I don’t like to wade into politics much here, mostly because I have friends and supporters from both sides of the aisle. Anyhow I’d prefer to let the aisles disintegrate, since it is tiresome to squabble amongst ourselves while greed and deceit gets to play with the real strings of power (that’s a conversation for another time). But I am going to wade into the Bill O’Reilly debacle, the infamous host of the O’Reilly factor who was let go from 21st Century Fox about a month ago in spite of his still strong viewership after the New York Times published a piece documenting his record of sexually harassing and intimidating women at the Fox News Channel. My distaste for Bill O’Reilly is not political. He is not a nice man. In some ways he is The Man. Power-hungry, angry, loud, pushy, confrontational, unavoidable. And so I’ve watched with intense satisfaction the demise of Bill O’Reilly.
And I know my anger and satisfaction at justice being served here is not even really about him. It is about the institutions and public opinion that allowed him to stay in power for so many years, call the shots, be the voice of America’s biggest news network. The real shock factor does not lie in the racist, sexist, mean-spirited things he said or even the disgusting acts of sexual harassment and intimidation with his female colleagues, it is that a top-rated news organization continued to give him the parole as these allegations came rolling in. It is that they left him in a leadership role, with women working under him and next to him and didn’t fire him when they discovered that he had been sexually harassing his colleagues. It is that his ratings continued to rise. And ultimately this was viewed as one big, fat “no big deal”. And that is the most telling part of all. Reading about all this was a bit like thinking we were 2/3 into the marathon for equal respect and power and suddenly realizing that we were quite short of ½ way. A woman harassed and intimidated in her workplace, management knows about it, no biggie. But public opinion is so important for a news network! How could that be?! Yep, but women accuse men of harassment all the time. No biggie.
And yet, short of ½ way or not on the road to equal respect and power, the firing of Bill O’Reilly and the pulling of advertisers from his show was momentous. Though it may sadden me to realize that this is where we were well into the millennium, that this behavior will no longer be tolerated by those within 21st Century Fox and the big companies who pulled their advertising including Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai, signals that we have reached the end of an era where women don’t matter or matter only selectively. They mattered when they fell in line, when they wear certain things, when they say certain things, when they do and don’t do certain things. But when they say things the Man doesn’t like, then they no longer matter. Being abused at work and Female. No biggie. Seriously.
We were just there, but that ship is sailing. This feels like BIG progress. And certainly this doesn’t mean that women won’t get harassed at work anymore. But when they do get harassed, particularly when it persists, the public will turn a scornful eye toward the perpetrator and the organization that backs them. Justice will be meted out. Public opinion has changed. Women DO deserve respect. And then maybe they’ll also deserve power. And who knows what will happen in the World when that happens.