Andrew Cuomo, and all that

How many layers of experience, knowledge and memory have I been peeling off myself since I first read about the allegations against Andrew Cuomo?

They remind me, as such allegations always will, of the many similar and worse instances in my life. After all, I worked in the film business for years. But I’m pretty sure any woman who has worked in any business dominated by men has been through it.

They also reminded me of how I dealt with some of it. Did I ever tell you about the time a well-known producer chased me around my desk? My own desk. He never caught me. I was fleet-footed and quick-witted. Indeed, the whole thing was so absurd, I said to him, “You’re chasing me around a desk? Do you understand what a cliché this is?”

That was funny because I had the temperament to view it as funny. But it could be funny, too, because I was particularly invulnerable to sexual pressure at work. I never feared I would lose my job by saying no, and I said “no” often, even to the men who had the power to fire me or to make my working life miserable.

Indeed, my job — as glamorous and exciting as it was — was not my life’s future. As it happened, I was working in an entertaining business, a sort of grown-up playpen, as a way of supporting myself enjoyably while I figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up.

The actors who launched #MeToo were not in my relatively invulnerable position. They were excruciatingly vulnerable. Actors are, always, especially women actors (until they assert control by developing their own production companies) because their profession requires them to be chosen out of many other equally vulnerable women, all of whom are mostly helpless to determine that choice. Auditions and casting calls are entirely subjective. I have heard and reacted to repulsive stories about what actors were pressured to do in the hope they’d get a part or, at least, not be blackballed because they didn’t want to give a producer an office blow job.

I did have encounters which were not comical. One was pretty scary. But there were flirtations I learned how to evade or reject without hurting feelings, and there were flirtations which I initiated, or were mutual.

Oh yes, sex and hormones floated throughout the office. And men were, for the most part, the aggressors; that’s what testosterone does. But most of the men I worked around did not make sexual overtures. Most of them were supportive colleagues and pals.

Also, one memorably unpleasant connection concerned J., a woman who’d been hired as an exec sec’y to the president. Within a month, her behavior had become markedly divisive and hostile to the other women in the office. She was fixated on our boss. He was a flirtatious guy but not in her case. Indeed, he was oblivious to her attentions. When some of us brought this problem to him, he asked me to have a personal conversation with her, a sort of investigation. I did; it was alarming. She claimed to be his favorite, reported as factual her interpretations of his manner toward her, accused me of being jealous of her. Her pretty face became distorted, almost a portrait of madness.

She was an erotic paranoid. When I told our boss about this, he had her dismissed.

She is not the only female erotic paranoid I have known. I mention this because it was how I learned that the accusations of women in the working world — as lousy as that world has been to us throughout history — are not to be automatically accepted as the whole truth.

Now, as I read and hear the allegations against Andrew Cuomo, I have questions. Many questions.

Are there no distinctions drawn between casual touching on the back or shoulder and “inappropriate” touching?

Is the “inappropriate” label owned exclusively by the person slapping it on? I can’t count the number of casual arm-around-my-shoulders touches I’ve experienced (and given) at work. Some of them were comforting when comfort was called for. The rest were inoffensively friendly.

Is there no distinction between flirtatious behavior and language — even crudely flirtatious behavior — and sexual harassment? (I’ve often been amazed at how clumsy men I’d considered sophisticated could be when making sexual overtures. The worst of them were gross; the best of them klutzy.) Since I’ve been the object of both, I’d say the first can be countered with some insight and, depending on the guy, humor and kindness, while the second must be confronted with a taut negative, a metaphoric or actual kick in the balls.

And — this question should be most important to everyone — did Cuomo’s behavior constitute criminal acts or create a fraught environment for women in his administration? Are we drawing a distinction between a chief executive hired by a Board of Directors in a business, or an government official elected by voters?

I heard a woman on TV talking about Cuomo. She is a lawyer, someone I have previously respected greatly, but she was producing absolute nonsense about the “evidence” against Andrew Cuomo, about his “pattern of behavior,” about investigating him to discover other women who will prove that pattern of behavior. She insists Cuomo resign.

No. The sort of investigation she’s suggesting — digging up other accusations — is a prescription for a genuine witch hunt, not an investigation. It would invite a host of accusers and a lot of suspicious stories, each of which would take time to evaluate.

The investigation of Cuomo’s behavior will not and cannot simply accept the allegations as factual. Because they are not only descriptions of Cuomo’s alleged actions but are embroidered with heavily weighted and conflicted interpretations of Cuomo’s actions.

I was appalled to hear some of the CBS interview with Charlotte Bennett. Norah O’Donnell asked Bennett embarrassingly leading questions, feeding into Bennett’s dual pose as a calm and rational psychoanalyst (which she is not) as well as a troubled victim.

