Megyn Kelly: How Hollywood Post-Weinstein Can Spark Real Change (Guest Column)
The NBC News host, who experienced sexual harassment by Roger Ailes, sees opportunity for a lasting impact in the deluge of horror stories: "Men who see women as designed for their pleasure are far too great in number."
Recently an audience member asked me what we can teach in schools about dealing with sexual harassment. My first reaction was, "Let's understand how bad the disease is before we prescribe the treatment." Just a couple of weeks later, we know the disease is advanced. Severe. Far more aggressive than we feared.
The treatment must be equally aggressive.
When then-Fox News CEO Roger Ailes harassed me as a young reporter, I knew no one was likely to help me. Despite that, I found the nerve to tell my supervisor. He responded by addressing my behavior, urging me to give Ailes the benefit of the doubt. I asked around to see if any of my new colleagues had experienced similar behavior. If any of them had, none admitted it back then.
Women being harassed should remember that "No" is an option. Ailes' behavior toward me culminated in an office visit in which he grabbed me three times and tried to kiss me. I pushed him away and got myself out of there. It can be scary to reject your boss, but "No" is there for you (though not always effective). After the fact, make a record of the behavior, ideally with a lawyer. And seek out others in whom to confide. Harvey might have been able to dismiss Rose McGowan alone. Rose plus 90? No way.
The truth is, however, stopping harassment and abuse is going to require vast societal change. Because women are being sexualized and demeaned not just by a few errant bosses but by a male-dominated system that remains stacked against them. And too many men and women are committed to perpetuating it.
Women have made great strides during the past 40 years. We are on the Supreme Court, running for president and leading 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies. It's a start. However, there are still too few of us in positions of power in the most influential industries. And when we do ascend to positions of authority, we can face enormous backlash.
Trust me, I know.
When I was working my way up the ranks at Fox and in a submissive posture, I got along fine with the channel's most powerful men. When I launched a successful primetime show and stopped ceding the inevitable power struggles that came with it, things changed dramatically with some of them, and it was painful.
It's not just men, either. After I questioned Donald Trump at the August 2015 presidential debate about his sexism, I received scores of messages from men and women — calling me the C-word and telling me "no one gives a damn about misogyny."
The fact that it is still a world of men — and women must learn to navigate that — is lost on no female as she enters the workforce. Men heading to the bar after work making deals, without us. Male colleagues commenting on our bodies, asking us for dates instead of to important meetings, interrupting us more, ignoring an idea that comes from us, but praising it when a male employee offers it. Being told the way to get ahead is to be "nice" and "let things go."
I've experienced each of these scenarios in my career and believe it's well past time for women to accept that following one's ethical compass can earn one a few enemies … and that's OK.
On top of all this, there is the sexualizing of female professionals who, while they may be unabashedly sexual outside the office, do not wish to be treated as such at work, even if they show a shoulder on the job.
Most women I know try to gut it out. Some submit to their superior's advances. At times, willingly — not every office affair is nonconsensual. But sometimes a woman submits out of fear of losing already scarce professional opportunities. And with the knowledge that it's not just this man who doesn't take her seriously — it's an entire system that has told her repeatedly: You are less important.
The evolved men are as disappointed in these facts as we are. These are the men we treasure and with whom we partner, laugh and sometimes cry. But the truth remains that men who see women as creatures designed for their pleasure, to be subjugated, are far too great in number. Addressing that is going to require honest conversations about much more than sexual harassment.
This story first appeared in the 2017 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.