I've had some time to think and reflect on the reaction to my Facebook post a few weeks ago when I decided to answer a woman who commented on my appearance on television. I must admit I was a little taken back by the overwhelmingly supportive feedback. I've had many co-workers come up and hug me.
A cameraman popped his head into my office to tell me that his sister and mom were proud of me – and so was he. A neighbor who I haven't seen in a while motioned me to roll down my window while waiting to pick up my son at school to say “good for you." I've had emails from friends and strangers who dropped a note to express their support. It touched a nerve for not just me, but thousands of others who read and identified with an online bully.
I think through a wider lens; this is all part of a larger movement. A kind of a #metoo moment when it comes to bullying or shaming someone. Right now, in this moment, we feel more empowered than ever to call out behavior that feels wrong.
Here's the comment that I felt crossed a line for me. It was on my Facebook page, under a picture of me smiling as I was reporting weather outside:
Janice Dean. Photo Courtesy of Fox News
"Dear Janice please stop allowing fox to dress you in those short skirts. They are not flattering on you. Your an attractive lady, love the 80's hair, but your legs are distracting every time you walk on the screen."
Right away It felt cruel. She didn't swear or call me names, but it was shameful to me. Maybe others would've reacted differently or ignored it, but this one had neon lights around it. I wrote her back:
"Fox doesn't dress me. I dress myself. I'm sorry if you don't like my legs. I'm grateful to have them to walk with. You're right. I don't look like the typical person on TV, and I'm proud to be a size 10. Imagine that! You can always turn the channel if you're offended by my huge legs. Hope you don't mind. I may share your post with everyone on my FB page."
And then JoAnn responded again. This time saying that I should be careful – I was middle-aged, and there was a “new regime" at Fox. I could lose my job at any time to a younger, thinner prettier reporter. I fired back that it was interesting that she knew so much considering she wasn't in media. She slammed back “You know nothing about me!" I raised my eyebrows. And said to myself “JoAnn you, know nothing about me either."
Over a decade ago, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). It's a disease where my immune system eats away at the protective covering of my nerves. There is no cure for it, and it affects 2.5 million people worldwide.
Janice Dean on Fox and Friends. Photo Courtesy of Janice Dean
With MS, I could conceivably lose the use of my legs at any time. It also comes with challenges many of you cannot see. MS is a neurological storm that brews inside my body. It could affect my vision, bringing numbness, tingling or pain. Sometimes it makes me unbearably tired. But you don't see that on TV. A fellow MS friend calls it the “my you look so well disease" because on the outside, we look just fine. On the inside, there's a body at war with itself for reasons we still don't know why.
After my back and forth with JoAnn, a familiar name popped up under the “distracting legs" comment. It was from my friend Jen Jarvis who was also my first MS nurse. She wrote:
"Dear Janice. I LOVE those strong legs. I LOVE that you stand tall, walk, run, squat, lunge, skip, jump and hop on those legs. You are so blessed and a blessing to have STRONG legs. Wear skirts proudly and show your STRONG legs! Love you my angel."
And then the tears came. A reminder that no matter what size or shape they are, our legs should be celebrated and not be taken for granted. Over the years after my diagnosis, I've tried hard to not “sweat the small stuff" after being focused on career goals and overachieving.
From my teens to my twenties, I used to be obsessed with weight and my appearance, but this kind of body shaming started much earlier. I was teased at a young age about being overweight, and I carry a little more around my hips, thighs and backside. I've been every size from a 4 to a 12. At times I was unhealthy, and lost weight to look “good." And now, I've comfortably settled into a size 10. If you look at the TV landscape, that's large in my world. I'm in a sea of size 0-4 dresses. And I think that's a bit sad since it does not represent the general population outside of the bright TV lights. It used to bother me, but now, I kind of take pride in the fact that I'm different.
A thoughtful reporter who was interviewing me about the viral Facebook post asked if anyone had ever said things about my body to me to my face. And in a flash, I felt my face flush. Yes, I replied. Before I came to Fox, I was bullied on and off the air by a radio host named Don Imus. They called him the original “shock jock" and I can attest for a good reason. Admittedly, being from Canada, I didn't know a whole lot about him. I just saw a job I might be well suited for. So I auditioned and was offered the position. For a little over the year that I was there, he and sometimes his crew would tease and badger me on a regular basis with my weight and it became a popular topic. I tried to laugh it off and fight back good-naturedly, but this was tough. It brought me back to being teased and bullied in school.
There was one particular day he brought in a famous personal trainer and decided to call me into the studio. While we were on the air, he had me stand up and in front of this female trainer, he pointed out where I needed to lose weight. My hips, backside and legs. I was mortified. I held back tears, and said into the microphone: “But according to studies, I'm a normal weight. I'm healthy…"
I had already begun my search for a new job.
I started at Fox in 2004 and was diagnosed with MS in 2005. During the time after that, despite initially thinking my life and career were over, I've achieved things I never thought to be possible. I'm the senior Meteorologist for Fox & Friends, and not only do the weather, but I get to travel and reports from all around the country covering feel-good news stories. I married the love of my life who was with me during my diagnosis and who told me that the illness didn't scare him. I had my two beautiful boys, Matthew and Theodore. They are 7 and 9 and are now seeing and feeling what teasing and bullying are like in school. I tell them about my stories growing up, and even now seeing and hearing mean comments from others. Sometimes it's because people are jealous of us, sometimes it's because people don't feel good about themselves, or sometimes it's because they're just plain mean. I've told them to let me know when someone isn't nice to them, and we'll talk it through. If I need to talk to their parents, I will. If we need to go to the teacher or principal, we will do it together. I tell them sometimes it's ok to ignore the mean comments - but if it continues, we have to say something. Sometimes we have to stand up for ourselves.
And I think that's why that one Facebook comment and reply went viral a few weeks ago. It's a reminder to the Joann's and the Imus' and to the bullies in the schoolyard. It's not funny or nice to pass judgment on someone until you've walked in their shoes.
And to the women out there who want to get into television or a world where appearances seem hard to achieve, let me give you some advice that's worked for me: Be yourself. Show them who you are. Be proud of your shape and size, because I am standing up for you, too – on my big strong legs!
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.