Culture 28 January 2018
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!
5 Min Read
Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.
At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.
But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and building upon the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?
Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.
But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).
Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."
As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.
- Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
- Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
- Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
- Defaming transgender people—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Yeah... That's not a winning formula for me, Mike.
Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?
Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance but also continually throughout her entire campaign. If asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am here for it. Bring on the aggressive women, please and thank you.
Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone whining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.
This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.
"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit
Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them.
Gretchen Carlson, possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA, is one of these people. Her story is so well-known that it has even been immortalized on film, in 2019's Bombshell. Yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate. And now, she doesn't have the power to tell her story.
She was, and still is being, silenced.
After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truths. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."
Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."
Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.
Neither Carlson nor Headlee are any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.