Our fight cannot end with the resignation of Andrew Cuomo
I was a candidate for Congress in 2017 when the #MeToo movement gained wide media coverage. Public reckoning in recent years has forced accountability from some high-level people in power for what was once considered acceptable, tolerable or, at worst, a gray area in behavior at work.
As one of the youngest women to sit in Congress, less than a year into my elected career, I was one of the public figures caught in this situation as the world learned – to through intimate images taken and disclosed in a non-consensual manner – about my own involvement in such a gray area: a consensual relationship with a woman who worked for me.
Almost two years later, we have now learned, thanks to courageous survivors and a subsequent investigation by the New York Attorney General, that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo break the law and acted in a way we have now determined should not be tolerated. If this had happened just five years ago, these women likely would not have come forward and the behavior would almost certainly have been excused.
But let’s be clear: Cuomo’s behavior wasn’t just tolerated by society just a few years ago, it was almost expected. He has been neglected. Raise the shoulders. Swept under the carpet. Just something we had to deal with from men, especially men in positions of power.
The fact that this is no longer the case, that it has become clear that we will no longer tolerate this behavior, and that we are not expected to do so, marks real progress.
As things unfolded over the past few months with Cuomo, I sometimes found myself thinking of him on the defensive. Alright, sure that’s disgusting, but what do you expect from a 70-year-old man who’s had that kind of status and power for so long? Should he really resign?
Almost every day for the past two years I have been faced with the question – of myself and others –should I have resigned?
Was it justified? Was it law?
Was it worth the cost of a hard-fought blue seat in Congress that reverted to being a Republican once I left? If I hadn’t resigned, I would probably still have a seat in Congress today.
So whenever a scandal comes up, I think of it as a fellow lawmaker who has stood on the other side of what some people call a #MeToo scandal with its own problematic power dynamic.
I was a politician for only a few years. And as much as I identify with, and in some ways, I can sympathize with what Cuomo was going through as he considered resigning, there is a much more important element of who I am that I identify with a lot more: be a woman.
As a woman, I don’t identify with Cuomo. And it’s not Cuomo who I can even sympathize with from a distance.
It was the woman who remained paralyzed as a powerful man touched parts of her body, as if he had a right to do so. Me too.
It was the woman who had to push back on her feelings of violation because she knew people would say she was overreacting or being a troublemaker. Me too.
These are all the women in the AG report because, like so many other women, I have had most of these experiences, multiple times, in almost every job I have had throughout my career. even in adolescence.
Shooting down a guy like Governor Cuomo is a big signal that this kind of behavior is no longer acceptable. That there is now a line in the sand which, if crossed, has real consequences.
But if we are serious about ending the near-universality of women who experience such violations on a daily basis, we need more than the resignation of a powerful man. Much more.
We need to change the fundamental power dynamic that has existed not only in the short years since #MeToo, but in previous lives and generations.
Changing this dynamic will take a long time. It can even take decades. We will need to level the playing field by instituting equal pay, paid family leave, ensuring reproductive freedom, and much more.
But honestly, we need something a lot more basic. We need a sense of security and to correct the physical vulnerability we face every day.
One in five women has experienced rape or attempted rape.
Almost 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner.
Every 16 hours, a woman is shot and killed by a current or former intimate partner.
Harassment of women in the workplace and elsewhere is just an extension of the long-standing and pervasive problem of violence against women.
In order to see a fundamental shift in power dynamics and the ways in which women are treated on a daily basis, we need legislators at all levels to recognize and act on these fundamental realities. Our lives literally depend on it.
And guess what? There is already a bipartisan bill currently sitting in the Senate that gives powerful lawmakers the opportunity to show us that they Actually caring about women and our safety: the Violence Against Women Act.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was the very first federal law to comprehensively address the violence faced by women, from domestic violence to sexual assault and harassment. criminal. Members of Congress are working to re-authorize VAWA to include new provisions essential to the safety of women today. The reauthorization passed in the House and is now stuck in the Senate, where many Republicans oppose some of the bill’s vital gun safety measures.
Passing VAWA would be far more meaningful than calling for someone’s resignation. It would help bring us that much closer to feeling truly safe not only in our workplace but in our daily lives, and would show us that we can trust the men who have the power to back us up.
To the senators who currently have the power to pass VAWA and to President Biden, who has the capacity to lobby these senators and possibly sign the bill: please pass VAWA. Or your words calling for resignation and for the fair and equitable treatment of women mean nothing more than hype and no apologies to which we are so used.
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