Gretchen Carlson’s mother once asked her why she was always going on about “gender issues”. The former Fox News anchor and #metoo advocate’s firm response was: “Because I’m living it.”

It is this lived experience of gender inequality and sexual harassment in the workplace that probably goes far in explaining why the majority of the audience at Sunday’s Vivid session Speaking Out were women. 

And, as Carlson walked on the Town Hall stage, they greeted her with appreciative whoops and cheers.  

Vivid director Gill Minervini, in her earlier introduction, talked of telling “stories that challenge the status quo” and referred to Speaking Out host Australian journalist Lisa Wilkinson and Carlson as “trailblazers for women’s rights”. 

It starts with conversation.

In a highly engaging discussion, for the next hour, both showed the power of their stories and their voices. 

Carlson’s sense of justice started early. She recounted the sting of being assigned to the non-reading group on her first day of kindergarten. Despite informing her teacher she could in fact read, her pleas fell on deaf ears. 

Going home that day outraged, Gretchen informed her mother of the mistake; the next day she was in the reading group. 

A talented violinist, Carlson studied at Oxford and Stanford universities. Originally intending to study law, Gretchen found herself choosing a career in television journalism after she won Miss America in 1988. 

But it was in the workplace, that Carlson discovered gender inequality “for the first time” –  a story too many women can relate to. 

“When I was in my early 20s, trying to break into broadcast TV, I was sexually assaulted twice,” she said.

“I have reinvented myself many times.”

[I] did not aspire to be the poster child of harassment in the workplace.

An articulate and considered speaker, the former news anchor recounted her 2016 firing from Fox News which catalysed her decision to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former boss, Roger Ailes. 

Gretchen joked to Lisa Wilkinson that she “did not aspire to be the poster child of harassment in the workplace”.

While her story of being fired in 2016 by Fox and, shortly after filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former boss, Roger Ailes, gave a voice to many women who had been victims of sexual misconduct, the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in her original contract has been a silencing mechanism. She agreed to it when she started work at Fox.

According to Carlson “silencing mechanisms in our world are an epidemic”.

“It’s an old school tactic – isolate the victim to shut her up,” added Wilkinson.

Carlson was not even able to consult on both depictions of her in the film Bombshell and the limited TV series The Loudest Voice

Yet the native Minnesotan refuses to be silenced. Her pride was evident when she recounted how she stood by President Biden at Capitol Hill last February watching him sign a bill that ends the forced arbitration of sexual harassment cases in the workplace and is “the biggest law change in the last 100 years in the US”.

“People want their voices heard at work,” she said.

“The younger generation are much more focused on change in general.

“Men need to be part of the conversation.”

Carlson’s organisation Lift Our Voices provides a platform for those without a voice. 

Locally, Wilkinson, along with‘s Samantha Maiden, broke the story of Brittany Higgins’ sexual assault at Parliament House. Wilkinson stated that change “starts at conversation” and certainly this conversation showed the power of being heard. She also acknowledged that the media has a vital role to play in amplifying marginalised voices and dismantling those mechanisms of silence. 

As Gretchen said to a young woman during question time: “Don’t underestimate your power as a singular voice.”

It is those singular voices uttering “Me Too” that unite to create movements of momentous change. 

Let’s keep speaking out.