Fifteen months ago, former Fox news anchor Gretchen Carlson triggered a seismic change in American media when she sued for sexual harassment the late television executive and Fox News founder Roger Ailes. Her decision led to his resignation, and arguably has encouraged scores of other women to come forward with their own experiences of sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry. Most recently, they included celebrities such as Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie, Gwenyth Paltrow, Kate Beckinsale, and Lena Headey, to name a handful, who’ve detailed a decades-long history of sexual assault and harassment from Harvey Weinstein.
There’s, of course, also Bill O’Reilly, the anchor who got a new contract from Fox News even after a $32 million settlement with network analyst Lis Wiehl, who accused him of sexual assault. As Carlson learned, though, while writing her book Be Fierce, which serves as both an account of stories like these and a guidebook for how to process sexual misconduct and speak out against it, these instances aren’t just isolated to Hollywood. “This is an epidemic,” she said, in conversation with fellow journalist Maria Shriver as part of the former First Lady of California’s Architects of Change series presented by Ford Motor Company earlier this week. “This is everywhere, from Des Moines to Wall Street. Once we start changing the culture of more women feeling comfortable to come forward it has to be the same course with men feeling comfortable to come forward and not be bystanders. I wish that would have happened in the Access Hollywood tape with [Donald Trump and] Bill Bush.”
Outside of her book, Carlson is fighting against sexual assaults on a political level. Currently, she’s in the process of creating a bill with help from both Democrats and Republicans that would make arbitration clauses in employee contracts — like the one she had at Fox that prevents employees from having the right to a jury trail—obsolete. She’s also considered running for office herself, as she revealed to W after her conversation while sitting alongside Shriver—though don’t expect her to do so immediately. Below, Carlson discusses why she’s waiting to run, why Weinstein was so quickly taken down by his accusers but Trump has not been, and what it will take for the country to recover from a place where there isn’t even a consensus on what facts are.
You recently said that no one pays out $32 million in settlements for false accusations. Why even after a settlement like this does our society still often assume innocence in these situations for the man? Because women are still [seen] as liars, unfortunately. That’s what we’re trying to change. We live in a he-said, she-said culture, which is one of the reasons I say in my book that we have to document, document, document. You have to make sure that you have evidence so that you’re more believed. The second thing I would point out as a tip is that, if you can find the courage, tell at least one or two colleagues what’s happening so that you have a witness. Tell a man, because until we change this problem, it may have more weight if a man comes forward. I think part of it is our justice system to be honest with you. You’re innocent until proven guilty, and we shouldn’t change that. But, on this issue, it’d be nice if women would feel comfortable coming forward without automatically being assumed to not be telling the truth.
Why are men like Bill O’Reilly even given second chances? [Laughs] You’d have to ask his employer that question. I think it shouldn’t automatically be the next step [to think] are people like that employable again? It should be what about all of the women who lost their jobs as a result of the bravery of coming forward and filing a complaint. Nobody is talking about that.
In your conversation, you brought up that if employers want to make a statement they should rehire the women who got demoted or lost their jobs because they spoke out against sexual misconduct. Imagine the credit that a company would get right now if they actually stood up and publicized that and said that we’re going to do that as a statement hire and as a cultural shift.
Throughout this process, how have you been protecting your mental health while telling other women’s stories and reflecting on your own? It’s not something you choose. If there has been one constant in my life it’s that if there’s a goal or challenge in front of me I usually take it on. I felt like if I don’t do it, who will? Yes, it’s an incredibly emotional process to go through writing the book and listening to all of these women’s stories. It can be, quite honestly, depressing to hear so many lives shattered. At the same time, it was cathartic for me in knowing that I wasn’t alone and knowing that I did have a voice to potentially make a difference for others. So their stories are what buoyed me to keep going on days when I didn’t have all the passion in it myself.
What have been some of the more emotional moments for you over the past year? Meeting women who come and share their stories with me on the book tour. I’ve met some of the women I responded to initially via email, who I included in the book and spoke to over the phone to interview them and [then] put their face to their story. I’ve met several of them just in Los Angeles since I’ve been there. So I would say being able to see the real person and have them say to me that they felt braver to tell their story as a result of mine, that’s really emotional.
