Many of us are still trying to figure out what to make of Sex and the City actress and LGBTQ rights advocate Cynthia Nixon, who announced her bid for Governor of New York earlier this month. And while I’m certainly not here to endorse Nixon, a candidate sorely lacking in civil service and government experience, I will say that this week, she made an excellent point about a particularly tone-deaf decision made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
In a press conference Monday, Nixon spoke about how a committee formed by Cuomo to debate and craft policy concerning sexual harassment solely comprises men.
“At a time when millions of women are making their voices heard, why should we settle for sexual harassment policies that are being discussed behind closed doors without a single woman present?” she said.
No woman needs any formal policy experience to know that when we don’t have a seat at the table, more often than not, it’s because we’re on the table. Of course, considering Cuomo’s strong record on key women’s issues like reproductive rights and abortion, for which Cuomo supports public funding and universal access, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in terms of his intentions with the committee.
But the sheer tastelessness in according men authority over an issue that affects essentially all women — and an issue that exists largely because of men’s disproportionate claims to positions of decision-making power, in the first place — shows the extent to which we rely on diverse representation to address innate bias and identity-based blind spots.
Arguably even the most devoted male allies have been conditioned to understand women’s issues as tangential. They have never undergone the everyday inconveniences of changing their routes walking home to avoid spots where they know they’ll be harassed by cat-callers. And speaking of cat-callers, there’s also the everyday experience of sexual harassment on public transportation, which, on any given day, can range from annoying and uncomfortable to outright terrifying. It’s an experience young women too often find themselves shelling out the extra cash for an Uber to avoid.
Unlike girls and women, most men have never been taught to walk in groups at night, or to swallow their pride and laugh at crude or objectifying jokes in the office in order to avoid being seen as prudish and “no fun.”
Of course, all of the aforementioned everyday experiences of women are, more or less, the low-ball. They are relatively minute day-to-day things that add up, but by no means are they the only sexist phenomena women are often subjected to, with minimal or no platform at all for recourse.
Consider the 2004 Access Hollywood tape, upon which President Donald Trump offhandedly described his interactions with women — actions he seemed to see no fault with: “I just start kissing them … I don’t even wait … Grab them by the p-ssy. You can do anything.” Some 20 women have described being subjected to similar behaviors by him — nonconsensual groping, kissing and fondling — which he candidly all but admitted to on the tape.
And Trump wasn’t alone on the bus that the audio was recorded on: He was conversing with entertainment journalist Billy Bush, another relatively high-profile man. For years, Bush publicly said and presumably did nothing in response to Trump, a fellow man in a position of power and influence, after Trump had boasted about committing acts that classify as sexual assault.
Male complicity and the skewed distribution of social capital occupied by men in nearly every industry have silenced women’s voices through intimidation or dismissiveness, presumably since the dawn of the co-ed labor force. In addition to discussing the prevalence of blatant sexual abuse, the #MeToo movement has also pointed out how powerful men with the clout to support women who suffer from abuse often opt to either look away, or actively defend powerful male abusers they are friends with.
It should speak volumes that nothing (beyond an ongoing defamation suit against Trump) has come of the many accusations leveled against Trump, corroborated not only by each other but also by his own words. In case you haven’t noticed, Trump is the President of the United States, and was elected just weeks after more than a dozen women came forward.
Intimidation and fear of defying boys’ club-like, male-dominated institutions of power have silenced innumerable women, whose jobs, reputations and families often depend on their silence. But the issue of women not coming forward is only one part of the problem; the other is an overarching culture that marginalizes the few women who do.
According to a February survey by nonprofit Stop Street Harassment, 81 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. Research repeatedly shows that harassment and exploitation disproportionately affect low-wage women workers.
It’s exceedingly difficult to imagine that women and other marginalized people’s underrepresentation across industries has nothing to do with the systemic issues of abuse, silence and lack of accountability.
Circling back to Nixon’s Monday speech, any woman could have spotted the gaping blind spot of Cuomo’s sexual harassment committee and its exclusively male members. But Cuomo isn’t “any woman.”
Every female candidate, politician or leader — regardless of however little or much else she brings — carries the insight of her experiences within the patriarchy, of every minor or major thing that reminds her daily that society fundamentally was not built for her success or public participation.
Those unique experiences and the wisdom that goes hand-in-hand with them matter, and could yield critical change on every level of government. And the same could be said of this, with regard to the representation of all marginalized people.
Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You Do Uterus,” runs Thursdays.