One of the benefits of having a day job is the access to events in which you might not be able to participate. For example, my place of employment hosted a talk with Gretchen Carlson, in conjunction with the publication of her book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back. Carlson, as you may be aware, is the former Fox News anchor who ignited the flame that consumed former Fox News chairman, the late Roger Ailes, in July 2016 when she filed a lawsuit against him for sexual harassment. In September 2016, Carlson received a reportedly $20 million settlement and a public apology from Fox News' parent company, 21st Century Fox. In May 2017, Ailes, who was fired in the wake of Carlson's accusations, though he fiercely denied them, died from complications from a subdural hematoma.
I'll admit, I didn't know much more about Carlson and her situation beyond that when I first learned about the event. But that was kind of all I needed to know. Anyone who is using their platform to work towards ending workplace sexual harassment is somebody I'm willing to listen to for an hour. Plus, we got free copies of Carlson's book, and I didn't really have anything else to do that night. So it's a win all around.
I came away from the talk with mixed feelings about Carlson herself. She certainly is brave, tenacious and yes, fierce. She is using her platform and privilege to bring attention to this very real epidemic of workplace sexual harassment (although I question whether she's really checking that privilege as much as she should - Carlson mentioned that in her book, she outlines the steps an individual should take if they are being sexually harassed in the workplace, the first of which is, "Talk to a lawyer." Which is all well and good advice if you are a cable news anchor with a sports agent husband who has the money and access to hire a lawyer, much less useful for an underprivileged victim, say, a person of color, a trans individual, or someone who lives below the poverty line. I haven't yet read the book, so I don't know if Carlson discusses what the options are for individuals in these situations, or how she is working to help them. I sure hope she does.)
There is also the fact that Carlson worked for Fox News, a channel I have not willingly watched...well, ever. I did my best to go in with an open mind, because I honestly wasn't familiar with Carlson's work, and who knows? She could have been a sane voice of reason among all of the repugnant nonsense Fox News anchors and pundits spew on a daily basis. What stuck in my craw was the fact that, during the talk, Carlson bemoaned the current super-divided, super-partisan state of politics in our nation, imploring people to come together because "sexual harassment is an apolitical issue." Gentle readers, it took all I had not to stand up in that auditorium and shout, "You worked for Fox News, for fuck's sake! They created this monster! That station is the reason we are so divided and partisan!" Even if Carlson herself was not the leading propagandist at the network, she still was aware of what her colleagues and the network was doing, and let it slide, which makes me think of other situations in which there was something sinister happening and no one spoke up...oh.
So, yeah, there's that. But there were things I admired about Carlson. Obviously, her courage in speaking out about an incredibly powerful man, and his incredibly sexist, shitty behavior. Again, her commitment to attacking this pervasive problem through awareness, education and legislation. But what really stuck with me was an exchange that happened during the Q&A part of the talk, right near the end.
The last audience member who was given the microphone to ask a question was a woman who spoke about a friend, a young man who had recently revealed to her that he (I'm paraphrasing) was scared to have sex, because of all the allegations against men, and how defensive women are nowadays, and he doesn't know how to even compliment women, and could Carlson please give some advice or guidelines to help these poor, confused, terrified boys who just can't figure out how to interact with a woman without somehow worrying it will become sexual and subsequently destroy their lives.
Carlson, to her credit, shut that shit down. "I'm not going to make a list of rules for how men should behave towards women," she said. "Be respectful." Carlson went on to say that she is more interested in giving a voice to women who have experienced sexual assault or harassment in the workplace, not so much about giving space to men whose worlds are now being flipped upside down because they've learned they *might* be held accountable for their actions.
Once again, I had to struggle not to stand up and flip a metaphorical table. In my fantasy version of this scenario, I do stand up, and I say, "I don't give a shit if your friend is terrified. I don't give a shit if all man are terrified. The women in this room have spent most of their lives terrified of how their interactions with men could turn sideways at the drop of a hat. Fear is our constant companion when it comes to interacting with the opposite sex; we carry it with us everywhere we go, with our housekeys and phone. Your friend is scared? Good. Now he knows what it feels like."
Carlson, of course, is on a book tour of college campuses, and can't be quite so forthcoming. She also has more important things to do than entertain dumbass questions advising men on how to compliment women so they can avoid being accused of sexual harassment. Me on the other hand - I had some time to kill, and I needed to write a blog anyway, so what the hell. Here you go, fellas - 10 ways to compliment a woman or woman-identified person that will not be misconstrued as something sexual or violating. Share freely and widely, because apparently, this is something that a lot of men have not yet figured out how to do successfully.
1. "Hey Jane, you're really thoughtful. It's nice that you always remember everybody's birthdays."
2. "Hey Susan, you're really smart. You have great ideas, and I admire your in-depth knowledge of [X topic]."
3. "Hey Kim, you're really funny. Your sense of humor always brightens my day."
4. "Hey Mary, you're really creative. You have unique ideas, and your work in [artistic/creative medium] is really impressive.
5. "Hey Beth, you're really strong. I admire how you overcame [X challenge} in your life."
6. "Hey Ann, you're very well-spoken. You express yourself well, and I always have an interesting, enlightening conversation with you."
7. "Hey Rose, you're really reliable. You're a team player, and I appreciate how I can always count on you to do a solid job."
8. "Hey Ellen, you're an excellent listener. Thank you for lending an ear when I have a problem I need help with."
9. "Hey Donna, you have a really wonderful positive energy. You really know how to fill a room with light and joy."
10. "Hey Tara, I really respect you, and because I respect you, I won't make inappropriate comments about your body or appearance, whip my dick out in front of you, masturbate in front of you (even though I would ask first), try to grope you, proposition you for sex, rape or sexually assault you, or otherwise cause you physical, mental or emotional harm, because there is never, ever any cause or excuse for behaving like that."
- Kristen M. Scatton