It is what it means to be a woman in a patriarchy: Men always win. It may look like we have won sometimes, but in the end, they always win.
It is past my bedtime, and I am rage crying. I hate rage crying. It usually involves lots of snot and swearing, which is why I try to hide in the bathroom when doing it.
I don’t rage cry often, but occasionally something comes along that viscerally reminds me of what I already know but hate to acknowledge: In a patriarchy, men always win.
Most days the dehumanization of being a member of the “fairer sex” doesn’t bother me too much. I made my peace with the utterly outrageous years ago.
OK, that’s bullshit. I can’t seem to help myself, I fight it all the time. And while I have made peace with the war, I still sometimes (stupidly) hope that we might be winning. For a day or maybe a week, my spirit dares to soar, like the freaky flighty optimist that I sometimes can be. But when the inevitable comes, when I’m reminded that men always win, I crumble. And I end up in my bathroom, open mouth rage sobbing.
Emotionally, I keep betting on this game as if it isn’t rigged.
What has pushed me over the edge this time is the settlement that Gretchen Carlson—the former “Fox & Friends” co-host who accused Fox News’ then-Chairman Roger Ailes of sexual harassment—has reached with Fox News. On paper, it looks like a win. In fact, according to the New York Times, the payout of $20 million dollars is thought to be the largest single-plaintiff settlement for a sexual harassment case on record.
So yes, Carlson won a really good financial settlement. And Fox News even apologized, kind of, in a half-assed sort of way.
But what Fox News paid Carlson was just half of the $40 million that it willingly paid her harasser when it could have fired him with cause and paid him absolutely nothing.
But that is just how it goes in our culture. It is what it means to be a woman in a patriarchy: Men always win. It may look like we have won sometimes, but in the end, they always win.
What makes the settlement especially galling is that Carlson didn’t sue Fox News. She sued Ailes personally. That was because the terms of her contract with Fox News would have required her to submit to arbitration. The requirement for arbitration was a lovely bit of legal maneuvering that Fox had been using to keep Ailes’ many victims quiet for years.
Carlson and her lawyers outfoxed Fox by suing Ailes directly, and in New Jersey, where he has a home. It worked, or at least it seemed to have. But then Fox stepped in and took over the suit claiming it was Ailes’ legal indemnifier. As a result, Fox not only settled the case, they are paying the entire settlement for Ailes.
That means that Ailes has not only escaped any consequences for his behavior, he has come out $40 million richer for sexually harassing Carlson.
You do not give a man $40 million in severance, defend him in a lawsuit, and pay off his accusers when you have overwhelming evidence that he is a sexual predator. In fact, you do not give him anything at all. What you do is try to refrain from spitting on him while you wait for the security guards to come and escort him off the premises.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t feel like Carlson should have held out for more. As sexual harassment settlements go, she did exceptionally well. And as much as I believe that the settlement should have included an admission of guilt by Ailes, rather than the half-assed apology issued by Fox, I don’t believe Carlson owes anyone an explanation for what she took or left on the table.
What makes me so outraged is that we live in such a colossally fucked up and rigged system that it made sense to Fox News to pay Roger Ailes a single cent. By the time they agreed to give him $40 million rather than firing him for cause, they had absolute proof that he was a predatory serial sexual harasser. Their investigators had taken the statements of at least 24 women accusing him of sexual harassment in addition to recorded conversations in which he explicitly and grotesquely harassed Carlson.
It didn’t matter that it was 24 women’s word against one man’s. They still would not fire him with cause. They still defended him in the lawsuit. They still paid the entire judgment.
This is how it is in our society.
You finally bring your rapist to trial, but not until he is nearly 80, after he has raped more than a dozen other women, and when words like deterrent and justice have lost most of their meaning. Or your rapist is found guilty, but he serves less time than if he had been carrying a blunt. Or as in this case, you conduct a successful daring sting to collect evidence that your boss is engaged in disgusting serial sexual harassment, but he isn’t fired for cause. He is given a severance package twice as much as the settlement you have to share your with lawyers, and he is immediately brought onto a presidential campaign.
The other women of Fox News still want to talk to investigators about what happened to them under Ailes’ management. But, of course, no one wants to listen. As one person associated with the process told Vanity Fair, “the purpose is not a therapy session for the women involved.”
The inconvenient truth that those of us who have survived highly sexist cultures know is that the more sexist a group’s message, the more abuse of women you will find. Benevolent patriarchy, like benevolent slavery, is an oxymoron.
So it is never a matter of if abuse will happen in environments of unfettered male control like Fox News, it is a matter of how bad it will get before some woman has finally had enough and breaks feminist.
The Fox feminist awakening started when Megyn Kelly took extreme exception to a conservative guest who claimed that maternity leave was a feminist racket. It came into clearer view when Kelly took on Donald Trump in the debates and then refused to back down when Ailes demanded it. And now some are saying that a full-fledged feminist hero is rising out of the Fox network in the person of Gretchen Carlson.
Modern miracles like the Hillary Clinton candidacy and the Fox feminist awakening are why I still believe that, while men always win, it is a temporary state of affairs. We will reach a tipping point, that day when women no longer need to experience abuse to break feminist and men no longer need special education to be allies.
Eventually, a rape conviction will mean something even for a slick white boy. One day, proof of sexual harassment will bring shame and financial pain to the harasser. Eventually, a female leader will be judged on her merits, not who her husband fucked or how likeable the gentleman of the press find her. Before long, a battered woman will be entitled to a life free from her abuser. None of those things will happen today, but there will be a day when women start winning.
There I go, hoping again. Will I never learn?
Lynn Beisner writes about family, social justice issues, and the craziness of daily life. Her work can be found on Role Reboot, Alternet, and on her blog: Two Parts Smart-Ass; One Part Wisdom. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.