One in three women 18 to 34 feel sexually harassed at work
We can move the conversation forward by coming forth
When I first read about Gretchen Carlson‘s sexual harassment case, I could’t help but draw parallels between my own life, and hers. In a high school play, I was cast in the role of law intern, dealing with personal flirtations from one of my own supervisors.
It was a play called ‘Girls Like That’ which focused on topics like cyberbullying, gender norms and the different roles women have played during different periods in society. I played an ambitious high school student in the eighties who dreamed of becoming a lawyer.
Instead of being presented with briefs or trial dates, her supervisor first had the audacity to touch her inappropriately because he “liked her skirt.”
To prepare for the character, I was told to watch videos of Anita Hill, a law professor who interned for Clarence Thomas, a then-Supreme Court Justice nominee. Hill accused Thomas of making derogatory, inappropriate remarks towards her.
Until my director pointed out Hill’s case to me, I shamefully had never heard of it, yet her case ultimately helped me to make remarkable strides towards understanding what sexual harassment in the workplace looks like. Employers now require training on the subject, and the year of the woman which happened shortly after: More females started running for positions in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Hill helped usher in a much-needed spotlight on the professional problems women face, especially since there is already such vast female under-representation across most fields: Women make up only 19.4% of Congress while Forbes reports that females only make up 40% of professional and managerial roles internationally. It’s ironic because women make up 51% of the population.
Still, despite Hill’s courage, she was forgotten. It is only when the media produces documentaries like HBO’s Confirmation or FX’s The People Vs. OJ Simpson that we see the brunt of how women are vilified in the workplace like Anita Hill or Marcia Clark.
Hill was painted as being “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty,” while the media ambushed hard-hitting Clark for her hair rather than her intense, prosecuting style. If Hill or Clark’s cases had been brought to light in 2016, feminists would immediately run to their aid, but the nineties was a different beast. Females thought all of the major battles had been won, but in fact, they were just beginning.
Movies or television should not have to remind us about the wrongs of the past. In order for anything to change, we need consistent, clear and honest dialogue. Women need to come forward, and society should refrain from vilifying their character – especially since this problem continues to persist: The Huffington Post reported that 1 in 3 women between the ages of 18 and 34 feel sexually harassed at work, but only 29% reported it.
Whether it makes you uncomfortable to recognize or not, after examining past history, Gretchen Carlson’s case matters because much like Anita Hill, history becomes forgotten, and we forget its impact until other professional women speak up, reminding us where we started, and how much further we need to go.
As Gretchen Carlson said in a recent New York Times article: “As the issue takes a prominent place in the headlines today, I sometimes feel guilty about my trepidation. Perhaps I could have moved the conversation forward if I had come forth.”
Perhaps if more people spoke up like Hill and Carlson, more women would be represented in STEM, politics and business. If others spoke up, we could address the issues that most pertain to us as women, so that we could then better address the problems we face as human beings. After all, by cultivating a better society for females, we can cultivate a better society for all.
Now that’s the biggest takeaway we can learn from the past, and the present.