Male politicians being jerks can’t seem to stay out of the news. Our state Legislature ended on a sour note with men in leadership positions bullying and belittling their female colleagues. That’s pretty lousy. On a national level, the headlines are worse: I’m talking about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Florida Congressman Matthew Gaetz.
Governor Cuomo has been dodging allegations of bad behavior with women who work for him for months now. Essentially, he continually makes wildly inappropriate comments to women, touches them, embraces them, and kisses them without their consent. Dozens of women have complained; three women have gone public, that is, to the press. Just about every elected official in New York has called for Cuomo to step down, yet he keeps on keepin’ on.
Some of this seems to be made possible by a truly toxic environment in New York state politics. The rest is Cuomo’s classic misogynist mindset: he apologizes “if anyone is offended,” but does not acknowledge any wrongdoing on his part. Oh, and Cuomo has also been found to have lied about forcing nursing homes to accept Covid-19 patients, and appears to have covered up the deaths in those homes. Character analysis pro tip: Someone who mistreats women usually has something else wrong, too.
Then there is Gaetz. Wow. I mean, just wow. He’s been a fixture in recent months on all the talk shows as a favored Trump surrogate, right up there with Senators Hawley and Cruz. He traveled to Wyoming in his spare time to campaign against Liz Cheney after she spoke up against the January 6 insurrection. And he spent 13 minutes on Tucker Carlson’s show this week explaining that sure, he provided young women he dated with flights and hotel rooms, because that’s what a gentleman does and they absolutely, positively, were not 17 years old. Wait. What?! Oh, now we get it. The congressman is under investigation by the Department of Justice for sex trafficking of minors. But he’s being super transparent about it, so hey. That’s cool. And he definitely stands for conservative values.
All of these stories are different and none of them are okay. State Senator Ivey-Soto bullying State Senate President Pro Tem Stewart was not okay. State Speaker Egolf alternately dismissing, chastising and berating Representatives Figueroa and Dow was not okay. Governor Cuomo making unwanted advances is not okay. Congressman Gaetz possibly committing felonies with minors is definitely not okay and could result in prison time.
As you may have surmised, sexual harassment is a hot button issue with me, and I have no tolerance for it. Certainly, it varies in degree. Certainly, it can be stopped at the source, and should be reported quickly if it isn’t stopped. One of my very first jobs, straight out of college, was an additional assignment as the equal opportunity officer at one of the wildest Navy bases on the planet at one of the worst times to be there. I learned a lot, very quickly, with the help of good leadership and a great base lawyer.
Basically, there’s ignorance and there’s malice and it’s very important to learn the difference; the first can be fixed and the latter must be managed and eliminated if possible. Here’s a quick Sexual Harassment 101 based on 30 years of experience:
– Always tell the harasser the behavior is unwelcome at the time of the behavior.
– Try to solve the issue at the lowest level possible; for instance, if someone tells a joke at work you find offensive, tell them and give them the opportunity to avoid repeating the behavior before escalating the issue.
– If you can’t solve the problem at it source, make sure you document it and report it to a manager or supervisor. If that doesn’t resolve it, take it higher.
– Don’t think all harassers are men or all victims are female.
– If you are about to do or say something you wouldn’t want your parent, sibling, spouse or best friend to hear about, then just don’t.
– Degree of severity is crucial. Don’t try to end someone’s career for ignorance. At the same time, don’t try to suck it up and gut it out if your career is at risk or a crime is being committed.
Also, let’s talk about what sexual harassment is and isn’t:
– It is harassment based on gender or sexual orientation.
– It is quid pro quo harassment: “I will give you a benefit in exchange for a sexual favor.”
– It is unwelcome sexual advances or comments.
– It is not giving someone an honest compliment.
– It is not asking someone out if you are ready to take no for an answer.
– It is not telling a joke or having a sense of humor.
– It is not hugging someone hello or goodbye in the state of New Mexico. We are totally the land of the abrazo (absent a pandemic).
I know there are people in the workplace dealing with this every day, because I have in recent years—and I am old and sad and no one even looks at women after the age of 35. Believe me when I say that no manager wants sexual harassment in their shop, government or private sector. If you see something, say something. If you don’t know what to say, say it to me; my email is attached to my tagline.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and a former Navy officer. She lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at email@example.com.