What do you think needs to happen for us to get to a place culturally where women won’t face repercussions for telling these stories? Well, I don’t have a crystal ball to know how soon that might happen. I’m trying to approach this baby steps. For example, I know that I’ll never get a bipartisan bill if I ask to eradicate all arbitration clauses. While there are Democrats who would really like that, I know that I won’t get the Republicans to do that. So you have to be smart in your strategy. My feeling is nothing gets done on Capitol Hill anyway so wouldn’t it be great if we could find some sort of compromise on this issue for women? That would be a big victory for this movement and, to get to your question, that would be a baby step towards the end game. As Maria and I were discussing, cultural shifts don’t happen overnight. We’re still working on a bunch of them. That’s why I feel that working on this is so important: If I’m successful in getting this bill through Congress it’s going to end up on President Trump’s desk.
Why do you think the condemnation of Weinstein was so swift but the condemnation for Trump wasn’t? Because we were further into the process of all these other women coming out. If mine was 15 months ago, then we had Susan Fowler at Uber. The Sterling Jewelers’ case. Then we had more from Silicon Valley and VCs. Then we had the Harvey Weinstein story. I think it’s proof of how, as we’ve gone along in this process, more and more women have felt courageous. Giving the gift of courage is contagious because more people are joining the bandwagon to say ‘me too.’ I was very upset with the way that Trump’s accusers left the forefront. That’s why I feature Natasha Stoynoff’s story in my book. She gets to tell her story in her own words. I think another difference is that he’s an elected official and what I’ve found out from doing my work on Capitol Hill—it sounds kind of obvious but you don’t think about it until you say it — you can’t fire an elected official unless people just don’t vote for them anymore. You can fire a person from a private company, but you can’t fire someone who’s elected into office. Ultimately, it’s up to the voter.
Why do we need things as drastic as something like Trump’s 2005 Access Hollywood interview for people to take his sexual abuse claims more seriously? You can look at it both ways. Some people didn’t take it seriously. I wrote an op-ed shortly thereafter that said, for me, that tape was an amazing and sad learning experience for my children about how you don’t treat a human being. I stopped thinking about political parties and policies when I heard that tape. All I thought about is how that isn’t how you treat people. The idea that political policies would supercede human dignity was beyond my realm of being able to think about it.
You’ve mentioned before that you’ve been asked to consider stepping into politics. Are you considering it at this point? Carlson: Maria, how many times have you been asked that question? Shriver: [Laughs] I’m waiting to hear your answer. Carlson: I have been asked to run for Senate in Connecticut. Right now politics is not in my near future. However, never say never. I think I say in the book that one time [my son] Christian said to me in the car, ‘Mommy, are you going to run for president?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. Maybe.’ He was so cute. He said, ‘Well, can you announce tomorrow?’ I said, ‘I wish. That’s not how it works. I wish it did. I wouldn’t have to go through all of the hard work.’ If politics wasn’t such a game, I think more people would obviously get involved. I’m just hopeful that the idea of an outsider being able to become president hasn’t changed. I hope that it’s still an option for people knowing that they can be what they want, even if they haven’t been in politics their whole life. Their voice might be essential for us.
You’re a figure who appeals to both sides of the political fence. What do you feel would take for the country to become united again? I’ve always been a registered independent. I actually feel in my heart that it’s good as a journalist to be a registered independent. I wish that we had a political party that was up and running that was independent. I think the last figures show that 43 percent of the American public considers themselves independent and they decide every election. If there was money behind the independent party I think that would be great. For instance, if I would decide to run, maybe I don’t want to pick either of the two political parties. But then, how do you get the funding and the financing? Which was actually the first thing that went through my mind when I was asked to run for Senate. I don’t know if I want to pick one of the two parties right now because we’re so divisive. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. So many Americans see things from both sides. So maybe we should be thinking about financing the independent party more.
As divisive as the country is, we live in a time when people can’t even agree on what facts are. How do you think we can recover from that? Carlson: I think it’s more important than ever to advocate for journalism. I’ve been a target of fake news so I know personally how it feels to try to get out of that tunnel of trying to prove yourself as valid. I believe it’s been incredibly detrimental to the way in which we do journalism. Just because you don’t like a story doesn’t mean it’s fake. That’s where we are today. Shriver: There has also been a surge in great journalism. I think great journalism has been emboldened in the last 15 months. Subscriptions to the New York Times and the Washington Post are all up. Good journalists triple check their facts and their sources. This is a great moment. I think it’s up to individuals to actually be reporters themselves and figure out if something is true and where it’s coming from. I have this discussion all the time with my kids. I think all of the information about Russian sources on Facebook has been a real eye opener for people. Carlson: When you and I were coming up in journalism, the rules were so strict. I remember having so many stories that I wanted to go with but we didn’t have two sources. It didn’t mean stories weren’t true. It just meant we didn’t print them. Shriver: We also didn’t have [the pressure to] put up now. Carlson: Once a story gets out, even if it’s accurate or not, everyone picks it up. Then you have to retrace steps to figure out what’s accurate or not. That has fed into the validity of the fake news concept. Certain people have been smart in taking advantage of that and saying fake news because some things have been erroneous when [people] are trying to be the first to do it. So I do agree with Maria of going back to the basics.
