Cuomo Just Tried to Redefine Sexual Harassment and It Did Not Go Well

The governor maybe should stop talking.
May 13, 2021, 8:01pm
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the construction completion of Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York on May 11, 2021. (Photo by Lev Radin/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who allegedly knows a thing or two about sexual harassment, apparently woke up Thursday and decided to just, you know, redefine sexual harassment.

Since being accused of sexual harassment by multiple women in the past several months, Cuomo has largely shied away from the televised press conferences that made him such a star in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. That was probably a good idea, because during a conference Thursday, reporter Rebecca Lewis asked Cuomo about a statement he’d made about Charlotte Bennett, a former Cuomo aide who’s accused him of propositioning her for sex. In that statement, Cuomo repeatedly insisted he hadn’t “intended” to offend or make anyone uncomfortable.

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It did not go well for Cuomo.

“Do you acknowledge that your intentions, according to the law, don’t matter in sexual harassment?” Lewis, a reporter for the New York news outlet City and State, asked the governor. “Did you say the things that she accuses you of saying? Because you don’t deny them. You apologize for making people feel uncomfortable.

“No, I said I never meant to make anyone feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo replied. The governor then illustrated a hypothetical scenario in which Lewis accused Cuomo of harassing her in a press conference.

"You can say that," he continued. "I would say, 'I never said anything I believed was inappropriate. I never meant to make you feel that way.' You may hear it that way. You may interpret it that way, and I respect that. And I apologize to you, if I said something you think is offensive."

It was an unfortunate choice of hypothetical, given the fact that Cuomo has been accused of “creepy behavior” toward female reporters. But then Cuomo, apparently, took a look at the hole he was in and decided to just keep digging.

Stone-faced, Cuomo went on, "Harassment is not making someone feel uncomfortable. That is not harassment. If I just made you feel uncomfortable, that is not harassment. That is you feeling uncomfortable.”

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Way to victim-blame, Gov. Cuomo.

Yes, not all discomfort is sexual harassment. But sexual harassment, by definition, does include making someone uncomfortable. If someone is made so uncomfortable that they feel trapped in a hostile work environment, that’s sexual harassment—even if the harasser doesn’t intend to harass. Just two years ago, Cuomo himself signed a bill that expanded the definition of sexual harassment, clarifying that it didn’t have to be “severe or pervasive” to count.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group, a collective that aims to end harassment in New York’s state capitol, tweeted Thursday that Cuomo’s “self-delusion reached impressive new heights.”

“Just because you believe you can’t make anyone ‘feel’ harassed by your actions, doesn’t make it legally true,” the group tweeted. “If the governor tried that before a judge, he’d get laughed out of court.”

Bennett, the aide whose account started the exchange, also chimed in.

“It is very simple: the issue is about his actions, it is not about my feelings,” she tweeted. “He broke the law (you know, the one he signed). Apologies don’t fix that, and neither do denials.

Thursday was actually quite a banner day for gross comments from male politicians. During a confirmation hearing for Radhika Fox’s appointment to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe told Fox that if she didn’t “behave,” "I'm going to talk to your daddy.”

Inhofe’s communications director later told CNN that the senator was making a “lighthearted joke” recognizing the fact that Fox’s father had attended the hearing.

Still, unless someone is speaking to their literal father, no one in Congress should use the word “daddy.”