Of Evasive Men and Sexual Harassment

By  Neera Kuckreja Sohoni

In the state of Tamil Nadu in India, consequent to an order from the Home Department, a Director General of Police (DGP) was placed on “compulsory wait”. The order was issued based on a woman’s complaint that she was harassed by the officer during a recent official trip. Sexual harassment in India is guided by the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The DGP, when asked to comment on the complaint, claimed that the complainant had political motives.

Sounds familiar? Yes! As closer home, in New York state, its self-adulating Governor Andrew Cuomo – presently facing charges of touching or groping women or powdering them with comments containing sexual innuendos – offered the same explanation. When Lindsey Boylan accused Governor Cuomo of touching her without consent, kissing her on the lips and asking her to play strip poker while on his private jet, the Governor’s spokesman moved fast to dismiss the complainant saying her “claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false.”

With six more women echoing similarly experiencing inappropriate, harassing behavior, the pressure built up on Cuomo to address the issue threatening to flare.

That is when the old cudgel men in power always use came in handy.  Cuomo chose to blame the accuser – instead of himself – for misinterpreting his deeds or words. Typical of a harasser in denial, his publicly aired so-called apology merely suggested his innocence. Cuomo denied the allegations while calling the reported details of what his accusers may have experienced “gut-wrenching.” He denied ever intentionally making anyone uncomfortable with his actions or words. Far from showing grace or gender sensitivity let alone fairness, his comments were arrogant, offensive, and unrepentant.

While the Me-Too movement’s biggest proponents and political bedmates, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand identified as the #MeToo Senator, chose to lie low – (Gillibrand suggesting the matter was for the State elected politicians to decide), to her credit, influential Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted,

“Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett’s detailed accounts of sexual harassment by Gov. Cuomo are extremely serious and painful to read. There must be an independent investigation – not one led by an individual selected by the Governor, but by the office of the Attorney General.”

With a series of complainants coming forth and pinpointing their experience of unwanted interface with Cuomo, the political fallout seemed inevitable not only for Cuomo but also for the political class who found their feathers ruffled. Not surprisingly, Democrat leaders at the national and state level quickly joined the call for independent investigation of harassment claims, but more importantly, for Cuomo to resign.

Once again, Cuomo followed the familiar path which the political class inevitably takes. He dismissed the complaints as baseless charges being used by devious politicians to defame and dislodge him from his legitimately elected post as Governor. Only his electors, he pompously asserted could remove him, and of course he had no intention of resigning. Adding to his melodrama, Cuomo even claimed he is an outsider and not one of the political class. Born to a father who served as New York’s Governor, married to a Kennedy, and holding high-level posts under the Clinton Presidency, his above claim shows his hypocrisy.

Regardless of country or culture, the harsh reality is that those who rule the roost are nearly always male. Power makes men feel invulnerable equally whether they are governor of a state in America or a senior police officer in India.  Women depend on their boss’s support to retain their jobs and feel pressured to keep silent when the lines of decency are crossed and the rules of conduct breached. Justice, if it occurs, comes at a cost. The woman generally gets doubly victimized for coming forward with imagined grievances, with her reputation in tatters, and her future prospects for professional fulfilment diminished. While men just go on, choosing to display and convey their manliness and assert their right to intimacy with women in whatever manner they choose.

Men in command sadly never get it, as one of the seven accusers pointed out, that sexual harassment is less about sex and more about power.

Image courtesy of (Photo courtesy AP)

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