There was a time when sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace were laughed off, dismissed as good-natured fun. “Boys will be boys,” said with a shrug of the shoulders. “It’s just who they are,” whispered in ladies’ rooms with a roll of the eye.
The very same excuses a defiant, delusional, and self-described misunderstood Andrew Cuomo offered up in 2021 after being accused of sexually harassing multiple female employees.
It doesn’t fly. Not anymore.
That kind of excuse is the worst kind of throwback to the Mad Men era when misogyny in the workplace elicited a chuckle as business as usual.
If this was 1971 before consciousness was raised the Governor’s actions would have been considered obnoxious but expected. But along with an evolving consciousness and awareness, there are now state and federal laws in place to protect women in the workplace.
The laws have evolved, even if he hasn’t.
To be a woman working for Mr. Cuomo, New York’s District Attorney’s report suggested, was to live “the dichotomy between fear and flirtation.”
Sounds like an episode of Mad Men. Without the cool wardrobe.
And his inner circle allowed this conduct to continue- “It’s Andrew being Andrew” they lamely explained. Just another powerful man misunderstood. There is no accountability for his behavior. But he allegedly knows better. He understands power plays. A liberal democrat, he is supposed to be sensitive to issues affecting women.
But he is also a sanctimonious bully who is stuck in time, no different than the other powerful and dangerous dinosaurs we have seen lumbering around.
Who can forget Harvey Weinstein’s trying to absolve himself from his bad behavior:
“I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s when all the rules about behavior and workplace were different. That was the culture then.”
I also came of age in that same culture of the 1960s and 70’s that Harvey Weinstein referenced in his poor excuse for decades of sexual abuse. In the same time period, a 63-year-old Andrew Cuomo came of age in too. The difference was I was on the receiving end of all those rules that supported a toxic culture of male entitlement.
It was the culture of the times…as Weinstein offered. At that time, sexism and sexual harassment at the office were sometimes invisible because it was so darn normal, the leering eyes, suggestive remarks, and creepiness of male workers made sexual harassment a near-daily ordeal faced by women in the workplace with no real recourse.
The sound of women, cross-cultural and cross-generational exclaiming in unison “Me Too” on social media in response to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, and now Andrew Cuomo has been deafening.
The voices may be especially loud from women of my generation many of who may have kept these feelings buried for decades and can now give voice to their indignation they were never allowed to express.
For too long we choked on our outrage burying it deep like an underground missile laying dormant until this year’s news cycle filled with stories of sexual harassment against once-powerful men have been brought down by harassment allegations, the anger and outrage can be released, recognized, and heard.
The 1970s was an exciting time to come of age as a woman, as the rumblings of the women’s movement began to be heard. But even as women began entering the workforce in droves, taking baby steps in their platform shoes, their male colleagues still felt entitled to leer lasciviously under their polyester skirts as they slowly climbed the corporate ladder.
In 1976 I entered the workforce just at “that time,” landing briefly in a corporate office environment in New York City.
From the morning cacophony of catcalls on the streets as I made my way to my midtown office, fielding verbal harassment with the skill of an outfielder, and the day spent maneuvering around sexual innuendos and inappropriate touching at the office, to the day’s end of groping and unsolicited sexual behavior at the clubs at night, it was a pot pourrie of 24/7 sexual harassment.
But it was so common it barely registered. It was the female experience. There were no repercussions, the worst a man could expect to be called was to be labeled a “Male Chauvinist Pig” and move on. More than likely he might even laugh.
And why not, the culture was complicit with his behavior.
In fact, it was the stuff of great humor.
The world of businessmen objectifying and infantilizing women in the workplace and elsewhere, lascivious philandering, and wild office parties was fodder for comics and cartoonists alike.
Misogyny was easily laughed off as office antics.
We’re not laughing anymore.
When Personnel Get Personal – Office Antics
Take a look at series of cartoons by cartoonist Mischa Richter from a January 1976 Penthouse magazine that are typical of its day. Entitled “Office Bash” it’s a look at what happens when personnel get personal.
Not a one of these cartoons would pass HR today.
That was the culture of the 1970’s. It really wasn’t acceptable then, it’s unforgivable now.
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