This week I saw the film “Bombshell.”
I worked at a cable network for fifteen years, so the subject matter intrigued me. Although I was at a different network from Fox News, I was curious if there would be parallels. How much would I recognize? Would I see situations that were similar to what I had witnessed or experienced?
And not just at the male-dominated network where I worked. I saw familiarity in my whole work experience. I think many women can say the same.
I have a terrible confession to make here (and I don’t believe I am alone.) I never experienced blatant sexual harassment at my cable network. But I was the witness to it. Often. And here is the confession: There is a small part of me that felt that I was not sexually harassed because I was just not pretty enough. And that small part of me felt inadequate that I was not more attractive.
Isn’t that sad?
That the very lack of harassment could diminish my self-worth?
How I hope that young women today (and young men) know how unhealthy that is. Sexual harassment is not approval. Sexual harassment s not affirming. It is not a compliment.
It is an abuse of power.
But it was not just the sexual harassment that I recognized in the movie.
It was fear.
My own experience with workplace abuse was not sexual in nature. It was just plain old abuse. But the reaction was the same. And that’s what we need to recognize. That all abuse elicits the same reaction.
And not just for the person who is being abused.
After many wonderful, successful years in a company I loved, there was a change of management. The encouraging and supportive executives I had worked for were gone, and I did not have a good relationship with the folks who took their place.
My own immediate superior was openly hostile. I believe she may have been directed by those even higher up the ranks to rid the company of certain individuals that were strongly connected to the old guard. And I was one.
After a dozen years of glowing reviews and numerous promotions, suddenly nothing I did was right. If I made a decision, I should have consulted her. If I asked her what to do, I had no initiative. My work was late. My work was hurried. My work was superficial. My work was too complicated. I didn’t support my staff. I coddled my staff.
I believe her goal was to make my life so miserable that I would quit. So the company would not only be rid of me, but could absolve themselves of any responsibility.
But I had invested a lot in my career. And I had a pension to consider. And future employment.
So I toughed it out for a very long time. I cried more than I had ever cried before. But not at work. I didn’t cry at the office.
I was not the only one who did not love the new boss. Some of my coworkers and subordinates were subject to similar treatment. And several more – though treated well themselves – were outraged at the unfairness they saw me endure.
One day a few staff members came to me and expressed their genuine concern. They encouraged me to file a complaint with Human Resources. If I spoke up, they promised, they would have my back. They would confirm my complaint and rise up to support me.
And after many sleepless nights, that’s what I did.
In “Bombshell,” Gretchen Carlson files suit against Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. She is sure that if she speaks up, she will give others the courage to also go public. There is a scene where she asks how many other women have come forward.
This is the scene that staggered me.
Because when I went to HR with my complaint, that’s what happened. No one from my staff spoke up in support.
And I couldn’t really be angry with them. They were experiencing the same thing I was.
Abuse of power creates fear.
And the fear permeates. No one wants to be hurt. No one wants retaliation. No one wants to put themselves or their families or their livelihood at risk.
I loved my staff. And I hated how my situation added to their fear. They weren’t to blame.
And although I do blame the boss who was abusive, in some of my kinder moments, I wonder what pressure she might have been under. Who did she fear?
There will always be people with more power than others. And it will not always be used well.
But if you have a little bit of power, you may be able to make a difference.
There was one person in HR who believed me. And although I cannot disclose the details of how it turned out, I was okay.
And I eventually stopped crying.
- Posted in: Advice ♦ Television ♦ Work
- Tagged: Bombshell, sexual harassment, workplace abuse
Your story is similar to what I went through two years ago, which shows that women can be guilty of harassment too. Only I was near the end of my career and, though I didn’t want to, I could have walked if it came to that. A new Executive Director came into the non-profit where I had worked for years. Her management style was to try to pit some team members against each other; completely ignore others, making them feel invisible and worthless, badmouth us to the Board of Directors, etc. One thing she could not stand was direct confrontation. So, when I confronted her, I put a bull’s eye on my back. I did leave eventually, but on my own terms when I found a wonderful job in an organization that helps people with cancer. Eight months later, the Board of Directors at my previous job took action and let the Executive Director go. I call that karma.
Excellent post. I love how you try to understand both sides that everyone had to deal with. Very insightful.
