Opinion: Make Cuomo’s resignation a turning point for accountability


We were young and believed that our voices mattered, so we banded together and filed an official complaint. We were met with silence. No one met with us, advised us or comforted us. Instead, some weeks later, the manager was transferred to another store, given a fresh start — presumably free to harass an unsuspecting new group of young women.

This story almost feels unworthy of sharing because it feels like it’s par for the course — so common that it feels redundant to tell it. Still, stories like this are critical. They are what brought down a titan.

News that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned Tuesday, following multiple accusations of sexual harassment, feels like a breath of fresh air. His takedown is both a necessary consequence of his alleged behavior and a pivotal moment in American history. Even leaders who have earned praise can be held to account for wrongdoing.
A state investigation released last week reported that Cuomo “sexually harassed multiple women and violated state law” — allegations Cuomo himself denies, even as his support among Democrats locally and nationally has cratered. “I’m a New Yorker, born and bred,” Cuomo said in announcing his resignation on Tuesday. “I am a fighter and my instinct is to fight through this controversy because I truly believe it is politically motivated, I believe it is unfair and it is untruthful and I believe it demonizes behavior that is unsustainable for society.”

Cuomo isn’t wrong to use words like “unfair” and “unsustainable,” but he grossly misdirects who they should describe. Yes, it is unfair. It is unfair the way that women have long been mistreated in the workplace, in our homes and on the streets.

Yes, it is unsustainable. The constant harassment, condescension, marginalization and abuse of women is not sustainable. Even though women have endured such abuses for generations and even longer, perhaps we have at long last started to reach the overdue point where we have simply had enough. One in three women has experienced intimate partner or sexual violence, according to the World Health Organization. According to a study by the Center for Talent Innovation, more than one in three have experienced harassment at work. What’s more, the Equal Employment Opportunity Council (EEOC), the governing body that investigates workplace discrimination claims, says that workplace harassment is severely underreported.
So many powerful men remain in positions of power and prestige despite reputations for and allegations of the mistreatment, harassment or worse of women who report to or work with them. Despite the recent lineage of accountability amid the birth of the #MeToo movement and groups like Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, men continue to abuse their power and the women in their paths, so often without recourse or accountability. Time’s Up was itself implicated in advising Cuomo; board co-chair Roberta Kaplan resigned after it emerged she had reviewed a draft of a letter questioning the character of Lindsey Boylan, one of Cuomo’s accusers.
Cuomo’s resignation feels different somehow. He was at the top of his game and reputation just one year ago, holding a nation in rapt attention with his daily Covid-19 briefings at a time when the United States was sorely lacking in federal leadership and desperately needing order amid the chaos. For many, Cuomo created that space of comfort, of hope; he helped us to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel and reassured us with his charts and stalwart support for medicine and science. He seemed assured of a fourth term in office.
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Women were crushing on Andrew Cuomo during a time when we were so eager to trust someone. But those closest to him knew he was also a bully, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Indeed, the false sense of comfort Cuomo conferred during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic last year was torn away these past weeks as more was revealed about his long alleged history of perpetuating discomfort and worse in the lives and work environments of multiple women. Each of the instances included in the state attorney general’s report on Cuomo were ones with “corroborating evidence and credible witnesses,” according to the attorney general’s office.

The question confronting us now is whether this pivotal moment will be the beginning of real change in how society treats women who do come forward. The internalized knowledge that our stories may be dismissed, may not be deemed credible, runs deep. There’s a spectrum of abuse, from harassment to — on the extreme end — rape, for which women themselves may expect to be punished if they come forward. That is the reason I told few people after I was raped when I was young.

I know the bravery of these women who spoke up about their harassment, and the resolve of the investigators who corroborated their stories will help other women all along that continuum know they should be heard and believed.

Let us take new poignant lessons learned from those 11 women, the state attorney general’s investigation and Cuomo’s resignation — that parties and people of all stripes can band together to stand up for women; that a man in power can and should fall from grace when he has committed acts of abuse (regardless of how virtuous he purportedly was just moments prior); that we must hold men to account even if they have been staunch advocates of gender equity — and apply these lessons at every turn going forward.



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