Gretchen Carlson wants women to be fierce.
The former Fox News host and author of Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back appeared at the Simmons Leadership Conference in Boston on Thursday, when she told the crowd that in her new role as chairwoman of the Miss America Pageant, she’s “working diligently to make changes to the organization.”
When asked if the swimsuit portion of the competition would be removed, Carlson said it’s a possibility.
“I would not have agreed to bring my movement to the organization unless we would turn it into a 100 percent empowerment and leadership organization,” Carlson told the crowd. “We have more elephants in the room: I have a board, and we vote on things. So just be confident that I wouldn’t put my name and face on an organization unless I knew it was gonna be 100 percent empowerment and leadership.”
Carlson, who reached a $20 million settlement in her sexual harassment lawsuit against former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes in 2016, said that while she never expected to be in charge of the competition, she knew it was something she needed to be a part of. (Carlson won the Miss America pageant in 1989.)
“This was a call of duty for me. I never envisioned I’d be running this organization, nor did I ask to,” said Carlson, 51. “We need to improve the messaging.”
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While encouraging the crowd of mostly women to speak up for themselves, Carlson delved deep into her own history.
“I’m a mother, I’m a journalist, a philanthropist, a former Miss America, a musician, a sports junkie, and like millions of women across the country, I am a survivor of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” she said. “What you read about at Fox News wasn’t my only experience.”
She went on to discuss various incidents of harassment and assault throughout her career, some of which she kept silent about for 26 years.
Gretchen Carlson as Miss America
“I felt shame, and embarrassment, and responsibility,” she added. “But fortunately, taking power back doesn’t have a shelf life. Yes, it took me a quarter century to say that I had been assaulted, because I actually bought into the myth that by winning Miss America and being a public figure, that I had asked for it. By pursuing public life, women invite assault is one of the most insidious myths out there. We have the change to change this perception.”
Now, Carlson is frequently asked if the #MeToo Movement has come to an end.
“Is the movement actually over? Has it peaked? Is it turning into a witch hunt?” Gretchen told the audience. “My answer is nope. We’re just getting started. It isn’t about a hashtag. It’s about a cultural empowerment revolution that women across the world are leading.”