This is progress?
New York got its first female governor this week, and with it came the reflexive hosannas, online and in the mainstream media: How wonderful, how momentous, what another great stride for women.
I wish I felt the same.
Instead, what I see is what we so often see post-#MeToo: a powerful man toppled by allegations of sexual harassment and misogyny, such behavior often an open secret, replaced — either by circumstance, design, or a combination of the two — by a woman.
Most times, these women are as qualified as their male counterparts — if not more so, because they tend to bring along a work ethic devoid of bullying, harassing or violent behavior.
Think about it. When Matt Lauer was finally fired from the “Today” show — his sexual predation an open secret for years — NBC promoted Hoda Kotb to co-anchor with Savannah Guthrie. They became the first female co-anchors in “Today” show history.
Progress? Sure, to a point. It was also a cynical, cosmetic overture by NBC brass, who were simultaneously trying to explain why they killed an exposé of Harvey Weinstein later published in The New Yorker.
It felt like tokenism, NBC getting these two likable women on the cover of People magazine, touting the “Today” show as still one big happy family, NBC’s male-dominated brass hiding behind their skirts, having them be emotional — “Our Hearts Were Broken” read the headline — rather than tough, smart, pragmatic and yes, outraged.
You know, things powerful men are allowed to be but women still are not.
At the height of #MeToo, half of the 201 men taken down were replaced by women, according to The New York Times. A few examples: Amazon head Roy Price replaced by Jennifer Salke, “House of Cards” lead Kevin Spacey replaced by Robin Wright, Charlie Rose by Christiane Amanpour, Sen. Al Franken by Tina Smith.
The question remains: Is this really what it takes for true gender parity in the workplace? Are women still only rising to power positions as mea culpas? Why are women, as a talent pool, still so often relegated to Number Two status when so many powerful men are revealed to be mediocrities, incompetents, abusers or corrupt?
Kathy Hochul seems like she will be a good governor, maybe even a great one. Her elegance this week comes hard-earned: Appointed Erie County Clerk in 2007 by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, later known as Client No. 9, she rose to Congress in 2011 after her male predecessor, Rep. Chris Lee, was caught up in a sex scandal.
She lost that seat in her next election to Chris Collins, who is now serving two years in federal prison for fraud.
This is what it took for us to get our first female governor — smart, capable, well-liked, scandal-free. Her first term will always be tagged with an asterisk — not duly elected. She had to spend her first presser last week distancing herself from Cuomo. What should have been a victory lap was sullied by his shadow.
Yet as Cuomo recedes from public life (unless he faces criminal charges for the nursing home scandal and his sexual harassment charges, as he should), hopefully Hochul breaks this particular glass ceiling for good. She has already said she will seek election to a full term as governor. She will likely face off against state Attorney General Letitia James, who rose to power after Eric Schneiderman was credibly accused of abusing women and who, in a feat of poetic symmetry, brought Cuomo down.
Now that would be a fight to see.
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