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From Anita Hill to Gretchen Carlson, what's changed in the way we talk about sexual harassment?

(L-R) Fox & Friends hosts Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson and Brian Kilmeade during
(L-R) Fox & Friends hosts Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson and Brian Kilmeade during "FOX & Friends" All American Concert Series outside of FOX Studios in New York City.
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

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Reaction has been mixed ever since former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former boss and Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes.

More women have made similar allegations against Ailes since Carlson came forward, while other observers have questioned her motives, such as radio talk show host John Ziegler, who wrote on Mediaite, “The fact that this [lawsuit] comes after Carlson was no longer employed and at a point in her career where she has very limited job options and very little to lose, makes me a little bit suspicious.”

That kind of questioning reminds some of the suspicion Anita Hill met in the 1980s when she made allegations against her then boss, Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. At the time, many questioned why, if her allegations were true, she would continue to work for him.

The media industry remains dominated by male executives, and some say the dearth of female decision-makers and fear of retaliation are major hurdles in getting women to report harassment or abuse.

Has the way we talk about and treat sexual harassment changed in the three decades since Anita Hill? Have you personally experienced sexual harassment? And if so, did you report it? Do you regret your decision?

AirTalk listeners called us to share their experiences:

Christina in Inglewood: I asked a coworker several times not to harass me, but he continued. When I told him to stop, he giggled and dismissed me. To him, it didn’t matter what I thought or what I felt. So I wrote a report and turned it into my manager and personally contacted human resources.

After I reported him, I felt bad at first because I didn’t want to be responsible for someone losing their job, but I felt it was the right thing to do because I wasn’t the only one who was being treated that way. In a way, I feel like I stood up for myself and for other women. Human resources conducted an investigation and it turned out that he was not only doing it to me, but to other coworkers. They suspended him and I’m not sure if he got fired, but I never saw him again. 

Susan in downtown Los Angeles: I was sexually harassed by a superior soon after I started working at the organization. I actually saw him as a mentor — he presented himself that way. He actually talked about how he came to the defense of another woman who had been sexually harassed by a high-level person in the organization. I later realized that I was being manipulated, but I didn’t see that because I was still very young.

It became a quid pro quo kind of harassment. The overall culture in the organization was to say all sorts of sexually explicit things and things that made me very uncomfortable. But it was an older generation, and everyone just said that’s the way it is. I was on probation at the time and was afraid of losing my job, so I didn’t want to report it. I finally did because it kept continuing and I kept hoping it would end, and it didn’t end. When I went and spoke to the boss at the top, who was a woman, she told me to “suck it up” because if I wanted my career to be successful, that’s what I needed to do.

I filed with the EEOC, but it was a very traumatic experience. Things did change slowly, but it was at the cost at my standing in the organization and my ability to advance there. I don’t regret it because I do believe I made a difference. It does make me sad though because it took something away from me that I’ll never get back, within myself. 

Mariam from Beverly Hills: I was an on-air talent for a very big news organization and at the end of my contract, my boss took me to dinner to explain to me that the views were low, so they probably wouldn’t be able to move forward with renewing my contract unless I slept with him. It was the quintessential Los Angeles story. I was shocked, I was hurt, I cried later that evening and the reason why I didn’t move forward with my case and call this man out was because if I didn’t sleep with him, my contract would not get renewed. If I sued him or contacted his bosses, my contract would not get renewed and I would possibly become blacklisted as a talent in that network and its sister networks. The only incentive I had at the time to address the situation was to maybe stop him from doing this to other women, but I didn’t know for a fact that he was sexually harassing any other talent. And I knew he had kids, I knew he had a wife, so I thought there might not be a net gain, but a net loss by me calling this man out because I’d definitely destroy his family, his marriage, his kids and not necessarily for something tangible.

Sexual harassment affects your intellect. I thought, "I’m a millennial, I’ve grown up listening to these stories, I’ll never be a victim to one."  And I thought, for a year, this man had been manipulating me and making me feel like we were friends and we could trust each other and the entire thing was just to arrive to that one vulnerable moment at the end of my contract. So I felt like an idiot. Not to mention, when he prefaces that sexual invitation with, “Hey, your views are low. I don’t think we can renew your contract,” it already makes you feel like a failure.

David in Anaheim: I’ve been sexually harassed and raped before, both were obviously extremely unpleasant experiences. But what was probably the most horrible experience was having a woman use her power against me by saying I had done something I didn’t do. Just being accused of sexual harassment can ruin someone’s life. I almost lost more than one job because a woman decided she was going to accuse me of something I didn’t do, either because of bitterness or because of something else. 


Jennifer Drobac, a professor at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law, who has authored a textbook about sexual-harassment law