IT HAPPENED TO US: Almost Every xoJane Staffer Has Been Sexually Harassed, And We’re Telling Our Stories

Read them all in their disgusting detail.
Publish date:
August 10, 2016
media, sexual harassment, Gender Discrimination

If you haven’t read this creepy New York Magazine story about Laurie Luhn, the former talent booker who says former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes harassed her for 20 YEARS while she was at Fox News, it’s 100 percent worth your time. The Ailes news keeps unfolding, too, with investigators now looking into which executives knew what about Ailes' alleged behavior toward Luhn and many, many others. The Ailes story broke in July when Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him — allegations that he denied. Since then, almost 20 women have come forward and accused Ailes of sexual harassment.

Caitlin brought the (awful, horrible, unforgettable) NY Mag story up at our staff meeting last week, and soon after that, Jane, Marci, Caitlin, and I (P.S. hi! I'm Jamie) jumped in with our own stories of being sexually harassed at work (four out of five of us had at LEAST one). Later, I asked everyone on staff to tell me their worst, most memorable story in vivid detail, because, as yes-all-women know, sexual harassment is much more commonplace than anyone likes to think:

Jane told me she had to sit through an inappropriate dinner under the guise of work back when she was working for Fox, which was headed up by none other than Roger Ailes:

The two most egregious incidents of sexual harassment at work that I've experienced in my long, long career were one that I wrote about here and another one that actually involved Roger Ailes in some way. I've been reliving the Ailes one constantly as I'm reading the accounts of all of these other ("strong," by the way, misters Trump!) women who were sexually harassed while working in his organization.

What happened was, back when I hosted a talk show called Jane on Fox, Roger Ailes was our big boss. After my show debuted, an older male host who had been with Roger and Fox forever asked me to go out to dinner. (He was a cohost of a news show in New York.) I didn't want to go, but my producers and I agreed that it was important for me to get the support of these established Fox insiders, who also had this host's ear, in order to get the support we wanted for my show. So I said yes to the dinner invitation and went, genuinely thinking that we were going to talk about my performance as a first-time TV show host and how it could be improved and how he and others in the organization could help support the show.

The main quote I remember from him from that night was early on in the dinner, when he said, "When I first saw you, my heart went pitter-pat." He talked about the dress I was wearing when he first saw me. Then he put his hand on my knee under the table, which by the way had been (at his request) a little two-top in the corner of this small and relatively empty restaurant. I pushed his hand off of my knee and brought the conversation around to business stuff. From there, his demeanor completely changed. He said a lot of negative things about my talk show and left the restaurant fairly quickly.

[To to be all ethically fair and balanced, we reached out to the host for comment. I didn't reach out myself because yuck, but Dan did and he never got back to us. We'll update it if he does. -Jane]

Then Marci had this upsetting story about being reprimanded for telling someone she was harassed at her newspaper job:

A more senior male staffer at a regional newspaper I briefly worked at in my mid-20s approached me as I was refilling our department's coffee maker. I was wearing a necklace with big orange beads, and he slowly reached out and grabbed it while literally resting the back of his necklace-holding hand on my boobs. “Wow, these are big,” he said, lifting the beads up and down. I made an awkward face of some sort and hotfooted it out of the break area and back to my desk, where I must have looked upset because a coworker I’d become friendly with asked if I was OK. I mentioned what had just happened and he suggested I report it, so I did.

The next day, I was called into a manager’s office — I got in trouble because it was apparently inappropriate that, in my moment of shock over the creepiness, I had confided in a coworker what had just happened. Nothing happened to the necklace grabber. Cool policies, newspaper.

Caitlin had to sit at client dinners and smile pretty while guys groped her:

One of my old bosses used to loooove joking to my coworkers that I and a male coworker used to date. It was super strange. This happened at events, on emails I wasn’t on, and in a bunch of other situations despite my coworker constantly correcting him.

While I was working there, I handled a big event, which meant hiring vendors and a million other things. During our weekly check-in meetings, my boss would ask what I was working on and then always insist I had dated a security guard or a chef or a dude with a rental company or that I “had a man in my life that could take care of that.” Gross.

Same boss once commented on a pair of pants I was wearing, saying they were “aggressively sexual,” and routinely gave outsized budgets and job perks to male employees while denying them to female employees. Case in point: I had no budget for one of the departments I was running, while other (male) employees on my level were given $75,000 yearly production budgets, company cards, and $20,000 monthly “R&D” budgets.

After I finally brought up how upsetting some of his behavior was, my boss froze me out and wouldn’t speak to me for two weeks. This eventually culminated in my yearly review, in which, I was told I was too assertive, too aggressive, and too ambitious, and it intimidated my coworkers. I was also told to “watch my facial expressions” during staff meetings, and that I would really make people feel more at ease if I smiled more.

This doesn’t even touch on more blatant stuff, like how I would get groped or hit on at events, or how I was expected to go to dinners with account holders as “eye candy” and “play nice” (a.k.a. flirt and not freak out when my dinner partners got touchy-feely), even though I was in a relationship — not like that would be cool if I wasn’t!

And now here’s my story: I was pawed by a somewhat-famous author, and I still get chills thinking about it. Years ago, I worked in book publicity, and I met one of our company's prominent male authors at a media event. I told him that someday I wanted to be a novelist too, and he said, “You don’t LOOK like a writer. Just talk about Kurt Cobain a lot, and you’ll fit in.” That “joke” should have been my first indication that this guy wasn’t exactly a champion of women. As we continued talking, I piqued his interest when I mentioned I was acquaintances with another up-and-coming male writer. "Let’s all meet up for drinks," he said. “We’ll talk about writing." I so badly wanted to have a mini literary salon with these big-deal writers that I immediately contacted the other guy to set this meeting up.

So the three of us are drinking craft beers at a Midtown bar, and I spend the evening smiling politely while the two of them talk about which New York Times critics had reviewed their books. The conversation took an uncomfortable turn, with the prominent male author asking me if I had any piercings and whether I "clean them." Suddenly, I felt his hand snake around my waist. I remember freezing. He was my company’s author, so I couldn’t exactly punch him in the face, and back then I was so very accommodating and naive (yes, I probably should have seen this coming).

I shifted away from him as best I could. When the three of us left the bar, I did an awkward little curtsy and said, “I am going elsewhere!” The prominent male author looked confused, then pissed, that I wasn’t leaving with him.

The next day I told a coworker what had happened. He laughed and said, “You’re not the only publicity assistant [he] has hit on!” The thought of being reduced to what I GUESS this author felt were the spoils for his book contract was humiliating. I still remember what I was wearing that night. It kills me that people like him get ahead.