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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fox News Is a Cesspool of Sexism. Firing Roger Ailes Won't Fix That

Roger Ailes. (photo: Jim Cooper/AP)
Roger Ailes. (photo: Jim Cooper/AP)

By Jessica Valenti, Guardian UK
With or without its leader, this is a network that bans its female on-air talent from wearing pants and the coverage is shockingly antagonistic to women’s rights
his week, all signs point to Roger Ailes being fired from his position as head of Fox News. If ousted, it will be over sexual harassment claims – poetic justice at its very best. This is a man presiding over a network with a legendary disdain for women and women’s rights, taken down by a woman, Gretchen Carlson, who was the target of some of the worst of it. 

Carlson alleges, among other things, that Ailes told her, “You and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago, and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.” He said this, amazingly, in a meeting about sexual harassment. Carlson also claims that her contract wasn’t renewed as direct retaliation for complaining about the pervasive harassment and sexism she faced.

And New York Magazine reported on Tuesday that Megyn Kelly says Ailes sexually harassed her as well, and that she’s told as much to Fox investigators. As more women come forward about Ailes – while others are perhaps unable to because of non-disparagement clauses in their employment contracts – the likelihood of his “resignation” increases. (Fox News denies a decision has been made.)

But removing one lascivious man can’t turn around the mess of misogyny that is Fox News. This is a network that bans its female on-air talent from wearing pants, where a host characterized a military operation against Isis led by a woman as “boobs on the ground” and the ethos of the coverage is shockingly antagonistic to women’s rights.

There was the time, for example, that Fox contributor Erik Erickson said that men should be “dominant” over women in families. Or when an all-male panel bemoaned the rise of female breadwinners in the United States. Or when a host wondered if there was something about the female brain that was a “deterrent” to being a business executive. Or, my personal favorite, when Andrea Tantaros suggested that a female high school teacher who sexually abused a student did so because of … feminism. 

Oh, and these are just incidents from one year at the network.

I have no doubt that the leadership of a man who may have told a woman “you might have to give a blowjob every once in a while” for him to help with her career would impact the tone of coverage on women at Fox News. But the disparagement of women at Fox, whether its employees or its viewers, isn’t just about Ailes. So long as the network is a mouthpiece for the right, it will continue to reflect outdated notions about women’s roles.

The entire conservative movement is built on a foundation that assumes traditional gender roles are best, that women belong in the home and that it is natural for men to be sexually aggressive. That is not a problem that begins or ends with one man; it’s a problem with an entire vision of politics and society.

As feminism becomes more and more powerful, as women refuse to take harassment and slights sitting down, bosses and leaders like Ailes will find it harder to make excuses for their horrible behavior. But if we’re thinking bigger, I can’t help but hope as the presidential election draws closer that this trend will broaden, and women will deliver a clear message to the country’s most famous misogynist: you’re fired.

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