and so it's always disappointed me that Gretchen Carlson ended up being a conservative talking head as an adult, knowing what a specific role she played in my childhood, and was constantly and ridiculously talking about things like the "War on Christmas" and googling ignoramus on her morning talk show even though she clearly knew what it meant.  I never watch FOX News so I had no idea that she had been let go from her afternoon program, but was floored in one of those "wait-really?!?" moments earlier this week when she filed a lawsuit against her former boss Roger Ailes and FOX News in general alleging that he and one of her morning co-hosts sexually harassed her in the workplace.

For some, Gretchen Carlson becoming the face of this sort of bravery (and yes, regardless of how much of a household name you are going after one of the most powerful men in news requires some bravado), but as Jon Stewart pointed out in one of his better segments some years ago, Gretchen Carlson is not actually as dumb as she appears on television.  A classically-trained violinist, she went from being valedictorian at her large suburban high school to graduating with honors from Stanford, and afterward studying at Oxford.  Carlson was in fact far brighter than the two bozos that she was stuck between for years on FOX News.  So that she's smart and clearly is running a solid media blitz to kick it to Ailes (getting the media on her side will be crucial in a situation like this) didn't surprise me, but the fact that she came forward did.  Going after your boss, especially when you're a woman going after a male boss, has cost many an entertainment figure her job (when was the last time you saw Nicolette Sheridan do anything?), so hats off to her for standing up to Ailes.

The proof of some of the things Carlson has had to put up with on-air, quite frankly, is appalling.  This clip has circulated in the past 24 hours so you may have already seen it, but if not do yourself a favor and force your way through it-it's appalling to watch the deep chauvinism and focus on her looks that Carlson, who was by far the most educated and quite frankly the most experienced of the three hosts of the show, had to just put up with and smile for likely out of fear of retaliation.  Watching the supercut of all of those moments in a row strikes something in your gut, a definite sense of "this is wrong," and that's literally just what was happening on the air.  If you watch that clip and don't immediately feel for Carlson in this situation, I'd be surprised.

And yet liberals across message boards and Twitter seem to have had a deep sense of happiness at Carlson's misfortune, saying frequently that they couldn't feel bad for her or that this was karma or that she deserved it and who cares since she hasn't been an advocate for our causes, and this made me deeply uncomfortable.  I saw a lot of similar conversations on social media when it came to Megyn Kelly being attacked by Donald Trump, but there (because Trump was an easier target for the hatred) it seemed to subside somewhat.  With Carlson, it seems to be more opaque, perhaps because it's easier to go after her than someone like Ailes, far less known to the mass public than Trump.

The problem here is this-we as progressives are frequently chastising the right for not understanding the plights of persons of color or LGBT Americans, and that's the right thing to do; understanding is crucial in stopping systemic forms of prejudice.  Quite frankly, I've probably had frustration at Carlson herself in the past based on some of her comments in not being able to really look at how the policies she supports impact other people, but that doesn't mean that we should take pleasure when someone else is made a victim of discrimination.  It's hard being a woman in the news media, and as that clip suggests frequently someone like Carlson is forced to "dumb herself down" and be subjected to guests and her co-hosts only focusing on her skirt, despite her longtime career in broadcast journalism and strong academic credentials.  When we talk about taking down racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of prejudice and institutional privilege, we aren't just talking about people that are members of our cause, at least we shouldn't be-we're talking about all people, even those we don't agree with politically.  Racism can impact conservative persons of color, homophobia can impact conservative LGBTQ Americans, and yes, sexism and sexual harassment can and does impact conservative women.  When you stand against sexism and sexual harassment, you need to stand against it when it is perpetrated against anyone, not just people that have a D behind their names.  Hearing people take glee or pleasure in watching someone who clearly had to put up with years of being subjected to discrimination based on her gender and appearance is disheartening, particularly since these are people who constantly are posting about helping those disenfranchised by privilege.  When you truly believe something, you should stand against that injustice even if that person wouldn't necessarily do the same for you.  Women and allies of women should stand against sexism and sexist behavior like that clearly on display on FOX News against Carlson not just because it might help the overall cause, but because it's the right thing to do.

I might not agree with Gretchen Carlson on much else, but I stand with her on this.  Sexism is always wrong, end of story.  I hope she wins this suit, and I hope that her bravery on this issue brings more people forward to share their stories in solidarity and in hopes of creating a greater change against sexism in the media and in industry.  As someone who wants to strive for equality, I want to make sure that people are treated fairly regardless of their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, ability, and yes, even their political affiliation.  Because equality for all means just that.

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