She's back! On Thursday, former vice presidential nominee and ex-Fox News contributor Sarah Palin weighed in on Bill O'Reilly leaving Fox, and her opinions were just as controversial as usual. She started out alright — by saying corporate culture at Fox had to change — but then threw out a small nugget of wisdom that simply isn't helpful for the majority of women experiencing sexual harassment. It also sounded quite a bit like victim blaming.
"Corporate culture there obviously has to change," Palin said during an interview with CNN. "Women don't deserve it, they should not ever have to put up with any kind of intimidating workspace."
However, she then added the following:
At the same time, if a woman believes that she is being intimidating and harassed, she needs to stand up and do something about it, not stick around for a paycheck for years and years and years and then after the fact complain about what she went through. As a strong woman, I say we should feel more empowered than that and we should, you know, take a stand and get out of the place or blow the whistle on whoever is the perpetrator doing the bad stuff so that the culture will change.
"I wouldn't put up with anything that would be perceived as intimidating or harassing," she said, according to CNN. Romper reached out to Palin for clarification, but did not receive a response immediately.
The thing is, no conversation around sexual harassment at the workplace shouldn't have an "at the same time" modifier attached to it. There should be a zero tolerance policy, and the onus should absolutely not be on victims to "blow the whistle" on perpetrators or change a company's culture. Frankly, that's not their job.
Palin's call to women to be "more empowered than that" is also maddening. Being the target of harassment (especially from those that are part of an organization's upper echelon) is the furthest thing from an empowering experience, especially considering some organizations' responses to employees who come forward with allegations.
For instance, when Andrea Mackris — a former producer on O'Reilly's show — prepared to come forward with a harassment lawsuit against O'Reilly, Fox News and O'Reilly sued her first, for extortion, and hired on both a PR firm and a private investigator to investigate her past. Tabloids ran negative stories about her for weeks. On his show, O'Reilly said Mackris and her lawyers "picked the wrong guy," according to The New York Times.
Case after case in the news shows that harassment and assault victims are portrayed as "especially good" at lying and routinely have their motives called into place. According to a 2008 study, only one-quarter to one-third of those harassed actually report the problem, and two-thirds of workers who report mistreatment have said they suffered from retaliation afterwards, according to The New York Times.
None of that especially empowers women to come forward as whistleblowers and take on company culture change as their own personal cause.
On top of that, the majority of women can't afford to simply "get out of the place," as Palin so helpfully suggested women do. Palin's response brings to mind President Donald Trump's response in 2016 to Fox News' Roger Ailes dismissal after a string of harassment allegations. Asked what would happen if someone had harassed his daughter, Trump responded, "I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case."
Again, no employee should ever have to leave a workplace because they feel unsafe or harassed there. Women can be bound to their jobs by financial instability, contracts, and an unfriendly job market. Complaining about harassment might affect a future positive reference from that employer. In many cases, unfortunately, it's easier to just put your head down and ride it out.
Palin was right: cultural change is needed, and women never deserve to be intimidated at work. But that's where it ends. There's certainly a lot that society needs to do to change how harassment is dealt with at work, but nowhere in that cycle are victims to blame.