For years Gretchen Carlson announced headlines on television, discussing the biggest stories of the day before she found her own story in the headlines. Since coming forward to fight the sexual harassment she said she endured at work, Gretchen brought to light the enormity of the problem and the challenge of solving it.
“We need to encourage women to stop being silent, stand up and speak up and join the movement. Together we can make change.” — Gretchen Carlson
In her book BE FIERCE: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back, the long-time journalist continues the conversation, documenting the voices of dozens of women who shared with her their own stories and providing the necessary steps for men and women to combat harassment in the office and beyond.
I spoke with Gretchen about BE FIERCE for a glimpse of what’s in the book and why writing it became her most important project.
Q: Tell me about your book, BE FIERCE, and the process of writing it.
GRETCHEN CARLSON: It was definitely cathartic in the sense that it brought back a lot of experiences I had gone through. Though I didn’t write it for me. The real impetus for writing BE FIERCE was all the women that reached out to me after I went public. They shared their own stories of pain and agony and shame and their stories were really the rallying cry for me.
A lot of people said to me, “You could have just walked away, gone back to raising your kids.” But I felt a sense of duty. I wanted to continue to be the voice of this important issue. I’ve never before given up on a challenge or a goal that’s before me. And since then, we have seen others coming forward. I’m so proud to have had even a small part in that. It’s a national dialogue that’s necessary, a conversation that needed to be had.
But the main reason for writing BE FIERCE is that it takes immense courage to stand up to a powerful person at work. I wanted the indignities I endured, that so many others have endured, to not be there anymore by the time my (then 14-year-old) daughter gets to the workforce. That was the central focus of the book.
Q: What surprised you most about the stories you heard that you include in the book?
GRETCHEN CARLSON: This happens everywhere. It cuts across every section of every profession – nurses, journalists, bankers, truck drivers. It’s everywhere. Even in female-oriented businesses you find it. And these women feel they are not being heard. So, to serve as a voice for them in going public, in calling attention to this difficult issue, my victory is a victory for everyone who has felt silenced.
Q: When you decided to call attention to the harassment you experienced, you likened it to “diving off a cliff.” How did you arrive at the point that you were courageous enough to take that leap?
GRETCHEN CARLSON: You know, building courage is not an overnight thing like switching on a light switch. It takes time to build up that courage. We live in an environment where women are scorned if they come forward. We’re called troublemakers, we’re a bitch, we can’t take a joke. Our careers may be ruined. Coming to the decision to speak out is not an easy one and it was the biggest professional decision of my life. It’s not something that you just casually approach.
Building courage is a lifelong process, that’s my message in the book. Being fierce is analogous to building courage. And it’s being fierce in all aspects of life. Being fierce in any way that we are being subjugated or put down or made to feel less than. That starts early with bullying in school and continues through how we value and speak of women to things like equal pay and discrimination. And it’s not just a message for women. I have an entire chapter about parenting and the role parents need to play as well as another chapter, the longest in the book, about the role men play.
Q: Speaking of that, how can men best help?
GRETCHEN CARLSON: They can help immensely by not being enablers I hold enablers just as accountable for not standing up to the tone of a corporation. We have to do this together. BE FIERCE is not against men. At all. The reason my chapter on men is the longest chapter in the book is that I found so many great guys doing things to help. And I document stories about men who stood up for women and faced retaliation as well. The corporate culture seems to protect the harassers. So, I’d ask men to stand up if you see something, even just saying “I don’t speak that way” or “I don’t like to hear talk like that” can help stop it. That, to me, is crucial.
When I walk around New York City (my hometown), more men have approached me than women to say thank you. They say thank you for my daughters. I know men care. They don’t want my story to happen to their daughters. And it starts inside the home. It is crucial for dads to get involved to set wonderful role model examples. And how you parent your sons is actually more important, to respect women, they are learning that in the home right now. We can all start with some self-reflection about the language we use and how we parent our children.
Q: In my storytelling workshops, I talk about the importance of finding a Cast of Supporting Characters. How did your Cast of Supporting Characters change throughout this ordeal?
GRETCHEN CARLSON: You find out who your friends are. I have lived most of my adult life with thick skin and that came from being Miss America at 22 years old. It was like my entire life before then didn’t count. Like I hadn’t been an accomplished violinist or Oxford scholar. People made judgments. After I spoke out, it hurt that I didn’t hear from certain people that I really wanted to hear from. People don’t know what to say or are worried about bothering you but it would have meant a lot to have received even a line from them. But then so many others did reach out and it was to share their story, not mine. And I realized I had a greater purpose here in serving as a voice for them.
My new cast of supporters would be people who weren’t aware of who the real Gretchen Carlson was. A lot of people who didn’t know me that well have seen me in a different light now. I’ve always been a huge supporter of women. I’ve mentored women. I’ve always fought for equal pay. This has always been who I am. I haven’t changed. This has just given me the opportunity to further demonstrate that important side of myself.
Q: If you had to title this current chapter in your life, what would you call it?
GRETCHEN CARLSON: I’m going to call this one Being Fierce. I’m wearing a bracelet that says Be Fierce. My other motto is Carpe Diem. I got that message from an English teacher back in 10th grade at the bottom of a paper instead of a grade. I had to go to the library to look up what it meant. So, “Seize the Day.” That has stayed with me. It starts with how I approach every day. That is my story.
Q: You are a former Miss America, a long-time journalist, a wife, a mother of two, one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2017, and an author and an advocate. What’s in Gretchen Carlson’s next chapter?
GRETCHEN CARLSON: My life has worked in mysterious ways. I’ve veered on many different courses. I was supposed to be a lawyer. Who knew I’d win Miss America and go on to work in TV? I love to work and plan on returning to full-time work. Perhaps in TV, but maybe not the traditional version of TV. But what I’m doing now is several full-time jobs. I’ve set up a fund called Gift of Courage. I am financially supporting organizations that support women and girls and proceeds from the book will go toward the fund. I just announced a speaking tour through the Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative (GCLI) which is being offered free for underprivileged women to learn about domestic violence and sexual harassment and how to become more politically engaged to create change. And seeking other voices You know, how can you help a single mom working a minimum-wage job who is being harassed? We’re working on solutions for that.
I’m doing some advocacy work on Capitol Hill, working on gathering bipartisan support to take the secrecy out of arbitration. You know the forced arbitration in employment contracts makes these things secret. We have to stop the silence around it.
So it’s a lot of full-time jobs. These missions are keeping me busy. I’m able to use the incredibly great perspective I’ve gotten from the last 12-15 months of my life in ways that I know are important. I’m proud that I’m doing what I said I would do.