Many are struggling with the abuse of power vis a vis women aspect of the Cuomo scandal (I am not addressing the nursing home issue here). People are trying to weigh and value these alleged abuses, often comparing them to the “good” Cuomo has done. They are trying to figure out, in effect: “how bad is this, anyway?”  Our ability to weigh and understand these alleged abuses  – and thus assess Cuomo – relates directly to how we understand and how we weigh women’s rights.  

We are in a time of rapid social change around our understandings of the role and rights of women. I know, that sounds crazy in 2021, but there it is. Two prominent underlying issues today – as manifested in #MeToo and many other outlets – are:

(1)  a shift in our understanding of the value of women’s rights to bodily autonomy. (Is it okay for my boss to take my face in his hands? Can the man interviewing me for a job rest his hand on my upper thigh?) And, if women have this right, how highly does society value it?

(2) a shift in our understanding of the rights of men to use sexual overtures or physical advances, as they choose, for their personal satisfaction. 

 We live in a patriarchy. Historically, women have had few-to-no rights in #1 and men have completely unchecked rights in #2.  Now, in 2021, for reasons too long to go into here, this is rapidly changing.

Why is this related to corruption? 

Corruption is “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” (Transparency International)

If we see women’s bodies as something of VALUE – like money or property – that is actually possessed by the women themselves, then elected officials who commit sexual harassment (broadly defined) are using their entrusted power for private gain.

If we DO NOT see women’s bodies as something of value owned by the women themselves, then we do not see this as an abuse of power or corruption! This has been the dominant thinking for, well, forever. There is no unlawful taking, so the argument goes, and thus no corruption or fault because women don’t have those rights to begin with.

To be more specific, if Cuomo used his entrusted power to embezzle funds (something of value) for private gain, we’d all say: “Corruption – hell, yeah!” 

If Cuomo used his entrusted power to violate a woman’s bodily autonomy, and we do not see that body as something of value owned by women, there’s no corruption. 

Conversely, of course, if Cuomo used his entrusted power to violate a woman’s bodily autonomy, and that is something that society says has value belonging to the women themselves, it is an entirely different proposition.

We are asking people to change their thinking about some deeply entrenched shit. No wonder so many are struggling. We’ve come a long way. We have a long way to go.

Full disclosure: I am on the Board of the Museum of Political Corruption. All views expressed here are my own.

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