As the allegations keep coming out against Governor Andrew Cuomo, I have been looking back at things that have happened in my own career over the years and seeing them in a very different light. Things were said to me when I was in my early 20s that I didn't find inappropriate at the time but, in retrospect, are appalling to my 40-something year old self.
I will say right off the bat that I have never been touched in a way that made me uncomfortable, nor had my job threatened due to any suggestions of a sexual quid pro quo. But there have been subtle incidents that happened in the mid 90s and early 2000s that at the time seemed like just something that came with the job.
There is legislation proposed in the New York State Assembly named for Lindsey Boylan, the first woman to make public her allegations of sexual harassment by Governor Cuomo. It would make leaking information about a public employee who complains of sexual harassment a misdemeanor.
It has been proposed by Assemblyman Mike Lawler. A similar bill in the New York State Senate is supported by Senator Pam Helming, regarding sexual harassment in state government specifically. She told Spectrum News that many work-related events are held after hours and are often attended by young staff members. She went on to say, "To me, they are our future leaders. They are watching us and we need to be good mentors, we need to be good models for them. So we need to do more, everything we can to make sure people are following that golden rule and doing what is right in the workplace."
I found her words very thought-provoking. I was conditioned as a young TV reporter to believe that comments about my appearance came with the territory, and that when one of my bosses at a small market station told me I looked like a "shaggy dog" and needed a better haircut, that was to be expected. Another time, he told me my clothing choices were "too matronly". Another supervisor at that same station suggested that I should get breast implants and a nose job, because a plastic surgeon was advertising on our station and would do it for free. I declined.
Several years later at a mid-size market, I applied for a promotion to a full-time reporter position and was told that I didn't "have the right plumbing" for the job. I actually thanked that supervisor for his honesty, rather than seeing it as gender discrimination. While I was disappointed that I didn't get that job, at the time I truly appreciated knowing that it was not performance based! That's how brainwashed I had become.
It was not the first and it wasn't the last time that gender has been an issue for me in the workplace. Because I had just come to accept that's how it was, it was only recently that I have come to see it for what it is. I think that's what Senator Helming is getting at. If we teach young staffers that comments like that are NOT ok, they won't just accept that it comes with the territory and repeat that same kind of behavior when they become senior staffers... or Governor of New York.
I was having a discussion with a male colleague recently, about gender issues in the workplace and how sometimes those who haven't experienced it, just don't get it. I explained that we each see life through our own lenses, colored by own personal life experiences. For someone who has never been subjected to gender bias, it may be hard to see. For those of us who have, we now see it clearly.
It's not unlike race issues. Those of us who haven't faced racial discrimination, may sometimes feel the race card is thrown out there in situations that aren't actually racist. But to People of Color, they have lived it, and they see it where our untrained eyes do not. It's not that it doesn't exist, it's that we are blind to it, or conditioned not to see it.
It's time to open our eyes, see it for what it is, and do better.