The “#MeToo” and “Time’s Up” movements, spurred by revelations of horrific and possibly criminal misconduct by politicians, business icons, and Hollywood figures—along with festering sexual harassment and porn star-fling allegations against the putative leader of the Free World—have prompted a global discussion concerning the challenges women face both in and out of the workplace.
They have also inspired a collective case of nerves among men, some in high places, who are currently conducting anxious self-inventories of their actions and attitudes and re-assessing the magnitude of past transgressions.
“With all this talk about sexual harassment, there’s a lot of men who are asking questions like, ‘What do I do now?’” Joanne Lipman told The Daily Beast. “And there’s a lot of men who are now looking at their past behavior and saying, ‘Did I? Can somebody come back to bite me? Could this come back to haunt me? Did I do something 10 years ago that now I’m going to get in trouble for?’ There’s a lot of concern out there.”
Thus the 56-year-old Lipman, a former top editor at The Wall Street Journal and Conde Nast who until December was chief content officer of the Gannett newspaper chain and editor in chief of USA Today, is taking a break from the journalism biz to focus on what she calls her “mission,” as reflected in her new book, That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (AND WOMEN NEED TO TELL THEM) About Working Together.
“Women have been talking amongst themselves about the issues they face for years and years, and that’s great, but it’s only half a conversation and, at most, can solve 50 percent of the problem,” Lipman said. “We’re never going to solve this issue if we don’t bring men along. All of my mentors were men. These are good guys. They’d like to be part if the solution… The vast majority of men are not predators. The vast majority of men I’ve worked for are actually guys who would like to do the right thing.
“By the way,” she added, “it’s still OK to hug me. These days, you see men freezing up all the time.”
Lipman’s book, the product of more than three years of research in corporate America and around the world, also addresses the tendency of men to interrupt women and dismiss their ideas in workplace meetings, the chronic salary gap that advantages men over women, and draws upon studies showing that men are socialized from childhood to value their work more highly than women.
Lipman recalled that when she was named The Wall Street Journal’s first-ever female deputy managing editor in the late ’90s, she failed to negotiate for higher pay, and settled for a smaller office than her male counterparts of the same rank.
Yet by the time she became editor in chief of Conde Nast Portfolio, the short-lived business glossy she launched for magazine mogul Si Newhouse in 2007 (and where I worked as a columnist and contributing editor), Lipman had figured out how to secure a spacious corner office and door-to-door car service.
“If you were going to try and pick the worst possible time to launch a magazine, you couldn’t have done any better than we did,” Lipman said, noting that the financial meltdown of 2008 practically ensured Portfolio’s rapid demise. “We launched at a really difficult time. The entire economy was about to implode. That was the biggest single factor, in retrospect.”
By contrast, Lipman’s book is being released at an especially auspicious moment—when the presence of sexual harassment and assault, to say nothing of just plain sexism, has never been more conspicuous in the popular culture.
In recent days, we’ve witnessed the spectacle of more than 100 female gymnasts, including two Olympic gold medalists, testifying about the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of Michigan State University physician Larry Nassar, who will spend the rest of his life in prison; of top managers at the Los Angeles Times and New York Daily News receiving suspensions over sexual misconduct allegations; of hip-hop icon Russell Simmons becoming the subject of multiple rape accusations, and of Las Vegas gambling and hotel tycoon Steve Wynn, the defrocked chief fundraiser for the Republican National Committee, allegedly forcing himself sexually on female underlings.
Less violent, but also vexing, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow blamed women who haven’t “stepped up,” rather than the middle-aged men who dominate the music business, for the dearth of Grammys awarded this past Sunday to deserving female artists.
On Thursday, meanwhile, Morning Joe cohost Mika Brzezinski booted Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff off the set of the MSNBC program after he declined to take responsibility for spreading the baseless misogynist insinuation—on television and elsewhere—that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been conducting an illicit affair with President Donald Trump.
“Mika was adhering to basic journalistic principles, and she was certainly in the right because in journalism we deal with facts, not innuendo. I applaud her for that,” Lipman said about the cable TV dustup. “In terms of the innuendo piece of it, it fits—unfortunately—with every bit of research I’ve done. One of the studies showed that the more powerful the woman is, the more likely she is to be sexually harassed. Nikki Haley is very powerful, and as a woman gains power that exceeds the norms of corporate female behavior, she’s susceptible to these attacks.”
Addressing Wolff’s actions—which also included a series of personally offensive tweets about Brzezinski—Lipman added: “I think it’s irresponsible for any journalist to spread innuendo, particularly when it is about a woman. It’s incredibly damaging to the woman, and,” she added, embracing the most charitable interpretation possible, “there seems to be a lack of understanding on the author’s part of what he is doing.”
Lipman was less willing to directly criticize Hillary Clinton for rejecting the recommendation of her 2008 presidential campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, that she fire her so-called faith adviser, Burns Strider, because he repeatedly harassed a young female staffer with unwelcome physical advances.
“She obviously had her own issues because of the history with her husband, and she was in a particularly difficult spot,” Lipman said, adding that she’s reluctant to render a judgment on Clinton without knowing the details of the incident. “I think the lines have moved since then. I would say that a year ago, or even six months ago, cases like this were treated very, very differently.”
Lipman noted that U.S. companies have paid out hundreds of millions in fines over sexual harassment and discrimination claims, and that over a 15-year period, Merrill Lynch paid nearly half a billion dollars in judgments and settlements to complaining female employees.
“I’m saying that what Hillary did was done at a different time,” Lipman said. “I’m not giving her a pass, nor am I giving a pass to all of the companies that did exactly the same thing… You can be a man who is a great defender of woman, and a woman who is not.”
With calculated irony, Lipman noted that Clinton’s 2016 campaign opponent—he of “grab ’em by the pussy”—can arguably be credited with creating the right conditions for the mass consciousness-raising over gender issues.
“There is an argument that some make that we would never have the #MeToo movement if we didn’t have Trump as president,” she said. “There’s this pent-up frustration among women that exploded.”