Commentary: Bill O’Reilly might be gone, but equality for women is a long way off

By Janet Williams
TheStatehouseFile.com 

I don’t know of any woman who hasn’t been subjected to some form of sexual harassment or discrimination.

Maybe she was accosted by a gaggle of middle-aged men at a swimming pool, grabbed by the crotch in the kitchen where she had her first job, or propositioned at the police station where she was checking on crime reports.

Janet Williams, editor, TheStatehouseFile.com

Most women I know have experienced these kinds of indignities or worse. When it happens in the workplace, the focus almost always falls on the woman, not the harasser. It becomes about her motives, attire, attitude and appearance, whatever it takes to deflect from the perpetrator.

And if the woman is believed, the employer might push her to back off with lines like “he’ll lose his job” or “he has a family to support.” Like it’s her fault if his family gets hurt.

Our president’s vulgar comments last summer brought all of this to mind and his election seemed to be at least a partial statement that being a sexist predator is no big deal.

That is why the Fox News decision to give Bill O’Reilly the ax this week is so satisfying. Finally, a predator is brought to heel.

Finally.

Seriously, though, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about what Fox did to O’Reilly. Nothing.

Did Fox fire him after the first complaint and the multi-million-dollar settlement?

No.

How about the second?

No again.

Nor after the third, fourth or fifth.

In fact, if Fox’s sorry history of paying off the most egregious cases hadn’t been uncovered by The New York Times, O’Reilly might well be back on TV every night bloviating as usual.

Even then, it wasn’t until the money began drying up as advertisers dropped his show that Fox’s position changed and the network’s executives jettisoned him and his show.

At least capitalism works. Never mind that he bullied and harassed numerous women over the years, even if only a fraction of the mounting complaints are true.

No, it was pure, unadulterated capitalism that proved his undoing.

We can hope the ouster of O’Reilly and his former boss, Roger Ailes, ushers in a better, fairer work environment for the women who continue to labor at Fox News.

But let’s not kid ourselves that this will lead to big changes in Fox’s workplace, or any workplace for that matter. We still have a man in the White House who, under the best circumstances, is a serial womanizer and at worst? Well, all of America heard the recordings that were made public last summer.

At least we have a vice president who is a model of gentlemanly behavior. I mean, he won’t even go to lunch alone with a woman who is not his wife.

And yes, that leads us to a whole new set of issues. It makes me wonder which is worse — a man who harasses his female subordinates or one who has so little respect for their professionalism that he cannot be alone with them.

Years ago when I was in my first reporting job at a small chain of weekly newspapers the publisher walked into the newsroom and remarked that it was nice to see all the lovely young ladies working there.

By nice he meant cheap because that paper paid all us of a lot less than the men who had been hired at the same time. When I asked about the raise I was promised after learning a male colleague who started three months after me got one I was told that sorry, not in the budget. When I pressed him about my co-worker’s raise the response was that he was getting married and would have a wife to support. He needed the money.

From Bill O’Reilly to the publisher who paid women in the newsroom less than the men the message is the same: women are objects and don’t deserve the same professional respect and treatment as their male counterparts.

Goodbye, Mr. O’Reilly. I really hope I don’t have to hear from you again.

But let’s not kid ourselves that his firing is anything more than a business decision. What happens to the women in the workplace is an afterthought and that long fight for equality continues.

Janet Williams is editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. She can be reached at jwilliams4@franklincollege.edu. 

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