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At Fox News, Sexism Is Business

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At Fox News, Sexism Is Business

Gretchen Carlson Fox News sexism

What to make of Gretchen Carlson’s suit against Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes alleging sexual harassment? If Ailes did demand sex as a condition of her employment and Carlson can prove it, then she’d seem to have a good case.

But other complaints about “inappropriate” behavior at Fox News don’t sit quite right: So she was mocked on the air over her high hemlines and paid slithering compliments about “looking good today.” On the air, a male co-host pulled down her arm to shut her up. I mean, what ballpark did she think she was playing in?

With a few exceptions, the Fox News sets purposely pair men in business attire with women in sleeveless, short dresses — some featuring adorable peekaboo cutouts revealing cleavage. You don’t need a fashion anthropologist to tell you that this dress code screams inferior status.

I hit upon “Fox & Friends” on Saturday morning when the discussion centered on the Dallas tragedy. There was Abby Huntsman, all arms and legs in a flamingo-pink dress, flanked by two male anchors encased in conservative business suits with ties. Huntsman was offering the smartest commentary, but how many viewers took notice?

It’s not just Fox News Channel. All over TV you see women doing news dressed for the cover of Cosmo. The need to play the babe is why so many newswomen get yanked off the air the moment they age. Carlson herself is now 50.

(It’s especially painful to watch one of the survivors, Andrea Mitchell at 69, displaying arms and legs alongside fully dressed men with lesser intellects. It does not matter that she’s in terrific shape.)

Carlson sat on the “Fox & Friends” set for years as an accomplice. She soldiered through the lame sexist joshing. She once stomped off the set in seeming complaint but came back saying she was kidding. Her recent book praised and thanked Ailes with profusion.

Now, we can say this is entertainment. She was hired to perform as the ditzy foil to the men. The formula includes a revolt against politically correct feminism.

Whatever. In the age of hipster androgyny, the female hootchy-kootchy on Fox News Channel seems increasingly dated. It may account in part for CNN’s narrowing the ratings gap with the once-dominant Fox News, particularly among younger viewers.

The fashion industry has been in on promoting retrograde aesthetics for working women. Decades ago, there was a brief “dress for success” movement, urging women to wear suits in professional settings. But the notion of women getting by with a work wardrobe of five business uniforms — as men do — could not be tolerated. Women in suits with those floppy bow ties were quickly made fun of. The message was: You can flaunt your femininity at the office and be powerful at the same time. That women in well-tailored suits are actually quite alluring (check out the Hitchcock movie heroines) got lost in the demands of selling fast fashion.

Some may argue that enduring fraternity-level taunts was the only way some of these women could get on camera, become famous and make good money. That may be so. And I won’t begrudge their trading dignity for fame and fortune, if that’s their wish and they don’t pretend otherwise.

The main problem with Carlson’s suit is the timing. It was filed only after the network decided to not renew her contract. While gainfully employed, she helped advance a business model that championed overt sexism. And that’s why the sisterhood probably isn’t losing a lot of sleep over Carlson’s case, even as it quietly hopes she prevails.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.

Photo: Screenshot via YouTube

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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  1. Leftout July 14, 2016

    She belongs where other mature, good looking females retire , channels as CNN , where sexual activity is no longer going on….. Notes from Wolf Blitzer.

  2. Dominick Vila July 14, 2016

    The treatment women get at FOX, and I am not talking about sexual harassment only, is consistent with what its audience and some political candidates think of professional women. For them, women are just a sex object, something pretty that belongs at home taking care of the kids and baking cookies. That mindset influences their behavior and decisions, including the overt antagonism they currently direct at Hillary Clinton…and directed at every former VP female candidate. The excuse, I support female candidates, but not this one, is wearing thin, and only resonates among those who understand and share the same beliefs.

    1. Box July 14, 2016

      I dont think its any station or any audience, its that one feeds off the other until, as we have, sunk to the bottom. They have racheted each other down. Im not a prude but I was appalled over the years at the force stations used against weather girls to to become one step up from naked while men remained in suits.

      I’ll add my voice to those who do not support Hillary but do support women. Since you mentioned it, the last good VP candidate was Geraldine Ferraro and i DID go for her at a time it was blasphemy to support a woman. But, interestingly, Ferarro got bounced and trounced by Reagan when her finances couldnt hold up to investigative scrutiny. She was thrown out for 1% of what Hillary is accused of and thats what im saying is wrong with the country. We have no morals at all, the best we can muster are two a-moral candidates to whom we hold no standard at all.

