I first heard the full story of what happened at FitzGibbon Media over dinner with a friend. As he recounted the timeline of events, it was clear that he was shocked and horrified. As I listened to the story unfold, I found myself envious of his horror – I was feeling a familiar sense of deep exhaustion and dread.
Exhaustion, because I, like countless other women in the progressive movement, am tired of coming up against toxic masculinity and sexism even in this movement where we purport to care about gender equity and disavow sexual harassment and assault. Dread, because stories like this remind me that I am right: when you are a woman, nowhere is truly safe, and we still don’t have the solutions to make this no longer true.
There seems to be a disconnect between the way some members of the progressive community conduct themselves with their employees and the causes they devote their lives to that can create a deafening cognitive dissonance for those who work inside of it. Slate, Vox, and RH Reality Check are among the many who have delved into the prevalence of these experiences both in society at large and within the progressive community in light of what happened at FitzGibbon Media.
I experienced it in one of my first positions in Texas politics.
Fresh out of school and full of feminist ideals, I wanted to jump into politics in Texas and change the world – at least the little corner of it that mattered the most to me. And then, my boss had his first meeting almost entirely with my chest – while my head, which he barely glanced at, was reeling. I hoped it was a mistake. It wasn’t.
After a month of feeling increasingly more uncomfortable, and angry at myself for not knowing how to stop it, I called a female mentor of mine. First, she apologized, because she had hoped that my generation would benefit from the work that had been done to make sexual harassment unacceptable in the workplace. Second, she told me that there was almost nothing I could do. But I already knew that. I was relatively unknown in my new career field, and felt certain that my word wouldn’t count against his. Not only that, I needed a job. Like many of the junior staffers working for Trevor FitzGibbon, I was living paycheck to paycheck and completely reliant on my job for health insurance. Finally – I wasn’t convinced that anyone would see what he was doing as really wrong.
Unlike the allegations against FitzGibbon, my boss never crossed the line of asking for anything or touching me or my coworkers. Instead, he spent almost every conversation in the workplace eyeing our bodies like pieces of meat. We laugh about it now, because we are so far removed from that space. He is still in a position of management in the progressive community.
And this is why I don’t think “Brogressives” are funny. I know too many to count, and most of them move quickly up the ladder to leadership roles (many promoted by fellow Brogressives higher up the chain). As long as a bro-progressive culture persists – especially in spaces of power that can set the tone for the rest of the movement – we will keep running up against this unwillingness to address these problems, and we will keep lionizing leaders like Trevor FitzGibbon to the detriment of those who work for them.
We need more than pipelines for female leadership. We need institutional commitment within our community to a unilateral intolerance for sexual assault and harassment, and a reliable support system for those who call it out. It is far past time for the progressive movement to turn our critical eye inward and get our own house in order. If we can’t even commit to that, then what are we fighting for?