When the host of cable’s most popular news show gets fired as a result of multiple allegations of sexual harassment coming to light, you know that times have changed.
It seems obvious Fox News was at least influenced by the stampede of advertisers looking for the exit, so it would be naïve to think the decision was purely altruistic. But, in any event, Bill O’Reilly’s very public fall demonstrates that we are much less tolerant about sexual harassment than we used to be.
Years ago, at my first job after finishing school, I was in an elevator with a female co-worker when an executive got on with us. I remember him putting his hand around her waist and then stood there appalled as his hand moved up to the middle of her back, where he began to toy with her brassiere strap. It was beyond awkward and uncomfortable, and there was nothing to be done about it. Nothing that could be done about it. Boys will be boys, after all.
A few years later, an employee of mine told me that she was uncomfortable because one of the men in the office was too flirtatious and would rub her back and shoulders, and sometimes put his hand on her leg. This was at a time when there was no language for sexual harassment, no training about how to deal with it, or even a sympathetic Human Resources department to which one could appeal.
She asked me what she should do the next time it happened, as she was certain that it would. Nothing I had seen in a management course or textbook, no company directives or memos, or anything else had even mentioned this subject. So, I asked myself, “What would Bette Davis do? Or Joan Crawford? Or Mother?”
So I told her that, if he did it again, she should slap the holy hell out of him. Right on the office floor. Wisely, she did not take my advice. But she did tell him that if he touched her again, that’s what she would do. That worked for her, but I’m sure he went off to harass some other woman.
Finally, the day came when sexual harassment became an issue for management to address, resulting in the hiring of consultants to come in and develop policy, management training and employee education on the subject. At the beginning of the class I attended, one of the men joked that this was “how to” training—that is, how to sexually harass. I joked back, “Oh, if that were the case, you’d be teaching the class.” Indeed, it was the elevator creep.
So I must confess I was pleased that, at least in this instance, someone got his just deserts. In fact, I didn’t realize how pleased I was until I started thinking about Bill O’Reilly as the subject for this week’s column. When I opened the memory file, these incidents fell out like flowers pressed in a book.
Remembering a female co-worker hiding from a male co-worker in a darkened conference room. Remembering the gossip about women who had supposedly put out in order to move up. And, sadly, remembering myself accepting it as the way things were and the way things would continue to be.
But we did change. With apologies to Barbra Streisand, I am glad that the way we were isn’t the way we are. Bill O’Reilly proved it—or rather the women who came forward did. Attorney Lisa Bloom helped lead their effort through the swamp that passes for celebrity justice, with its twisted mix of law and media.
Mr. O’Reilly, please exit stage left.
By the way, Ms. Bloom is the daughter of Gloria Allred, who has her own high profile celebrity case revolving around sexual misconduct. And, I recall it was a sexual harassment lawsuit and the testimony in that case that led to the more recent impeachment of a sitting president. We are indeed living in interesting times.