Do you think your lawsuit against Roger Ailes sparked this current movement of women coming forward with their stories? Yes. I call it the Be Fierce movement. When I was writing the book, I was saying out loud to myself that this is more than a book. It’s a movement. Then, look what happened. I could have never predicted we would have had these other explosive stories. It proves to me that it is a movement people are joining. The idea that we’re still going with these stories and news outlets are hungry to find other stories, that is such a victory. Because we’ve never had a voice on this issue.
What do you say to the men who say—eye roll—that this movement is becoming a witch hunt? That’s just a deflection from the truth. What I found in my research is that, for most of the women who told me their stories, their was no subjectivity in it at all. They were so outrageous and over the top that it was by anyone’s standards sexual harassment. We’re not talking about starting a huge movement because there was one little joke that I would find fine but my colleague would not. We’re talking about over the top sexual harassment where women come forward, lose their jobs, and never work again.
Meet the Women Who Are Making the Women’s March on Washington Happen
The executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, Linda Sarsour — a Brooklyn native, mother of three, and now one of the national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington — has been working at the crossroads of civil rights, religious freedom, and racial justice for 15 years. Once an aspiring English teacher, she joined the Arab American Association in its infancy, succeeding founder Basemah Atweh, her mentor, as executive director with Atweh’s death in 2005. “I grew out of the shadow of 9/11,” Sarsour said. “What I’ve seen out of bad always comes good, is that solidarity and unity, particularly amongst communities of color who feel like they’re all impacted by the same system.”
Tamika D. Mallory’s roots in community organizing and activism extend back to her early childhood: her parents were two of the earliest members of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network nearly 30 years ago, an organization for which Mallory went on to act as executive director. But it wasn’t until the death of her son’s father 15 years ago that Mallory found her niche in civil rights and flung herself headlong into activism. Now, she’s one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, balancing organizing the march with her day job as a speaker and civil rights advocate. “We’re centering this march by having women to be at the helm of it, to organize it, and to be most of the speakers,” she said. “At the same time I think it’s very important that we never forget the fact that our men, our brothers, our young brothers particularly need this support.”
Fashion entrepreneur Bob Bland was nearing the due date of her second daughter, now seven weeks old, when she posted a Facebook event calling for a march on Washington during inauguration weekend. Nine weeks later, she’s one of four national co-chairs at the heart of the Women’s March on Washington — where she’ll march with her infant, her six-year-old daughter, and her 74-year-old mother. “We’re activating people who were previously content with sitting behind their computer and posting on Facebook,” she said.
For Carmen Perez, executive director of Harry Belafonte’s Gathering for Justice and one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, work permeates everything else: “There’s no real life outside of activism,” she said. Just over two decades ago, Perez’s elder sister was killed — the anniversary of her burial coincides with the march, and with Perez’s birthday — and navigating the justice system motivated her to work with incarcerated young men and women, first as a probation officer and then with The Gathering, operating on the intersection of race, criminal justice, and immigration. “Oftentimes, when I’m in spaces, I am the only Latina and I have to speak a little louder for my community to be part of the conversation,” she said. “The work that I do around racial justice, it’s not just about Latino rights. It’s also about human rights.”
Californian ShiShi Rose, 27, moved to New York a year ago to develop her activism and writing. She previously worked at a local rape crisis center and assisted in educating therapists and counselors before turning her focus more squarely towards race, first via her Instagram account and then through public speaking engagements and writing. As part of the national committee for the Women’s March on Washington, Rose runs the group’s social media channels, from Instagram (where she has a substantial following) to Facebook. “Women encompass everything,” Rose said. “If you can fight for women’s rights, you can fight for rights across the board.”
A law student-turned-actress-turned-activist, Sarah Sophie Flicker was born in Copenhagen, the great-granddaughter of a Danish prime minister who has been credited with bringing democratic socialism to Denmark. She grew up in California before moving to New York to found the political cabaret Citizens Band, eventually joining the production company Art Not War. “Once you start breaking it all down, you realize the most vulnerable people in any community tend to be women,” she said. “All our issues intersect, and something that may affect me as a white woman will doubly affect a black woman or a Latina woman or an indigenous woman. So when we talk about a women’s movement, we need to be talking about all women.”
