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Shelley Correll and Gretchen Carlson (’90) on “Being Fierce” and breaking the culture of sexual assault

Mar 21 2018

Clayman Institute for Gender Research Faculty Director Shelley Correll took the stage at CEMEX Auditorium with journalist and former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson (’90) to discuss sexual assault in the workplace and the power of women sharing their stories, in an event hosted by the Stanford Libraries and co-sponsored by the Clayman Institute.

On the heels of the Institute’s successful two-year Breaking the Culture of Sexual Assault symposium series that addressed the root causes and proposed solutions to sexual violence against women, Correll asked Carlson about her experience with and activism on behalf of survivors of sexual assault.

In 2016, Carlson sued her former employer, Fox News founder Roger Ailes, who fired her after she refused his sexual advances. Her case opened the floodgates, not only at Fox News—where a number of female anchors like Megyn Kelly and Andrea Tantaros, filed suit against Ailes, too—but across America.

“Back then,” she reflected on those early days after her departure from the network and before the explosion of the #MeToo movement in the mainstream, she felt like “it was me, alone.”

For Carlson, what buoyed her spirits and propelled her resilience were the countless women who reached out to her via email, text, social media, and snail mail. These women shared their own personal stories of surviving sexual harassment and assault in their correspondence, and they thanked Carlson for publicly telling her story and taking a stand against a goliath like Ailes.

She told Correll and the audience that she wrote Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back “to honor all the women whose stories [she] heard,” from women in the restaurant service industry to women financial executives.  A testament to her dedication to the cause and compassion for other survivors, Carlson replied to every single person who wrote to her.

"...we will not be underestimated, intimated, or held back. We will not be silenced by the ways of the establishment or power. We will tell the truth. We will be fierce.”

“This book is a rallying cry for all women who want to take control of their lives and own their personal power,” Carlson wrote in Be Fierce. “It’s a warning that we will not be underestimated, intimated, or held back. We will not be silenced by the ways of the establishment or power. We will tell the truth. We will be fierce.”

The book not only narrates her experiences, but she profiles a number of women from various walks of life and careers about their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault. These women, Carlson explained at the event, have been “blacklisted, demoted, and fired…for coming forward to report cases of sexual harassment and assault, and who are not working in their chosen professions anymore.” Compounding the trauma of violence, she continued, is the fact that many of these women have had their “careers cut short and ended—for no fault of their own.”

One of the women whose stories she profiles in Be Fierce, who lost her job after reporting her experience of sexual harassment at work, attended the talk and thanked Carlson during the Q&A for her compassionate listening and activism on behalf of women.

While Carlson acknowledged that “cultural revolutions do not happen in twenty months,” she did offer ideas to Correll’s question that asked her for solutions to eradicating sexual violence against women—a question derived from one of the major objectives of the Clayman Institute’s Breaking the Culture of Sexual Assault symposium series.

For Carlson, change happens most significantly through structures and institutions. In late 2017, she helped to spearhead the effort for bipartisan legislation that was introduced into Congress, which aimed to eradicate the arbitration laws that safeguard workplaces from addressing sexual violence and stymie survivors who seek justice. Carlson also established her own fund—Gift of Courage Fund—as part of the Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative for underprivileged women, the intent of which is to provide resources and support to underprivileged women who have experienced sexual violence.

In addition to changing laws to better protect and serve women against the threat of sexual violence and harassment, she believes there needs to be a “focus on the workplace,” and workplace culture. Then, she continued, there must be changes in how people parent their children.

“We have the power together.”

She emphasized the critical necessity of “get[ting] men involved in making change,” too.

“Stop being enablers and bystanders,” she asserted. “To me, this is the most important piece of the puzzle” on how to break the culture of sexual assault and violence against women, particularly on college campuses, which are a special focus of Carlson’s.

Correll nodded in agreement with Carlson’s thoughtful answer that calls for both structural and individual change. “We have to do things collectively together,” she said. “We have the power together.”


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