.Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

Cuomo: Three Conditioned Fallacies That Helped This Abuse Persist

The universal privilege accorded white men, especially powerful white American men, is so omnipresent we almost don’t see it. But the Cuomo investigation and subsequent resignation make clear a few things: one, that the vibrancy of the #MeToo movement persists and is benefitting us all. And two, that we need to look more closely at some of the reasons why actions like Cuomo’s persist. I suggest three fallacies that we can learn from.

First fallacy: that older (usually white) men are caught in the flux of changing mores and social norms and they just can’t quite keep up. This fallacy suggests such men didn’t mean to do anything wrong, they’re just ‘another generation,’ akin to grandpa not understanding TikTok or being mystified by the latest musical trends. They’re really harmless, sweet, just a little outmoded, warranting an eye-roll perhaps, but not much more.

Nope. Men who harass and abuse women, and have been doing it for a lifetime, know exactly what they are doing. They know it reinforces their power, depriving women of their bodily autonomy, job opportunities, dignity, freedom, and far more. They know this and have always known this. The only thing that has changed is their ability to get away with it, not the correctness of their actions.

Second fallacy: that other admirable actions suggest the innocence of the perpetrator. As in, “but he was for marriage equality!” or “he signed the Reproductive Health Law!”  How can this be, we think, he’s really an ally, isn’t he, with his values squarely in the feminist camp?

Stop refusing to see reality. Do not let the glare of some admirable public stances blind you to the very real possibility that people with some “good” qualities can also be harassers, abusers, or worse. This phenomenon is not new. We’ve seen generations of priests – priests who may well be stalwarts in the anti-poverty fight or champions of the homeless – unmasked as rampant pedophiles. We’ve seen the Boy Scouts of America – the Boy Scouts! whose very essence rests on championing a moral code! – in bankruptcy to save themselves after a flood of successful child abuse litigation. We know by now that organizations, and individuals, are not monolithic and horrific abuses can be shielded by a virtuous exterior.

Does this mean that every seemingly righteous man is now suspect and should be tiptoed around, assumed to be a closet rapist? Of course not – don’t fall for the distraction of the “not all men” trap. It simply means that a lifetime of absorbing and observing white male privilege should not prevent you from believing what your eyes and ears are telling you. In other words, if all indications are that Mr. Powerful is harassing and abusing others, maybe he really is?

Third fallacy: that anything that has to do with the sex or dating lives of public men is “private” behavior, something between Mr. Powerful and his wife, or perhaps subject only to his own consciousness and some religious figure. Nonsense. People bring their whole selves to work: those who privately treat women as objects, playthings for their amusement and manifestations of power, do real harm to everyone, not least the women entitled to be working free of harassment. Women are half the population; of course, we should be using this information in our assessments of them, not walling it off under some veil of “privacy.”

If you think I’m overreaching here, may I remind you of the #1 question asked of female candidates for public office: “How will you be able to juggle motherhood and _____insert job title here___?” We seem to assume it is our right to ask about, evaluate, and judge a woman’s private mothering capabilities as part of her fitness for public office. Is that private information, something only between a woman and her children and their father? Apparently not. But then, women have never had that much privilege.

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