Vanessa Wruble, a member of the national organizing committee, is the uber-connector of the Women’s March on Washington. She’s also the founder and editor of OkayAfrica, a site connecting culture news from continental Africa with an international audience. It was Wruble who first messaged Bland on Facebook to connect her with the women who would eventually become her co-chairs: “She said, Hey, you know, you need to center women of color in the leadership of this so it can be truly inclusive,’” Bland recalled. Within a day, they were meeting for coffee; now, they’re marching together in one of the largest demonstrations in support of a vast array of causes in United States history.
Paola Mendoza, artistic director of the Women’s March on Washington, is a Colombian-American director and writer whose work has focused on immigrant experiences, particularly those of Latina women. “Women have never convened this way in our lifetime,” Mendoza said of the march, “and it’s being led for the first time ever by women of color.”
Janaye Ingram, who Michelle Obama once described as an “impressive leader,” is Head of Logistics for the March, in addition to being a consultant for issues like civil, voting, and women’s rights in Washington D.C.
Cassady Fendlay, communications director for the Women’s March on Washington, is a writer and communications strategist whose clients include The Gathering for Justice — the organization helmed by Women’s March national co-chair Carmen Perez. As the spokeswoman for the march, Fendlay is tasked with acting as its mouthpiece, ensuring its message is accurate, unified, and coherent.
In addition to being a producer of the march, Ginny Suss is the Vice President of Okayplayer.com and the President and co-founder of OkayAfrica — she does video production for both. Her background in the music industry runs deep, and she’s worked closely with The Roots for the past 13 years, serving as their Tour Manager for some time. She’s also produced large outdoor events like The Roots Picnic, Summerstage, Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, and Celebrate Brooklyn — vital experience for organizing a march of this size.
Last year, Nantasha Williams ran for the New York State Assembly as a representative of the 33rd district — which encompasses a region just east of Jamaica, Queens. Though she lost to Democrat Clyde Vanel, she’s putting her organizing skills to good use in the aftermath of the election, working on the logistics team for the march and assisting national co-chair Tamika Mallory.
When Alyssa Klein isn’t managing the various social media accounts for the Women’s March, she’s writer and Senior Editor at OkayAfrica, the largest online destination for New African music, culture, fashion, art, and politics. Based in both New York City and Johannesburg, Klein’s passion is movies and television, and has made it her profession to highlight creatives of color in both industries. Juggling social media is no easy side project, however. The Women’s March has approximately 80,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter, plus a over 200,000 on Facebook.
Shirley Marie Johnson is the March’s head administrator for Tennessee, as well as an author, poet, and singer. Primarily, though, she’s an activist and advocate for those who are victim to domestic violence, a cause that’s not only her focus at the March, but in her day-to-day life through her group Exodus, Inc., which aids those affected by rape, human trafficking, and other abuse.
Born in Shanghai, Ting Ting Cheng studied human rights at the University of Cape Town — and became an award-winning Fulbright scholar to South Africa — before heading to New York, where she’s now a criminal defense attorney at the Brooklyn Defender Services. All that’s no doubt come in handy for her role as Legal Director of the March.
Heidi Solomon is one of the three co-organizers for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Women’s March. Although she doesn’t have a long background in activism, Trump’s election moved her to take action, and she’s helped rally approximately 6,000 people from her home state.
Deborah Harris is a grassroots organizer and feminist self-help author who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and served as a community activist for 10 years in the fields of fashion, healthcare, at risk youth, and supportive women’s relations.
As Illinois’ state representative for the Women’s March, Mrinalini Chakraborty has taken the lead in coordinating the Chicago-area charge, organizing bus rides for well over a thousand women and other supporters. She’s also on the National Committee and is a coordinator for all 50 states coming to D.C.. And that’s in addition to her day job: She’s a graduate teaching and research assistant at the University of Illinois at Chicago for anthropology, not to mention a student and a dedicated food blogger.
After earning her Ph.D in psychology, Dr. Deborah Johnson is now studying social work at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa — and making sure she stands up for both her and her daughter’s rights at the March, which she’s helping lead the way to for other Oklahomans.
Renee Singletary is an organizer, mother of two, wife of one, marketing consultant, and certified herbalist living and working in Charleston, South Carolina.
A yoga instructor, theater graduate, and local organizer, South Carolina native Evvie Harmon has brought her skills and energy to the march as its global co-coordinator alongside Breanne Butler. Together, they facilitate partner marches and local organizers around the world, bringing the whole thing into synergy.
Watch: These Women Are About to Make History as the Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington
These Women Are About to Make History as the Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington