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“If you don’t want to be treated like a sex object, don’t be one for [money].”
In the age of Me Too, that isn’t the advice you’d expect one woman to give other women who are publicly decrying alleged sexual harassment they faced while working for a major brand.
Yet, for one reason or another, Britt McHenry, former ESPN reporter, and current conservative pundit for Fox Nation thought that was the tough-love advice NFL cheerleaders needed to hear when they raised concerns about behavior they viewed as sexual harassment while on assignment with their team.
And while she prefaced the tweet with an acknowledgment that she would get “crushed” for that opinion (which she did), at no point did that understanding give McHenry pause to consider why she would get crushed.
But McHenry is not unfamiliar with her bad takes getting panned. In fact, the former ESPN reporter and newfound conservative poster has made a career over the past four years off of being a social media villain, particularly toward other women.
“Her online persona is a nightmare,” one of her co-workers recently told me. “I’m appalled.”
McHenry’s conservative views toward women are well documented. Google “Britt McHenry fights with…” and you’ll have multiple stories to choose from: Jen Royle, Paige Spirinac, Sarah Spain, Jemele Hill. Kacy Sager. Halima Aden, Aly Raisman. Amanda Whitting. Jen Decker. A woman working for a tow truck company. Myself. The list goes on.
McHenry’s persona has brought her both controversy and success. After being let go from ESPN in 2017—two years after a security video of McHenry berating a tow truck employee with insults directed at the woman’s weight, looks, education, and hygiene catapulted her to viral infamy and a suspension at the network—McHenry landed where any other aggressively aggrieved white conservative woman would feel right at home: Fox News.
Fox News welcomed her with open arms.
But while Fox seemed like the perfect fit for a mean girl with a mostly male fanbase, a recent turn of events has put McHenry’s hypocrisy when it comes to sexual harassment, women’s rights, and her seemingly endless string of petty fights with other women directly in the spotlight.
McHenry—who has taken issue with the Me Too movement and gone so far as to publicly dismiss accounts of sexual assaults, as she did with the Redskins cheerleaders and Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh—is suddenly facing a crisis of faith. Involved in her own sexual harassment accusation at Fox News, the talk show host must now come to terms with her online behavior and public condemnation of women she refused to believe.
Last month she filed a claim against her former Fox Nation co-host, a former pro wrestler named Tyrus, claiming he sent her lewd and unsolicited text messages.
Attitudes like McHenry’s help shape a world where sexual harassment, equality, mental health issues, and respect are only given appropriate weight and consideration when it happens to “us.”
And her unwavering support of a conservative culture known for its negative outlooks on women has now painted her into a corner where few are defending her publicly. But McHenry’s history with women, with hypocritical standards, with shutting down first-hand accounts or experiences she doesn’t agree with, and going so far as sharing an opinion that if a woman dresses a certain way or works a certain job she “deserves” to be sexually harassed, is part of a bigger problem than just a privileged white girl with a Twitter account.
Her behavior over the last few years and the rewards she’s gotten in spite of it (job offers, interviews, endorsements) continues to strengthen the walls women have been seeking to knock down for decades.
Jen Royle, a former Emmy-winning MLB reporter turned successful caterer turned lauded Boston restauranteur, told the Daily Dot of McHenry, “she is the most insensitive, ignorant, tone-deaf, heartless, human I have a literally ever encountered in my life.”
McHenry and Royle have sparred for years. Royle, who has been vocal in her criticism of McHenry’s behavior toward the tow truck worker and other women, is often trading insults with McHenry via Twitter. While McHenry has deleted numerous jabs, she is willing to go after Royle’s business ventures, often insulting the salary of those who work in food and beverage, and making elitist comments regarding Royle “making pasta” for “people like [McHenry]”.
But petty arguments led to bigger problems. At one point, McHenry contacted the Boston Police from her location in Washington, D.C. to say she “feared Royle would harm her if she ever chose to come to Boston.”
