BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. Bob Garfield is away this week. I’m Brooke Gladstone. To read the news over the past two weeks is to get the sense that at least in the nation's most elite precincts the party’s finally over.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Hollywood director James Toback now being accused by at least 38 women of sexual harassment and assault.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Lockhart Steele fired from Vox Media after allegations of sexual harassment on which he admitted his guilt.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: New Orleans celebrity chef John Besh now accused of allowing a toxic culture in his restaurants, from the kitchens to the front offices.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: The Wall Street Journal says that a Fidelity Investments tech fund manager has resigned.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: In January, Bill O'Reilly struck a $32 million agreement with a longtime network analyst to settle allegations of sexual misconduct.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Amazon’s Roy Price also resigned today, after being put on leave last week after an allegation of sexual harassment.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Five women say Mark Halperin sexually harassed them while he was an executive at ABC News.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Since the news of disgraced Miramax cofounder Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predations, accusations have been lodged and apologies issued from men in Hollywood, journalism, the food industry and, yes, even the presidency.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: President George H.W. Bush is responding to allegations being made by an actress who is accusing him of sexual assault.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And countless others: Leon Wieseltier, editor at the New Republic for three decades, accused of sexual harassment, Nickelodeon producer Chris Savino, Silicon Valley tech evangelist Robert Scoble, Ben Affleck, Elie Wiesel. Suddenly, the silence women kept to hold onto a job or advance in one is now a price too high to pay.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Millions of women joining the “me too” campaign to speak out about sexual harassment and assault.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: The campaign began with actress Alyssa Milano who tweeted, quote, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Suddenly, what was always dismissed as a regrettable occupational hazard is acknowledged as a crime. It certainly seems as if we're in a moment, it seems.
Lin Farley is a journalist, author and coiner of the phrase “sexual harassment.” It was the mid-‘70s. She was teaching a field study course at Cornell, on women and work, and decided to hold a consciousness-raising session with her students to talk about their experiences on the job. And -- be warned, there is some graphic language in her account.
LIN FARLEY: Every single one of these kids had already had an experience of having either been forced to quit a job or been fired because they had rejected the sexual overtures of a boss, a manager or whatever, So when I left the class, I thought that we needed to have a name for what this phenomenon was. We all needed to be talking about the same thing. And so, I went to my colleagues at work, I went to other women, we brainstormed. We just couldn't come up with the right phrase. I thought, well, the closest I can get is “sexual harassment of women at work.” Everything from phrases that referenced sex to touching, all the way up to forced sexual relations, it runs the whole gamut.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: My understanding is that it wasn't taken seriously as an occupational hazard before it had a name.
LIN FARLEY: That’s true. Everybody dealt with it differently. Women didn't basically understand that they were all experiencing the same thing. It was something that we all talked about but because we didn’t have a name, we didn't know we were all talking about the same thing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Your work, your phrase drew some huge attention, thanks to a 1975 New York Times article called, “Women Begin to Speak Out Against Sexual Harassment at Work.” And by the end of the ‘70s, you'd written a book on it called Sexual Shakedown, and that was turned into a documentary narrated by Ed Asner. Your ideas were spreading but was society changing too?
LIN FARLEY: You started to see lawsuits. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you know, went into high gear. They came up with their own guidelines, so that women could bring suits, and women did bring suits. Michael Hausfeld, a very well-known attorney, took the case of Diane Williams, a black woman who sued the Justice Department. It was a very early case.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Did she win?
LIN FARLEY: Yes, she did, Williams v. Saxbe. It was one of the landmark cases that set the direction for sexual harassment law, to this day. It was embraced by corporations and businesses. The Workplace Hustle, the movie that you reference earlier with Ed Asner --
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
LIN FARLEY: -- that was shown as a training film practically by every major corporation [LAUGHS] in America.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You wrote last week in The New York Times op-ed that corporations have stolen the term, that they’ve made it bloodless?
LIN FARLEY: “Sexual harassment” has become a phrase that we don't really understand. We don't really grasp what it means to be a secretary and to have your boss walk in every morning and say, “Hi ya, tits, how’re they hangin’ today?” This is what a secretary told me. This was her life. And she finally quit. And the point I’m trying to make here is we have to tell the details. People are shocked when they find out that the guy is coming in at noon and saying, “Okay, honey, meet me in the back room, I want a blow job.” But you see what I’m saying? The point needs to be made that we are not permitting the details --
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm --
LIN FARLEY: -- the reality of sexual harassment at the public level and so, people do not understand how serious it is. They think, oh, these women are being frivolous. It’s not frivolous! You know, if this is going to be made a condition of your employment, then the country needs to know that and not just cover it up with the polite phrase of “sexual-harassment.”
But beyond behavior like that, you have young girls, working class kids, for the most part, who are trying to get jobs in fast-food places because they have to work, and you have fast- food managers systematically using sexual harassment to keep turnover high, so they don't have to unionize, they don’t have to give higher wages. You could go out and write a blockbuster book about it tomorrow. It’s one of the huge scandals going on in America today.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So this is what you mean when you say the phrase and the concept needs to return to the ugly thing that it is, that it’s been --
LIN FARLEY: Exactly!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- cleansed because polite society doesn't want to talk about what is an unspeakable kind of transgression.
Let’s put it that way.
LIN FARLEY: That’s right. People are saying, but we can’t prove that. That’s one reason that you see sexual harassment’s being defanged. But the other reason is we have not been able, in 40 years, to change the basic dynamic at work that fosters sexual harassment. If we had more women managers, supervisors, bosses, this problem would slowly disappear. It’s all well and good that we have all these actresses, famous names, household icons coming forward but this whole thing about the casting couch in Hollywood, it’s explosive now but it's really old news.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s old news but I was talking to someone who has studied the history of Hollywood for a long time and especially Hollywood gossip and what she observed is that through the decades gossip rags have always been obsessed with women's sexuality, but now the gaze has moved to the abuser. So the parade of starlets, but not just starlets, they’re offering precisely the details, in many cases, that you say we need to have an informed discussion and move forward. Do you see this as a, a real change because she has never seen this before?
LIN FARLEY: Well, I think if we can stick with the stories and the truth of the stories, yes, it’s a big leap forward for the issue. But nobody pays any attention to the kids at the fast food places all across the country. How does Angelina Jolie being sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein, or Gretchen Carlson at Fox, how do they help these kids at McDonald's? How does that help them? Nobody cares about them. The only reason we’re getting publicity now is because it’s some of the major actresses in the movie industry. So everybody's, ah, oh, oh, oh and all excited. And I'm not saying it's not valuable, okay?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
LIN FARLEY: But, at the same time, I can look around and point to all these 15-, 16-year-old girls being taught right away the only way they’re going to get ahead in this world, kiddie, is if you put out, if you have sex with the boss or you let him feel you up. Nobody gives a damn.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Lin, thank you very much.
LIN FARLEY: Oh, you’re welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Lin Farley is the author of Sexual Shakedown: the Sexual Harassment of Women on the Job. Her upcoming book, still in progress, is The Secret World of Men: Men’s Attitudes, Beliefs, Fantasies and Desires With Regard to Women and Children.
Coming up, an in-depth look at the death of Eric Garner and the stories we tell ourselves about it.
MATT TAIBBI: Somebody loses his or her temper for a few seconds and somebody dies and we should all be very upset about it. In fact, what we should be mad about are the decisions made in quiet contemplation that become policies.