Sherman: Bill O’Reilly’s departure is not a victory for women

For the last week, I’ve been sitting in front of my computer attempting to think of a clever hook or intro or some way into this story that would cause a reader to be invested. I tend toward the narrative and thought I might share something from personal experience or even a joke to lighten the mood.

But I can’t.

There are too many personal experiences to choose from, too many tragedies for them to successfully hide behind a joke. I could tell you about jobs I quit because I was afraid to be in a room alone with my employer. I could tell you about the times I’ve been grabbed or groped on public transit. I could tell you about the instances of sexual assault, or abuse or rape that I left unreported because I was afraid; I blamed myself. For me, and for many women like me, this story is more than a celebrity scandal — it’s a painful reminder of daily life as a woman in the United States.

Last week, Bill O’Reilly, a top-rated host on Fox News, was ousted from his role as an influential personality in the world of cable television. This forced exile came about after agreements came to light in which Fox News and its parent company along with Mr. O’Reilly paid out a total of approximately $13 million to five different women who complained about sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior on the part of Mr. O’Reilly. Allegations O’Reilly continues to claim are, “completely unfounded.”

Despite O’Reilly’s protestations, he no longer has a job; it appears women emerged victorious in this instance. O’Reilly behaved inappropriately and he was kicked out of television because feminism is gaining support in the world at large.


Maybe that’s why but I highly doubt it. Let’s look at the past year and see what we can determine about the state of women’s rights and how seriously (or not) sexual harassment is taken by media conglomerates such as 21st Century Fox.

Last July, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes resigned after allegations of sexual harassment. In October, Billy Bush was suspended and then dismissed after a tape was released in which he was complicit in the aggressive degradation of women and admissions of sexual assault by Donald Trump. Now, Bill O’Reilly has been banished from the Fox News island for similar allegations of harassment.

On the face of it, it seems like we are beginning to take these cases more seriously. But if that were true, how is it that Billy Bush was fired but Donald Trump – the admitted perpetrator on the tape – was elected president? Could it be because Donald Trump’s campaign wasn’t dependent on advertisers?

Regardless of where women stand in Congress, 19.4 percent of its members, or in the Senate, 21 percent of its members, or in Fortune 500 companies, 5.8 percent of CEOs, there is one area in which women are the dominant demographic: marketing.

Women are powerful consumers in nearly all markets. Even when women are not making the most money, they are often the ones responsible for purchasing items or influencing items to be purchased. When it comes to advertising and marketing, women have more power than men. So, when Roger Ailes was accused of sexual harassment against women, advertisers bailed from Fox. When Bill O’Reilly was discovered to have paid about $13 million to five women for sexual harassment, advertisers bailed from his show. When Billy Bush laughed along with statements made by Donald Trump, women tuned out and took advertisers with them. This is the power of capitalism and it is a power that can easily be misinterpreted as a much-needed shift in views regarding sexual harassment and women’s rights.

But that’s all it is, a misinterpretation.

Five women were paid a total of approximately $13 million and were asked to walk away. Bill O’Reilly was paid $25 million to walk away. Strange how the perpetrator’s check was nearly twice the victims’ overall payout. Strange how the world thinks money is enough to make us forget what we are.

I don’t think there’s an amount of money that could make me forget the things that have happened to me. I know there’s no amount of money that could make me forget what it’s like to be helpless, to know what that is and never be able to feel safe again. I don’t even think there’s a limit on what I would pay to have never lived through the things I have.

But my story didn’t involve a man with a television show. There were no advertisers to withdraw support from my rapist. So, while a woman with a story is a formidable opponent against someone like Roger Ailes, or Bill O’Reilly, or Billy Bush, in most circumstances, there is no financial incentive to condemn sexual harassment. And without that incentive, women remain powerless against men like Donald Trump.


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Esther Sherman

Esther Sherman