Most egregiously, McHenry spread the false rumor that Royle ’s restaurant, Table, was denying service to “conservatives and Republicans” on her Twitter account to her nearly 300,000 followers. She encouraged her followers to contact corporate clients of Royle’s Boston restaurant—that was not yet open—to complain about the discrimination and pull their reservations. This led to Royle’s attorney filing a cease-and-desist letter with McHenry.
McHenry did not respond to requests from the Daily Dot for comment, and in the wake of the harassment report, deleted her Twitter account.
Professional golfer Paige Spirinac famously got into it with McHenry when McHenry decided the 2018 Sports Illustrated swimsuit models were worthy of her public disdain. Spirinac had taken part in the annual issue which, that year, sought to adequately balance the issue’s images with the newfound Me Too movement. Models, as well as female athletes, were given opportunities to discuss what empowerment means to them. Most notably, Olympic gymnast and sexual assault survivor Aly Raisman, who had earlier that year bravely testified against convicted serial child molester Dr. Larry Nassar, posed nude for the magazine—words of encouragement scrawled across her body: “Trust yourself,” “women do not need to be modest to be respected,” “fierce.”
Raisman said that the “In Her Own Words” shoot was empowering.
But McHenry couldn’t seem to let that one slide. “Why does a woman have to pose nude to feel ‘empowered’? Isn’t it more empowering to keep your clothes on, go into an office or classroom like everyone else and excel?” she asked the Twitter universe. Spirinac answered.
“Different women feel empowered in different ways and it’s not right to tell someone what they can and cannot do. It’s more about the person you are and not the clothes you decide or not decide to wear. My body, my choice,” she tweeted in response to McHenry.
McHenry fought back.
“I agree it’s your body to do what you want. But posing nude is a way to ascertain empowerment through vanity. I don’t think, and this goes for both genders, it’s the best way to receive reciprocal respect or empowerment.”
Spirinac simply quipped, “thanks, I will” with a picture from her own photoshoot attached.
“OK, but you’ve literally cried at press conferences about how you’re not taken seriously in gold. Anyone can post naked, and yet this is your response to a civil discussion. You’re both beautiful… and attention-seeking.” McHenry said.
McHenry later referred to the women of Sports Illustrated who take their clothes off for shoots as “desperate for male attention.” This included Raisman who had just help take down a serial sexual abuser of women.
Ironically, this year, McHenry went after Sports Illustrated newcomer Halima Aden, who posed for the iconic magazine in a birkini. McHenry sarcastically quipped that the targeted demographic of the magazine would “really want to look at that.”
When Spirinac saw tweets McHenry recently directed at me regarding my mental health (referring to me as “unhinged” and bragging that she had never tried to “physically harm herself,” a jab at a suicide attempt when I was 26 that I’ve written about), she reached out to give her two cents on the matter. “It makes me sick to my stomach that Britt would use someone’s mental illness as an insult like that,” she said. “Mental health isn’t a joke.”
And while McHenry will tell you that many who aggressively challenge her opinions, hot takes, tactics, and outlooks are “obsessed with her” or “jealous of her” in fine Regina George-like fashion, the reality is, a lot of women are just morbidly fascinated by her. A throwback to the bullies and mean girls of high school days past, this is a woman cleaving to an antiquated outlook on women, morality, and popularity that feels far more at home in a 1980s Brat Pack movie than it does in post-Me Too America.
“She had talent. She’s not a total idiot. There are people who are clearly willing to hand her a whole 12-pack of extra chances. But she can’t get out of her own way,” Kacy Sager told the Daily Dot.
Sager, journalist and daughter of deceased TV broadcaster Craig Sager, had a well-received takedown of McHenry’s social media antics. When McHenry, who was arguing on Twitter with a woman who happened to be Craig Sager Jr.’s ex-girlfriend, she took an unprovoked jab at Craig Jr.
