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Andrew Cuomo and the Tragedy of Politicized Feminism

Students gather with signs during a Speak Out Against Sexual Violence demonstration at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich., March 28, 2021. (Emily Elconin/Reuters)

The new report from New York State’s attorney general confirms what many have known for a long time: Andrew Cuomo is a man abusing his position of power to harass women.

Looking at this story from a feminist perspective, one would be completely unsurprised by it. In fact, it’s exactly what one would expect. Men have power and treat women unjustly; that’s the problem that feminism diagnoses and wants to solve.

Yet feminist groups don’t have a lot of credibility to speak out against Cuomo because many of them have endorsed him for public office over the years. The National Organization for Women–New York (NOW-NY) endorsed him for governor in 2018, and their president said, “This was an easy decision. . . . Year in and year out Governor Cuomo has put women’s rights front and center.” The organization’s endorsement says:

Governor Cuomo is building a legacy of real change for the women and girls of New York: raising the minimum wage of which women make up two-thirds of earners; enacting paid family leave; making it harder to discriminate against pregnant workers; and paving a path for young New Yorkers to earn tuition-free four-year degrees.

See the sleight of hand there? Cuomo’s “legacy of real change for the women and girls of New York” is really just progressivism. The minimum wage, paid family leave, and tuition-free college aren’t specific to women (and if you believe men can get pregnant too, as some progressives argue, neither is discriminating against pregnant workers).

There is reasoning behind feminists’ casting their lots with progressivism. They point to disparate-impact issues (such as the “women make up two-thirds of earners” part about the minimum wage) and say that since many progressive policies would benefit women more than men, they are feminist issues.

Conservatives, pretty generally, have been opposed to institutional feminism. Conservative hostility probably played a role in feminists’ believing that adopting progressivism was the best move for the success of their movement. It was enemy-of-my-enemy thinking combined with the simple fact that many feminists were sympathetic to the progressive agenda to begin with.

But the fact that feminists have attached themselves to the whole progressive agenda and demand conformity to it makes it impossible for conservatives to go along. If conservatives have to support raising the minimum wage, tuition-free college, and (most importantly) abortion to be considered feminist, that’s a deal breaker. So it’s a cycle of exclusion: Conservatives exclude feminists and feminists exclude conservatives forever and ever.

It’s sad that it worked out that way. The feminists have a point about men in positions of power using that power to get away with abuse of women. It happens way too often, and it’s despicable. The details of Cuomo’s behavior are gross. Any woman in that environment would be at a disadvantage professionally and would also have legitimate fears about being preyed upon, simply by virtue of being a woman. Men working in Cuomo’s office didn’t have to face that, and if Cuomo were a woman, these incidents would not have happened. Gender does matter in situations like this, and insofar as conservatives have shunned feminist thinking on workplace dynamics, they have been wrong to do so.

That many people on both sides instinctually see this incident through a political lens (“What about Trump?” “It’s good to be a Democrat”) is the tragedy of politicized feminism. It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s nothing inherently progressive or conservative about the idea that some men who have power treat women unjustly. That Cuomo is a Democrat is incidental to his conduct. Plenty of Republican politicians, not to mention men in nonpolitical settings like business and religion, have done things similar to or worse than Cuomo’s behavior.

There’s a way forward: remembering that God created humans in His own image, and He created them male and female. On that view, gender is a gift from God. It’s sacred and important.

That idea runs squarely against the Left’s views on gender fluidity and the denial of any difference between men and women. Gender matters — not as an item on an intersectional checklist of oppression, but as a characteristic of human beings created in the image of God. That means women should be able to speak out about abuse they face from men because they are women, and it means men in positions of power have a responsibility to treat women justly because they are men. When men fail to do that, as Cuomo clearly has, they should be held accountable.

That way of thinking makes sense only if you believe that there are real and immutable differences between men and women, and that all people are of equal worth in some higher sense. The Left increasingly does not seem to believe either of those things. It’s going to be up to conservatives to hold the line on those two truths. If that makes us sound like feminists sometimes, so be it.

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