At the end of October, criminal charges were filed against former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo resigned in August, after an independent investigation found a pattern of inappropriate behavior. Cuomo has denied the allegations, calling the forcible touching charges the “worst combination of politics, incompetence and abuse of the law.”
Cuomo’s story is one of a man in power who saw women as disposable.
Denials aside, the disgraced former governor was expected to be arrested and booked, but now it appears the case is already falling apart. The Albany sheriff who filed the charges seems not to have consulted his district attorney, and the Albany County district attorney recently told the court that the misdemeanor sex-crime complaint is “potentially defective.” Meanwhile on Wednesday, the New York State attorney’s office released dozens of documents related to its Cuomo investigation, including a transcript of a combative, contentious 11-hour interview conducted in July.
Cuomo’s story is one of a man in power who saw women as disposable. And if he indeed manages to evade accountability, as so many men have before him, will anyone be surprised?
This is not a problem specific to New York politics. In Kansas, state Rep. Aaron Coleman, a Democrat who has a history of allegedly abusive behavior, was charged with assaulting his brother at the end of October. Coleman has previously enjoyed the defense of high-profile progressive pundits, who pleaded for his past sins to be forgiven. (His attorney entered a plea of not guilty.) It’s the same in Iowa, where last year Democrats elected to state party leadership a senator accused of sexual harassment. Same reasoning, different state.
And all of this is happening in America, where a 74-year-old white man gutted paid leave from Biden’s Build Back Better Plan and the Supreme Court is currently weighing two more challenges to reproductive rights. The maternal death rate in America is higher than any other developed nation. We spend less on child care than any other developed nation.
Across the country, maternity wards are closing, deemed too expensive for the capitalist enterprise of American medicine. And even though Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land, for many women, affordable reproductive care is hard to find.
At Skidmore, students are pushing back against Title IX rules developed under the Trump administration that make it harder to report cases of assault. The Biden administration has not yet changed those rules. In response to the stories of assault survivors, administration officials and university representatives are quick to call the women heroes and tell them they “hear” them. But have so far refused to make any meaningful changes to help.
Over the past five years, women have protested, screamed, lost their jobs, told their stories, and it’s still not enough to prove that we are human beings. As a popular tweet by the comedian Zach Bornstein joked, “Covid has more rights in Texas than women.” But it’s probably more accurate to say, Covid has more rights in America than women.
Meanwhile, some of those supposedly good men we elected to save us are talking a good feminist game in public, only to turn around and abuse and belittle women in private.
Writing in New York magazine, Rebecca Traister reported that many of the women who have accused Cuomo of harassment were reluctant to speak out, precisely because they had hoped that they were working toward some greater goal and that their misery and mistreatment would somehow be vindicated. But while he was forced to resign, it’s unclear what other consequences, if any, he will face.
Many of the “good guys” elected to come to the aid of American woman, like Cuomo, have failed to do so. Instead women’s bodies are being sacrificed on the altar of American progress. It’s a tale as old as time. Beginning with the fight for suffrage and continuing through the second wave of feminism until now. It’s an exhausting reality that we didn’t escape just because there is a Democratic president now. Because this isn’t about politics, it’s about power and patriarchy.
But perhaps, if there is one thing that is changing, it’s women’s tolerance for those who treat them as disposable.
Speaking to The Times Union of Albany in August, the woman at the center of the current charges against Cuomo, Brittany Commisso, said: “What he did to me is illegal. I am a mother. I’m a daughter. I’m a friend. And I’m … a human being. I’m a woman, and I have a voice and now I’ve decided to use it.”
Good, because if we’ve learned anything, it’s that we have to stop hoping that men will save us. The task of our liberation is ours alone.