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There are always those looking for a reason to dismiss and malign a woman, and side with the guy she’s accusing. In the case of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest accuser, Anna Ruch, she wasn’t his employee and they weren’t in a workplace. They met for the first time at a wedding, where she says that he put his hand on her lower back. When she used her own hand to remove it, he grabbed her face in both hands and said he wanted to kiss her.
That’s a newsworthy story because the 33-year-old is the third decades-younger woman in a week to come out with an account of unwanted contact with Cuomo, and because her story pokes serious holes in the phony “apology” the 63-year-old governor had issued a day earlier, to try and talk around the detailed, documented account of his second accuser, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett.
“At work, sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny,” he said, sounding like a sad, misunderstood little boy while trying to explain away his actions with the second member of his staff to accuse him of harassment, and after his earlier suggestion that she get a tattoo on her butt fell flat. “I now understand that… some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.”
Cuomo has continued to flatly deny the similar claims of his first accuser, 36-year-old Lindsey Boylan, who also had been a staffer when she says the governor gave her an unwanted kiss, something that couldn’t be spun as a “misinterpreted” moment.
But Ruch’s account adds to the evidence that Cuomo’s behavior is part of a pattern that extended into the workplace he dominated. You know what’s a good, easy way to know when your “flirtation” is “unwanted,” governor? When a woman removes your hand from her backside. If your response to that is to grab her face in your hands, it’s not that you didn’t “understand” this was unwanted, it’s that you didn’t care. Or was the problem that you did care, and you weren’t going to let anyone get away with rejecting you?
Something I hate is how we now make sure to preemptively explain why we “allowed” someone to mistreat us, as though the onus is on the victim rather than the perpetrator. Ruch anticipated that people would ask why she didn’t stop him—even though, let’s be clear, she actually did! She removed his hand from her backside! And then he grabbed her head with both hands! The scene was so shocking that one of her friends snapped a photo of it, in which Cuomo’s expression is horrifying, and Ruch’s is horrified, her brows furrowed in discomfort.
But OK then, the detractors are going to say, why didn’t she say anything in the moment? So Ruch explains: She froze. For the record, freezing is one of our instinctive responses to a threat, along with fight and flight. It is an animal way we protect ourselves. I’ve done it myself. The calculus was only clear to me in retrospect: Something in me assessed the situation and decided the safest course of action was to avoid any antagonism, to simply not move until the threat had passed.
Ruch froze, as any person might, when the governor of the fourth-largest state in America is towering over you, with your head gripped between his hands. The whole interaction had an undeniable message: I can do whatever I want.
Especially because she had already made her desires clear. I saw someone online respond to Ruch’s story with a complaint about how it’s getting so you can’t even look at someone anymore. It actually isn’t, and it’s alarming that there are people who can’t see the vast amount of space between looking at somebody and grabbing somebody just after they’ve removed your hand from their body.
But Cuomo’s excuse-ology primed people to make that defense for him. He played right into that fear. Oh, I’m just a guy who works so much, and my staffers are my friends, and I just try to have fun every once in a while. How could I possibly know that people would “misinterpret” me, oh, I don’t know, asking a 24-year-old if she ever slept with older men and telling her that I felt that anyone over 22 was fair game for me?
Poor Andy, just trying to figure out the rules of this brave new world. But wait—what’s this? He… created the rules? And took credit for them?
The policy that Cuomo himself provides to employers in New York defines harassment as “any unwanted verbal or physical advances, sexually explicit derogatory statements or sexually discriminatory remarks made by someone which are offensive or objectionable to the recipient, which cause the recipient discomfort or humiliation, which interfere with the recipient’s job performance.”
He might not know what constitutes “unwanted flirtation,” but he apparently knows very well what constitutes harassment. (As Josefa Velasquez reported, he even received the new harassment training that New York now mandates for all state employees.)
By the time Ruch collected herself and went to confront Cuomo, the governor had left the wedding. She was right to want to confront him. What he did, grabbing her after she made it clear she didn’t want him to, was harassment. It was predatory.
And at a place as public as a wedding? With a young woman you do not know, who does not know you? This woman owes you nothing. She has no reason to want to protect you.
It’s hubris. And it’s very, very stupid.
Historically, things don’t go well for stupid predators—see, for example, dinosaurs. And now it looks like Andrew Cuomo is about to meet his meteor. It’s the young women he underestimated along the way.