I went to see the movie Bombshell recently. Based on true story, it recalls the events that led to Fox News mogul Roger Ailes’ resignation over sexual harassment claims. Former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) is a central character of the film, though the initial lawsuit was launched by a former anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman). Third main character is an ambitious millennial journalist Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie).
Bombshell kind of has everything you could want in a movie: a very worthy and topical subject matter (workplace sexual harassment) and an all star -cast: John Lithgow plays Roger Ailes and Allison Janney his lawyer. However the end result remains quite thin, despite a couple of devastatingly excellent scenes. It’s a classic American flick where the truth wins in the end, and in this case the truth wins a lot of money in the legal settlement (on the other hand Ailes’ 40 million dollar severance grant was not shabby, either). The movie is absolutely not bad, so if you have 90 minutes to spare, go see it.
I wrote about Megyn Kelly’s autobiography Settle for More in 2017 and thought about it post-Bombshell. The film takes place in 2016 in the middle of the US presidential campaign, when Kelly became a household name following her on camera -spat with candidate Trump. The movie offers conversation starters about feminism and empowerment, but develops neither idea further. Kelly discusses both topics in her autobiography. Below my blog from 2017 about her book somewhat condensed.
People easily confess to being lots of things (alcoholics, shopaholics, Celine Dion fans), but it would appear that it is very difficult for many people to say aloud that they’re feminists. The usual excuse is that “we first need to define what feminism means”. It might be, of course, that these people really do not identify themselves as feminists, but in most cases it’s rather that they do not wish to be labelled as such (occurs frequently among politicians). Then a long, defensive rant follows about how they are totally for gender equality and women’s empowerment, but they’re just not into isms.
This was again confirmed in the news anchor Megyn Kelly’s biography “Settle for More”. It was an interesting read, as far as “from rags to riches” biographies go. As Kelly’s riches got more plentiful and her celebrity status sky-rocketed, the book got increasingly defensive about her as a mother and her being a “new archetype for women: multidimensional”.
Obviously the excitement mounted as pages got fewer: when is this (then) Republican icon finally going to announce her stance on feminism? On page 194 it finally happened. “My problem with the word feminist is that it’s exclusionary and alienating. I look at a lot of the self-titled feminists in this country and think, If that’s the club we’re talking about, I don’t want in. Feminism has become associated, de facto, with liberal politics.”
Kelly elaborates further: “I also reject the feminist messaging that treats gender issues as a zero-sum game – that assumes that to empower women, we must castrate men.”
It is interesting that anyone would think like this in 2017. Where does Kelly get the castration idea from? Given that feminism is so mainstream it has taken over fashion catwalks, thus far considered being just about the most sexists arenas ever, her referencing such militant feminist views seems out of place.
Kelly also gives career advice, which are always good to have. “My feeling on the subject of women’s equality is that it’s better to show than tell. “Be so good they can’t ignore you… the less time talking about our gender, the better.” This is all fair enough, but also quite selfish.
– I don’t feel valued, a co-worker once said to me.
– That’s because you’re not, I said, you should go somewhere else. I saw no reason to sugarcoat it. Kelly family values in their purest form. Settle for more.”
Boom. Obviously I read her as a European. I guess our mentalities are still that little bit different when it comes to carving one’s own destiny. But there is something about her argumentation that does not fly.
If being so good that people cannot ignore you would be the only qualifying measure for women to get places, we would have more women in leadership positions both on private and public sectors. Structures and traditions are built by men and it takes time to change them.
Kelly does admit that she’s not a feminist, but it is so very interesting how she puts the burden of double proof on women rather than workplaces, as regards not discriminating their workers based on gender. Why should women be twice as good as men to get promoted? Shouldn’t equal qualifications be enough? Contrary to Megyn Kelly -style individualistic, self serving me-first empowerment, feminism was always about inclusivity.
But do we need people to call themselves feminists, something that so smacks of the 60s and Gloria Steinem? Kelly underlines her not being a feminist, yet stood up against her boss in a workplace sexual harassment case, having been harassed herself, and knowing that her celebrity status would significantly tip the scales against Ailes and help the teams close the case.
I was left both puzzled and intrigued by Kelly’s workplace ethics. While she writes how important it was for her to testify in the case so as to “catch the predator who was running the company“, she on the other hand basically admits that sometimes you just have to be the cool girl, have a sense of humour and play along a bit.
Settle for More is the ultimate 21st century self-help, and most of its advise basically requires some very comfortable white privilege to ever stand a chance in real life. If you can turn a blind eye to some of that, it also reads like an extremely honest account of what it really takes to become tough as nails and to cut it in the most aggressively competitive branch on earth – US television.