Just this week, NYMag published an article about the women who took down Fox News Founder and former CEO Roger Ailes. The story followed the plight of women including former Fox & Friends anchor Gretchen Carlson and leading Fox favorite Megyn Kelly, who united to take down “the most powerful, and predatory, man in media.”
What NYMag fails to realize, though, as they rally around women and a women-centered justice model, is the stark truth that it’s patriarchy that prevailed.
Make no mistake: Women didn’t take down Roger Ailes. Ailes was positioned in such a way that pushing him over the edge was made easier by the allegations. Power and favor have a way of pulling men in and pushing them out, and it’s exactly this reality that maintains corruption especially when it’s convenient to do so.
But women united! More than two dozen Fox News women came forward about the harassment at Ailes’ hand. It was eventually the accusation by “the future of the network,” Megyn Kelly, that cemented Ailes’ fate and signed his severance package.
This, too, was strategic. As much as we talk about women Leaning In, women themselves know when to lean out. They understand best that there’s a time and a place for allegations, which is what kept so many silent for so many years.
From the article, “When Carlson filed her suit, 21st Century Fox executive chairman Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, were in Sun Valley, Idaho, attending the annual Allen & Company media conference. James and Lachlan, who were not fans of Ailes’s, had been taking on bigger and bigger roles in the company in recent years (technically, and much to his irritation, Ailes has reported to them since June 2015), and they were quick to recognize the suit as both a big problem — and an opportunity.”
Again and again we mistake a culminating set of circumstances for “justice,” and with the subject of feminism sweeping front pages across the country, it’s all too easy to call this a victory for the working woman…when in fact it’s anything but.
What if Ailes’ hadn’t been using his network to push an unpopular presidential candidate, didn’t have a “volcanic temper,” and wasn’t a “management disaster”? The women in this suit are fortunate indeed to be accusing such an unlikeable figure with a history of bad behavior. Because the truth is this: Most predators aren’t easy to spot in a crowd. In a few short days, Ailes was ousted from the public sphere while years later men like Cosby are unapologetically defended by stars including Whoopi Goldberg and CeeLo Green.
If Ailes hadn’t made himself a “true liablity” as NYMag put it, anchors would have been pressured by Fox to give scathing accounts about the accuser and laudatory ones about the accused. There would be promotions thrown around and slush funds tapped into for political favors. The Murdochs would sign off on a comprehensive retirement package and begin the process of fazing out Ailes in 3-5 years’ time. Alternatively, they would wait until numbers were low and performance weak to drudge up accusations as a scapegoat for terminating his employment.
That’s just in the case of a media conglomerate. The reality for many women who find themselves in similar situations is much bleaker: days that turn into weeks of dehumanizing meetings with a Human Resources department that protects the interests of the business, a measly pay increase coupled with the threat of termination, and–if you’re lucky–internal moves that would (temporarily) put a supervisor between you and the accused.
In any case, Carlson, Kelly, and the dozen or so women who came forward would not have united to bring down a powerful man just as they were not responsible for the fall of Roger Ailes in this circumstance. Audre Lourde said it best: The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. For as long as men in power maneuver the women around them for gain–or loss–it shouldn’t count as a victory for women.