Andrew Cuomo’s insulting ‘bumbling man’ defense



After eight days in his hidey-hole, three women having credibly accused him of sexual harassment, Gov. Andrew Cuomo emerged wide-eyed and teary, hand splayed against heart, offering this line of defense:

I had no idea.

How insulting. How specious. Cynical to the point of camp.

If only there was something like, I don’t know, a widely circulated photo of a grinning Cuomo with his hands on either side of one young accuser’s grimacing face, her expression clearly telegraphing please-stop-let-me-go, that could have communicated such resistance to the governor.

Scripted line from Cuomo’s presser yesterday, repeated for emphasis: “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable.”

Whom are you going to believe? Andrew Cuomo or your lying eyes?

I had no idea has become the last refuge of the scoundrel. It’s the go-to response in every crisis manager’s playbook, a one-size-fits-all explanation for every sexual harasser who otherwise cannot defend or deny his behavior.

It’s doubly diabolical for its sexist subtext: “Calm down, ladies. Let’s not get hysterical.”
Right. Because when women get upset, by default we’re being illogical. Our emotions automatically override cognitive function.

And so it’s left to these poor men, ever beleaguered by us women with our standards and self-worth, to explain that sexual harassment isn’t so bad. Just let these men learn from their mistakes in peace. Consequences aren’t necessary.

This is nothing short of gaslighting. It’s blaming women for having the absolute morally and legally correct reaction: Sexual harassment is wrong. Full stop.

Here’s what happens when a young female employee like Charlotte Bennett, then 25, is left alone in an office with her much older, extremely powerful boss, Cuomo, who then peppers her with questions such as:

Do you have sex with older men? What’s going on with your sex life? Are you monogamous in relationships or open to other partners? I’m certainly open, he allegedly said, to relationships with women your age.

Paraphrasing Cuomo to Bennett here: God, this pandemic is such a drag, I haven’t hugged, really hugged, anyone in forever. How about you?

So Bennett — bright, ambitious and clearly talented, working as an executive aide and health policy adviser during the height of the pandemic — surely goes home and thinks:
Is this guy going to kill my career if I don’t sleep with him? Spread rumors about me? Demote me? Fire me?

That is the insidiousness and nefariousness of a power imbalance. It’s the reason a harassed subordinate can’t tell her boss “No” or “Don’t talk to me like that” or “Leave me alone.”

Also, here’s something we didn’t hear the press corps ask Cuomo yesterday: “Aren’t you a known, lifelong bully? Didn’t you just call a Democratic Queens assemblyman, one who questioned your handling of COVID-infected nursing home patients, and yell down the line, ‘I will destroy you! You haven’t seen my wrath. I will go out tomorrow and start telling the world how bad of an Assembly member you are, and you will be finished’?”

Such is Cuomo’s reputation, his terroristic behavior an open secret in Albany and among the reporters who cover him, that no one doubts this version of events.

But sure, in this instance — three attractive young women who look an awful lot alike, highly credible claims and zero reason to want this kind of attention — we’re to give this guy the benefit of the doubt?

I’ve heard Cuomo defenders say that what he did isn’t so bad. It’s not rape. He’s not a monster like Harvey Weinstein.

To which I say: In what way is what Cuomo did remotely okay?

Why are women still expected to tolerate this behavior, which has a real deleterious effect for all of us, flushing the best and the brightest out of their chosen fields by men who strain credulity by claiming they don’t know any better?

As Cuomo accuser Lindsey Boylan tweeted immediately after his pathetic mea culpa: “How can New Yorkers trust you @NYGovCuomo to lead our state if you ‘don’t know’ when you’ve been inappropriate with your own staff?”


Demonstrators hold signs as they gather outside the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office calling for his resignation, in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. March 2, 2021.
Demonstrators hold signs as they gather outside Andrew Cuomo’s office calling for his resignation in Manhattan on March 2, 2021.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

In our #MeToo era, there is no shortage of constant training — in corporations, on campuses, and yes, in the halls of government — on what is and is not acceptable behavior.

Cuomo himself — who condescendingly reminded us yesterday that he is a lawyer — also told us that he completed his most recent annual sexual harassment training course.

So what can’t Andrew Cuomo, this self-styled brilliant legal and political mind, comprehend here?

In a great piece for The Week in 2017, Lil Loofbourow wrote about the myth of the male bumbler. Such was the premise for Cuomo’s demeanor and speech yesterday.

“Should you not recognize the type,” Loofbourow wrote, these men are “wide-eyed and perennially confused” — Andrew Cuomo, check.

“He’s astonished to discover that he had power over anyone at all, let alone that he was perceived as using it.” — Check.

“The bumbler’s perpetual amazement exonerates him. Incompetence is less damaging than malice.” — Check.

Here’s the great irony: If Andrew Cuomo had adopted this mantle when his nursing home scandal broke — tears, an abject apology, a claim that he didn’t know any better at the time, it was the earliest days of the pandemic, he was doing the best he could and will never forgive himself instead of reverting to form (“Who cares [if they] died in a hospital, in a nursing home? They died.”) — the press and the public might, just might, have bought it.

Alas, Andrew Cuomo just used up his last male bumbler chit.


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