Bennett talked about what she said specifically happened, then followed up by offering her personal interpretations, intoned as if factual, of what Cuomo was thinking, planning, doing. And O’Donnell — and virtually every other TV talking head and politician since — took her “analysis” at face value, repeating Bennett’s interpretations with that theatrically serious voice and attitude I detest in TV interviewers, because — without any evidence at all — it gives another layer of credence to the allegations.

There is no lawyer, no investigator who would allow Bennett’s highly personalized interpretation of Cuomo’s actions to be produced on a witness stand or to influence any decision about whether his behavior fit into any of New York’s criminal laws.

It was clear to me that, if she reported what happened accurately (and I thought she did), Bennett was genuinely upset by Cuomo’s actions and words. I, among many other women, wouldn’t have been, but I accept that she, a past assault victim, was.

But none of Bennett’s interpretations of Cuomo’s intentions approaches fact and must not be accepted as fact. Unless, of course, Cuomo says, “Yes, all of that is true, that’s what I intended.”

I think Charlotte Bennett should not be appearing on TV, participating in what could be perceived as a political stunt. She should save her testimony for investigators who will be aiming at getting the facts and then establishing whether those facts lead to a criminal charge or other move.

Lindsey Boylan is another case entirely.

When I first encountered her (so to speak), she had announced she was entering the primary for my congressional district. I looked up her credentials to evaluate whether she’d be a good representative for me. Excellent colleges, but her work background did not include elected office. Indeed, her most significant work experience was an appointment to a State board involved with urban planning. She had been appointed by Cuomo.

Working in government and getting elected to government are two different routes to jobs in public policy. Each requires a different set of abilities, a different personality. And when I’m ready to vote, I consider this difference.

Boylan lost the primary. Now she’s running for Manhattan Borough President. While accusing Cuomo of sexual harassment when she worked for him, in the same position she has on top of her c.v. I don’t think deliberately launching a scandal involving sex is a good campaign strategy, unless she’s working on the premise that getting yourself in the headlines, getting attention is the way to win an election.

I read Boylan’s full complaint against Cuomo. It is on Medium. It is jam-packed with gothic novel vocabulary but almost no actions that could be claimed as factual or assaultive. I found it disturbing — but hardly the way Boylan intended.

Shocking, but Cuomo does have the right to defend himself. He has the right to say, “I did some of those things but did not do others.” Instead of combat — which I assume is his natural instinct — his TV appearance addressing the accusations was, I thought, heart-felt and human. Given what I sense is his character, I was sort of startled.

I never thought of Andrew Cuomo as a sympathetic guy before his public statements about the allegations. He’s a tough politician, not as attractive a pol as his father was. And his absurd bullying contest with Bill de Blasio drives a lot of us nuts. (My brother, who is far more aware of Cuomo’s history than I am, tells me everyone in New York loathes him and is generally delighted this is happening to him, regardless of the accuracy of the allegations.)

But unless Andy Cuomo has been grabbing women “by the pussy,” pushing women up against walls and putting his hands all over them, raping them in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room, spying on young, semi-naked teenagers, and hanging out with the likes of pedophile and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein…that is, unless a neutral group of investigators proves he committed actual criminal acts, I do not want him to resign.

Right up there, in the last paragraph, I am indeed suggesting that our country’s women, in particular, have been traumatized by Trump’s four-year term in office. So I’m asking that we not release our collective and mighty #MeToo warrior rage in a mass example of displacement against public figures who do not demonstrably deserve it.

Trump will probably go to prison and be financially wiped out. With Trump, as with Cuomo, we’ll have to wait to see what happens. It’s annoying, yes, but thorough legal, democratic processes take time. There’s no way we can cut it off without establishing precedents that will ping back at us in the future. (Al Franken should not have resigned.)

Today, in the Times continued reporting on this story, Cuomo reacted:

Mr. Cuomo, however, was adamantly resisting calls for his resignation, arguing he was elected by the people, not “by politicians.”

“I’m not going to resign because of allegations,” the governor said, calling the notion “anti-democratic,” and a violation of the due process clause of the Constitution. “There is no way I resign.”

He’s right.


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3 Responses to Andrew Cuomo, and all that

  1. Rudi Konrath says:

    That was a very clear argument! For us, thousands of miles away, much of the US media shenanigans look odd, strange or outright ridiculous. Well done 👍🏼
    Looking forward to hear new developments. In the meantime I am “praying” to see Trump in an orange jumpsuit. Matching the hair!

  2. Deborah Fein says:

    Great article. I completely agree. The problem with these allegations of assault brought by women years after the fact, is that they are devoid of content and setting. To judge a complaint one needs a sense of that so subjective and ephemeral sense of intent. Women just feel it and inherently know when an affectionate touch is just that as opposed to the same act as a demeaning humiliating expression of power and male supremacy. You just have to have been there.

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