“What I find sort of extraordinary is that this man is at the top of a very particular iceberg. I don’t think you can describe him as a ‘sex addict.’ He’s a predator. But what he’s, as it were, the top of the ladder of is a system of harassment and belittling and bullying and interference and what my mother would have referred to in the olden days as ‘pestering.’ ‘Is he pestering you?’ That’s the word we used to use in the olden days.”
Considering the title of this piece and the quote provided, one might infer that the man described is soon to be former governor of New York Andrew Cuomo. But that would be wrong. The quote is from Emma Thompson about disgraced Academy Award winner, sex offender, and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein.
To be clear, Cuomo is not Weinstein, and the investigations into Cuomo’s behavior don’t seem to be leading to criminal charges against him as serious as those for which Weinstein was convicted. That said, Cuomo has topped his own iceberg—governed it, one might say—and the attributes of the system Ms. Thompson described are now clearly in evidence.
If everything in life really is about sex, except sex, which is really about power, one needn’t be an Olympic long jumper to understand even superficially how the dynamics play together. The physical act of consensual sex sometimes includes the two sides of the power coin–submission and aggression—particularly if it’s being done right. Outside the bedroom, behavior by the holder of power may not be intended to lead back into the bedroom, but that doesn’t mean it’s not sexual harassment. This is part of where Cuomo gets it horribly wrong.
In his resignation speech, Cuomo asserts that there is a difference between “alleged improper conduct” and “sexual harassment” and seeks to make some of the accusations quite innocuous. A simple hug and an arm around the shoulder for a staff photo, and a kiss on the cheek at a wedding, that sort of thing.
But even if we choose to not ask how often do you hug your employees or did that lady’s cheek belong to an old friend or someone you just met at the wedding, Cuomo moves to place the responsibility of the offensive nature of calling women “honey,” “sweetheart,” and “darling” as being on those very women who found it “dated” and, well, “offensive.”
Cuomo goes on to say, “In my mind, I’ve never crossed the line with anyone. But, I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn. There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate. And I should have—no excuses.” An interesting and somewhat exasperating assertion following on the heels of a string of what can only be described as excuses.
Since Cuomo and I are the same age, let’s tackle that last bit there. It is probably not that the lines have been redrawn. They are, however, being more assertively enforced, which is a good thing for society. Those shifts that Cuomo identifies—not shifting lines, mind you, but societal appreciation of the lines—should have been recognized by any white male baby boomer with an IQ above room temperature, particularly one entrusted with governing.
Speaking for myself, I appreciate that keeping those terms of endearment in check—particularly being southern—can be challenging, but that’s no excuse for asserting that Cuomo’s slips in the workplace were meant to be “endearing.” It is also baffling to me that Cuomo could have spent most of the last forty years in management roles, in and out of government, and still be so clueless on this issue.
In my management career, I personally observed both physical and verbal sexual harassment, in one case of my own female boss at that time. Before there were Human Resources processes available to address sexual harassment which I could use, a female employee of mine and I struggled with how to deal with the problem on our own of her being sexually harassed by another male in the office.
So just don’t give me that redrawn, cultural shifts bullshit. Any male manager in the last four decades who didn’t see it wasn’t looking. And if he wasn’t looking, he was most assuredly a part of the problem.
When all of these allegations started coming out on Cuomo, I really didn’t want them to prove valid. Partly because of the pivotal role he played in New York’s Marriage Equality Act, and partly because he may have pierced nipples. But that ship has sailed.
Now, sashay away.