The final months of 2017 were marked by an unprecedented, seemingly endless firing of famous men accused of sexual harassment. As feminist icon Gloria Steinem stated in December, “Clearly, at this moment in time [women] are gaining our voices in a way that has never happened before.”
If the first business day of 2018 is an indication, these fallen men may be replaced in unprecedented ways, too.
NBC News chairman Andy Lack has announced that Hoda Kotb will join Savannah Guthrie as co-anchor of Today, NBC’s morning show. Kotb, who has co-hosted the fourth hour of the show since 2008, will replace Matt Lauer, who was fired by NBC in November after allegations of sexual harassment and assault.
Kotb’s promotion marks the first time two women will co-anchor the NBC flagship program. (ABC News was there first: Good Morning America was anchored by Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts from 2006 to 2009. And CBS This Morning is co-hosted by Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell, after the sexual-misconduct ouster of Charlie Rose.)
Also today, the Miss America Pageant announced that Gretchen Carlson will become the first former winner to lead the organization as board chair. Carlson, Miss America 1989 and former Fox News anchor, became an advocate against workplace sexual harassment after she sued former Fox chairman Roger Ailes for sexual harassment in July 2016. Fox fired Ailes following Carlson’s allegations, and he died in May.
Carlson’s appointment comes shortly after the Huffington Post published emails in which Miss America CEO Scott Haskel made misogynistic remarks about former winners. The emails also exposed Haskel and Miss America board member Tammy Haddad’s fervent dislike of Carlson, a longtime board member Haskel effectively had pushed out of the organization.
“The root cause of their disdain, according to three sources, was Carlson’s push to modernize the organization and her refusal to attack former Miss Americas,” reports Huffington Post.
“Brilliant…..fucking Brilliant!!!! That will drive Gretchen INFUCKINGSANE,” Haskell wrote to Haddad, in response to her proposed plan to block Carlson from a Miss America broadcast.
Following the emails’ publication, 49 pageant winners, including Carlson signed a petition demanding Haskell and other board members resign calling their behavior “despicable.” On Dec. 23, Miss America accepted the resignations of Haskell, president Josh Randle, and board chair Lynn Weidner, along with a number of other board members.
It’s at once depressing and enthralling that many predict 2018—nearly a century after American women gained the right to vote—will be the Year of the Woman. The claim has been made before, and despite the momentum of #MeToo, it’s hard to believe institutionalized misogyny, deeply intertwined with racism and classism, will be undone any time soon.
Kotb and Carlson’s promotions remain exceptions to the norm. Nor do these women’s rise necessarily correlate with advancement for other women in their organizations. As Janet Guyon writes for Quartz:
Many companies have so far responded [to sexual harassment] by treating the symptom, not the cause. NBC, whose News president Andy Lack was instrumental in the acceleration of 75-year-old Charlie Rose’s career while running Bloomberg Television with David Rhodes, now head of CBS News, reacted to the revelations about Lauer, not by promoting and boosting pay of its female employees, but by policing romantic relationships in the office.
According to Page Six, NBC has issued guidelines on, among other things, hugging: “If you wish to hug a colleague, you have to do a quick hug, then an immediate release, and step away to avoid body contact.” This smacks of dated thinking from the 1980s; it does nothing to address inequality in the workplace.”
Gender parity demands professional policies that protect employees from all forms of sex discrimination, without treating them like children incapable of reasonable discernment. Dismantling misogyny requires all people—especially men who thinks of themselves as “good guys“—to reflect on how their beliefs and behaviors objectify and subjugate women (especially women of color). And the fight against sexual harassment depends on awareness that no individual firing or hiring constitutes that respect and equality will be guaranteed.
Yet the key to gender equality in all workplaces is not so complex. It’s simply taking action on behalf of women: Promote us. Mentor us. Make us leaders, in majority proportions. Pay us just as much as you pay men.
On these fronts, NBC and Miss America’s elevation of extremely qualified women—a demographic represented in every industry, and systematically boxed out of leadership roles—is a lead worth following in the year to come.