It was a bold, brave move that lead to Ailes’ resignation, rocked the Fox News Network’s foundation, and won Carlson a $20 million settlement. More importantly, it earned Carlson the respect and admiration of thousands of women around the country who, when the news broke, sent a flood of letters sharing their own, similar accounts of sexual harassment and abuse.
“I started hearing from thousands of women all across the country who were sharing their stories with me,” Carlson, 51, tells PEOPLE. “I was printing them all off in my home office upstairs.”
Their voices became the inspiration for Carlson’s new book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back, in which she shares “the stories of how fierce all of these other women had been that nobody had ever heard about… They said to me, ‘We feel victorious through what you did. Our stories may not have ended up well but you are our voice.’”
In the book, Carlson also reveals that she had experienced several shocking instances of sexual harassment earlier in her career.
Recounting one of several stories, she says, “I met with a very high ranking television executive, and we spent the day together, and he made a lot of phone calls for me and I was like, ‘Wow, he’s being so nice to me.’ And we went out to dinner and he had his car service take me back to my friend’s apartment. All of a sudden he was on top of me in the back seat, with his tongue down my throat. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is part of the job interview?’ I mean, I can make light of it now, but it was horrifying and frightening, and I asked the driver to please stop the car so I could just barrel out.”
Even now, years later, she still understands and empathizes with how hard it is for women to cope with the pain and emotional fallout. “In general, when women are sexually harassed,” she tells PEOPLE, “it’s almost as if all of your self-esteem and confidence drips away slowly. It drains down from your body. You can be the strongest woman in the entire world, but you feel so alone.”
Carlson’s lawsuit against Ailes prompted other women at Fox to come forward with claims of sexual harassment against Ailes (who died this past May) and, since then, others have followed her lead in industries all over the country.
Carlson calls what’s happening with women today a “Be Fierce” liberation movement — as in the title of her book. “I’ve heard from so many women who are already on board,” she says. “I hope that we can get thousands more to decide they’re not going to be intimidated, they’re not going to be put down anymore. And they’re going to stand up and be the women that they were always meant to be.”
In the wake of the recent sexual harassment claims against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein Carlson says, “We must stop the cycle of silencing women and open up our corporate culture to be accepting of women’s complaints… where harassers are no longer protected — no matter who they are — and enablers stop enabling. I’m proud that my voice started a conversation to get us where we are today. Women are saying enough! And women will have their voices heard! This is the tipping point!”
The scandal comes after the New York Times reported Thursday that eight women, including actress Ashley Judd, came forward to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct. Following the allegations, the Oscar-winning film producer was removed from his powerhouse film studio The Weinstein Company.
“I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go,” Weinstein said, adding that he was working with therapists and planned to take time off to “deal with this issue head-on.”
According to the NYT, Weinstein has reached at least eight settlements with women, including Rose McGowan. In their claims, they allege that Weinstein behaved inappropriately during work meetings.