      In all fairness to ourselves as better meaning people, both should be bounced by the citizenry and neither one elected. This isnt a pitch for another candidate, we have to hold ourselves to a higher minimum standard even if these two (or three) jackals wont. Prove it and boycott the election. Im all for it.

      I took that stand after Obama was elected the second time. i unregistered myself. Lately I have the online voter registration page sitting on my desktop but so far cant bring myself to use it. Choosing between two bad candidates isnt new. Whats new is that these candidates are not even on the radar of reasonableness. Screw them all.

      I didnt used to say that. The last best candidates were Dukakis, potentially Mario Cuomo and the best of all in my mind, Paul Tsongas. Look how far we have fallen. Dukakis got bounced and ruined because someone he let out of prison committed a crime again, thats it. Cuomo got bounced because of his wife’s side had alleged connections to the mafia. Tsongas was the least sexy candidate and extremely intelligent. Couldnt hold a candle to Bill Clintons haircut. Compare all of that to Hillary’s baggage and TODAY its all acceptable? BS!! Cmon we know better than that.

      1. A. D. Reed July 15, 2016

        Please don’t register and vote this year.

        1. Box July 15, 2016

          Wrong answer.

          1. Independent1 July 16, 2016

            The only people who should be allowed to vote are those with an IQ over 50; and given the vast majority of your nonsensical posts – you clearly don’t qualify.

          2. A. D. Reed July 16, 2016

            You’re the one who proclaimed you have “unregistered” yourself and “cant [sic] bring myself to use” the registration form sitting on your desktop.

            So I’m just encouraging you to go with your instincts. Stay home, don’t register, don’t vote. Stew in your juices of disappointment and resentment and self-righteousness about Mrs. Ferraro (whose husband’s involvement with the Mafia made Donald Trump look like a piker).

            Be true to yourself, and don’t think outside the …
            Don’t vote.

  3. Box July 14, 2016

    Only Fox? No other station ever had plunging clothes on females? Fine, put everyone including guests in burqas and enjoy your ratings.

    1. Bud Friend July 14, 2016

      Hope your eyes. Then you will know why.

    2. DOC July 14, 2016

      Because they are so holy. O’Reilly wife daughter beater but that just makes them fair and balance. Smile

  4. Karen July 14, 2016

    I have often had some of the same thoughts when it comes to women sportscasters.

  5. Bud Friend July 14, 2016

    Just look at how FOX presents Megan Kelly. They have her sitting under a glass desk, If you will, in a short skirt. Her knees tightly closed.

    It’s supposedly a news program. And, Mr. Aisles approves.

    To add more fodder, 90% of all FOX females look to be sisters. With hair color and hem lines exactly the same.

    Draw your own conclusions. I have.

    1. FT66 July 14, 2016

      Not only Megyn Kelly is ordered to sit that way, there is also Kimberly G. of the show known (THE FIVE). She is always sitting at the same position where the camera is always rolling and showing her legs. Not a single day she changes the position where she sits daily.

    1. jmprint July 14, 2016

      Look, but don’t touch.

    2. JPHALL July 14, 2016

      But not at the frat house!

  6. Raymond Lavine July 14, 2016

    It is titled Fox News

    a. It should be titled Fox InfoTainment.
    b. We are biased and unfairly balanced InfoTainment Company.
    c. We hire women and men who proceed with a script and look pretty.
    d. We have lawyer and contracts which are biased towards Fox interest.
    e. Play by our rules and look pretty and we will let you work for Fox InfoTainment.
    f. Women must be compliant and available for inappropriate behavior because we
    talk about being whatever kind of Christian you maybe and say “I am a Conservative”
    and women, you know what you need to do.

  7. notafoxfan July 14, 2016

    it certainly has taken a while for people to see the “window dressing” in fox news women reporters,anchors and pundits..even if ms Carlson loses her lawsuit,she has brought back an old (everything old id new again)issue that had been swept under the rug..i certainly noticed a long time ago that most of the fox new “beauties” are blonde (maybe a few brunettes),wear tight fitting dresses with a tiny bit of cut out for exposure,high heels,no jackets and a lot of eye makeup..even that exrtremely irritating woman who used to be a judge and has defended ailes dresses accordingly.that is not reporting the news, that’s a “miss America” beauty contest with the men being “in charge”….

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  10. AgLander July 16, 2016

    Bill Clinton’s response: “Did someone mention sex? Hey, babe…count me in, just as long as it doesn’t involve Hillary!”


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