Six women have now leveled allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Referred to as the “most tumultuous moment of his political career,” Republicans and Democrats alike have called for his resignation from office. New York state lawmakers have even opened an impeachment inquiry following both the harassment allegations and his administration’s handling of coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes.
Given the recent coverage of sexual violence in the media, ranging from allegations against Cuomo, to Sarah Everard, to the Atlanta shootings, a debate seems to have ensued among the public in regards to a UN Women United Kingdom study further popularized on TikTok. The study showed that 97 percent of women ages 18 to 24 experienced a variety of sexual harassment in public. Respondent experiences included “unwelcome sexual advances, comments or jokes, indecent exposure, being catcalled, groped, touched, physically followed and receiving suggestive content online or in person.” Holli Fisher, who works as a program manager for the Sexual Assault Center of Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin, also said this statistic is likely similar for women in the United States.
Ever since Sarah Everard’s death, my feed has been filled with videos of women and men discussing this statistic. Among these videos is also the rise of the hashtag #NotAllMen, which has become an increasingly common rebuttal to the 97 percent statistic by implying that not all men are sexual predators. The type of deflective victim-blaming reactions under this hashtag are disgusting, to say the least. Even Cuomo has downplayed calls to resign in light of the allegations as simply a part of “cancel culture.” Just a few weeks ago, Gov. Cuomo rejected calls to step down, saying “people know the difference between playing politics, bowing to cancel culture and the truth.” It is important to note that Cuomo has yet to deny touching the women coming forward. Instead he repeatedly claims that if he did touch anyone, it was not inappropriately.
What I think men like Cuomo need to realize is that sexual harassment and violence is a spectrum. Saying 97 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment is not saying 97 percent of women have been raped. Nevertheless, the actual statistic for rape victims is still too high — one out of every six women have been victims of rape or attempted rape. Given this spectrum, men need to reconsider the fact that a majority of their physical contact with women in the workplace may be inappropriate, despite what they may believe.
I work in food service and have both appropriate and inappropriate male coworkers. I have multiple male managers who I feel more than comfortable with when they invite physical contact. It’s a matter of how men touch women in the workplace and if they would ever touch a man the same way. I fist bump and high-five my managers all the time, and it makes for a fun work environment. The important part is that I see them initiate the same contact with men. When other male co-workers in the same environment feel the need to press my back, or side, or pull my hair, or caress my arm whenever they walk past me and my other young, female coworkers without ever doing the same to a man, it becomes an issue. That is not the same as my manager drawing on my hand to be funny.
All this to say, the fact that so many men are accused of sexual harassment is not representative of false accusations being made on behalf of women. At Northeastern University, a 10-year study indicates that false reports make up somewhere between two to 10 percent of total allegations, and rates of false reporting are frequently inflated due to weak understandings of sexual assault. Instead, high rates of sexual misconduct, especially in politics, are a cultural issue.
Sexual harassment and politics coexist. After all, is it truly shocking that men who seek careers wielding absurd amounts of power, dominance and control over less powerful people in public are the same ones who do so in private? Sexual assault is not about how attractive, old, skinny, sexy or vulnerable women are. Women and young girls from all kinds of backgrounds have been assaulted. Sexual assault is entirely about maintaining a power dynamic in which the perpetrator can dominate another person for their own benefit.
Still, instead of addressing rampant sexual harassment in the workplace, specifically in the political world, society makes excuses. Rather than addressing unfair and predatory power dynamics male politicians withhold, reporters like Tomi Lahren speak of women in politics like Kamala Harris “sleeping to the top.” Harris was called a gold digger and prostitute in the previous presidential election, despite having dated former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown over 25 years ago. In fact, few people outside of San Francisco have a clue who Willie Brown is — perhaps conservatives are simply incapable of believing that a woman could outperform a man in politics.
The fact that Gov. Cuomo dismissed his calls for resignation by saying he will not “bow down” to cancel culture is truly disheartening. While I’m sure that some Republicans may take advantage of such allegations to potentially advocate for his removal, the fact that Democrats led the impeachment process should have implied that this is a call for accountability. This is not an overreaction to Cuomo “flirting with a few women,” as commentator Matt Walsh suggests. No one has “canceled” Gov. Cuomo. People have simply seen the allegations and called for a proper response. Dismissing sexual harassment allegations as “cancel culture” shows how little Cuomo cares about the women he harassed or for correcting his actions.
Kaitlyn Liu is a junior majoring in English and is assistant Opinions editor.