I’m sorry you went through this and sadly it happens all too often
Thank you for this excellent post. I haven’t seen the movie but I certainly look forward to it. I worked in the era when men oggled and commented on women in the worst kind of way with no repercussions at all. I can relate to your comment about feeling that it didn’t happen to you in that way because you were not attractive enough to warrant those remarks. And it is sad to think that we could have such low self esteem that we would be glad of a sexist remark to validate our attractiveness. My boss/supervisor said to me one day when one of his young ladies came into the office, that “I am a leg man, not a tit man”. I probably smirked, not knowing what to say, but I do remember not being terribly shocked by an admission from someone in his position who should have known how inappropriate his behaviour was. I would have been about 17 at the time. It never even entered my head to make a complaint about it. It was just the way it was then. He was known for that type of remark and behaviour and yet he was supervising 18 young ladies between the ages of 17 and 25.
Powerful post, Nancy. I imagine you’re a stronger person for your experience, but those certainly sound like challenging years! Glad things turned out okay for you.
“WHEN WILL HUMAN BEINGS WAKE UP AND SEE WE ARE ALL EQUAL…AND ALL WORTHY OF BEING ALLOWED TO BE OURSELVES…..I AM SORRY YOU HAD TO DEAL WITH THIS CRAP FOR SO LONG…AS A MALE WHO MANAGED MANY PEOPLE OVER THE YEARS…I ALWAYS TREATED MEN AND WOMEN BASED ON SKILLS,PRODUCTIVITY,AND BEING A POSITIVE TO THE COMPANY’S NEEDS….BUT I HAVE SEEN THIS IN ACTION….AND ITS ALWAYS LEFT ME UNSETTLED AND MORE COMITTED TO BEING AWARE OF OFFSETTING THIS KIND OF BEHAVIOR.
I don’t think there is a woman in the corporate world who hasn’t gone through this. I’m nearing retirement, and it’s still happening. I was ‘offered’ a new position, which I took because of the promised raise, and I now feel I was moved as an easier way to get rid of me. Oh, by the way, no raise. Didn’t follow my own advice to other women – GET IT IN WRITING. It’s not just here; it happened when I worked for a major corporation and, worse, in a company run by women. I sometimes think women can be worse than men to prove themselves. I wonder if they go home and worry about what they’ve done, and who might do it to them.
You are right – abuse/harassment comes in all shades and modes of attack. Your story is shocking – not because it happened, but because it happens so often to so many, myself included. I spent several years under a male manager who genuinely appreciated (and praised) pretty much everything I did. Then a female middle manager was brought in and suddenly I couldn’t (apparently) do anything right. My employee evaluations went from stellar to cellar; my new boss went behind my back , asking those I was in daily contact with to give her examples of me ‘screwing up’ (and there were people, of course, who wanted to curry favour with her by saying negative things about me, thinking that was the way to protect themselves). I was eventually forced out (e.g., FIRED) for something I actually did not do but couldn’t (no matter how hard I tried) defend. I quit my last job (many years later) because of emotional harassment by my boss (who went from kind to nasty when put under pressure from a new manager who demanded ‘results’ based on micromanagement and intimidation). Its truly sad when you feel you have no recourse but to quit (and press on until they find a way to get rid of you) when you’re only doing your job. I wonder how many more people can relate to our stories?
Thank you so much for sharing your story; I know it must not have been easy for you. My best friend said this to me once, and it has been something I’ve carried with me ever since:
“Every woman has a story.”
A story about the workplace
A story about that one college party
A story about the person who wouldn’t take “no” as an answer
Bombshell has been on my watch list for a long while, and now I think I’ll bump it right up to the top.
By “not disclosing,” did you have to sign an NDA? Not judging, just curious. I’ve had one boss who was not only mean and unreasonable (to me) but also very “handsie” with all the female staff. We learned to squirm out of his grasp, but smiling because, you know, he had the power. Fortunately he decided the job interfered with his summering in Maine and he quit. His successor was a kick-ass good guy with whom I rode nearly to retirement. I recognize I was extraordinarily lucky in my career.
You’re right, fear is a very strong motivator, and it does causes people to look the other way when they are seeing abuse, as well as enduring the abuse themselves. Sadly, it happens more to women because for some men, sex and power go hand in hand. I’m glad someone in HR listened to you and believed you. Because it’s not going to stop until it’s no longer tolerated.
Well, now I now I’m NOT going to see that movie. I don’t need to dredge that up again. Went through this 7 years ago and then stupidly again 3 years after that. Nope, no siree! What really, really got me was that so many people saw what was happening and DID NOT speak up, for me, for them, for anyone. Lesson learned. The first place failed and the second place is not doing well. Karma!