Sent on the anniversary of their father’s death, McHenry claimed Sager Jr. was the “same kid whose only connection to media is his famous dad,” despite Sager Jr.’s decade-long involvement with sports media in Atlanta and his publishing career.
“I want to believe you’re not actually this nasty of a person, I really do. That you haven’t spent the past few years exposing your true colors, that this has all been a calculated move to save your ‘career’ by pandering to the hateful assholes out there now that you’ve alienated all the decent, good-hearted people who used to root for you,” Kacy Sager tweeted. “Or maybe you really do just suck that much.”
Even McHenry’s counterparts at Fox News agreed, calling her an “ESPN-has been,” and saying Kacy Sager’s scalding response was a blow to McHenry’s attempt at inserting herself into a conversation she did not belong in by using a name and legacy she had no business invoking.
McHenry balked, calling Sager a “stranger who wanted click bait” in response to her scathing takedown.
Sager is right. McHenry apparently does not have the fortitude to stand behind the things she says, often deleting tweets or walking back insults.
But neither does she have the humility, grace, or relatability to get back into the good graces of the non-Fox News/male demographic after her online spats, particularly with and toward women. Quick to share opinions of her own that insult, disregard, disrespect, and invalidate other people’s lives, experiences, careers, and struggles, McHenry is also quick to snap at anyone who steps out of line in her male-dominated echo chamber on social media, blocking those who disagree with her or call her out for unflattering behavior.
And with that tactic comes the ability to put her head in the sand, and disregard the danger her comments and attacks can create.
McHenry’s indifference to other women’s experiences with mental health issues, sexual abuse or assault, empowerment, career trajectory, and morality seems like a by-product of a particular combination of insecurity and narcissism.
Constantly lauding her own achievements while knocking the achievements of others, McHenry holds herself and worse, others, to an impossible standard that people are neither impressed nor encouraged by. Disregarding the reality that not every woman operates in the same manner or within the same system or with the same privileges that McHenry herself finds familiar and comfortable, she is either blatantly ignorant to or callously dismissive of the hardships faced by most women on a daily basis.
I stand behind McHenry in regards to her assertions that she was experiencing harassment at work. And I believe that Fox completely dropped the ball in not handling the situation professionally or properly—instead giving Tyrus his own show. I believe McHenry is a victim and deserves to be heard and her accusations believed. But I do so with disappointment that McHenry refuses to see the hypocrisy of calling cheerleaders “sex objects” who deserve to be treated as such for their job, while simultaneously posting a picture in short shorts and no bra on Instagram to hawk @FabFitFun.
I do so with the frustration of knowing McHenry calls other women who model professionally “desperate for male attention” while simultaneously posting photos that have been filtered to hell and back on her social media. I do so with the sadness that despite the fact that McHenry is almost surely part of the 81% of women who have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime, she will most likely revert back to standing against women rather than with them in the wake of this, blaming their wardrobes or their jobs or their outlooks for the harassment or assaults they experience, and completely dismissing the danger that kind of rhetoric creates for women.
Given opportunity after opportunity to prove she is indeed better than the woman we saw in the tow truck video, McHenry has failed at every turn, simply because she’s never really needed to succeed.
The audiences she’s appealing to, the networks she’s appearing on, welcome the kind of bully tactics and anti-woman rhetoric she’s become known for. And in some ironic twist of events, despite her assertions that sexual harassment only seems to happen to a certain kind of woman, a woman she would never stoop so low as to be, she has become the victim of the very thing she helps perpetuate on a weekly basis—a disdain for and a distrust of women.
As more women come forward to detail their experiences with sexual harassment and assault in order to help prevent it from happening to others, as more women stand together in order to combat the issues that stand in our way on a daily basis, and as more women challenge the status quo in order to gain respect, equality, and empowerment, will McHenry finally realize that other women aren’t the enemy?
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Stefanie Williams is a television writer based in Charleston, South Carolina. She is the author of Chasing the Jersey. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland and proud mother to two fabulous rescue pitbulls.