For some women’s rights advocates, however, his remarks seemed to suggest the opposite.
Cuomo implied that his accusers misinterpreted his words and gestures. He attributed his behavior to a generational shift in social norms. He insinuated that the firestorm surrounding him was largely political.
Two women’s rights leaders who spoke to CNN Tuesday say the way that Cuomo characterized his departure and the allegations against him underscores why so many victims of sexual harassment and misconduct find it difficult to come forward with their experiences: Because when do, they’re often blamed, doubted or told that they’re overreacting.
“He basically gaslighted all of the victims, minimized their experiences and really didn’t take any accountability,” Christian Nunes, president of the National Organization for Women, told CNN.
Here are four quotes from Cuomo and his personal attorney advocates found problematic.
“He does the same thing with the men that work with him. He hugs them. He kisses them.”
The context: That line came from Cuomo’s personal lawyer, Rita Glavin.
Before the governor gave his remarks, Glavin delivered a 42-minute speech in which she accused state investigators of bias and attempted to chip away at each of the accusers’ allegations.
Among her arguments was that Cuomo had behaved with men how he had with women, touching them and asking them personal questions.
The implication: Saying that he had acted similarly toward men implies that the women who found Cuomo’s behavior inappropriate simply took it the wrong way, said Uma Iyer, spokesperson for the National Women’s Law Center.
The problem: “People who have been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted, are very clear about what happened to them,” Iyer said. “It is not a misunderstanding.”
Nunes said the allegations against the governor constituted a violation of workplace boundaries, regardless of the person’s gender.
“It doesn’t matter if it is a woman or a man,” she added. “If you violate a person’s space, if you do not ask for permission, it is inappropriate.”
“In my mind, I have never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn.”
The context: Cuomo said in his speech that he had “been too familiar with people.”
Gestures such as a kiss on the cheek or comments such as “honey” or “sweetheart” were intended to be friendly, he said, though some perceived them as offensive or aggressive.
He chalked up his behavior to generational and cultural differences.
The implication: Cuomo is suggesting that this type of behavior came from a different era when these kinds of actions were acceptable, Iyer said.
The problem: But it’s never been acceptable for anyone to be touched or spoken to in ways that make them uncomfortable, she added. The difference now is that more people are speaking up about their experiences and holding perpetrators accountable.
“The lines were never redrawn,” Iyer said. “A woman’s body and ability to consent to being touched or engaged with in any way has never been a moving target.”
For Nunes, the remarks were an example of how society has so often let men off the hook.
“This is a pure example of toxic masculinity in our culture, where a lot of times we have excused men’s behavior as boys being boys,” she added.
“I’m a fighter and my instinct is to fight through this controversy because I truly believe it is politically motivated, I believe it is unfair and it is untruthful and I believe it demonizes behavior that is unsustainable for society.”
The context: Even as he apologized to the women who accused him, Cuomo characterized the scrutiny surrounding him as politically motivated.
In stepping down, Cuomo said, he was simply looking out for the interests of the people of New York, allowing the government to focus on more urgent matters rather than devote time, money and resources to this situation.
The implication: Cuomo is casting himself as a victim and a martyr, Iyer said.
He’s also discounting the results of an extensive review process, in which investigators spoke to 179 individuals and reviewed 74,000 pieces of evidence.
The problem: This comment indicates that Cuomo hasn’t taken responsibility for his behavior, Nunes said.
“He obviously has not learned from his mistakes, and his reasoning is to deflect from his ownership of what he’s done to these women,” she added.
“In many ways, I see the world through the eyes of my daughters … And I have lived this experience with and through them.”
The context: Toward the end of his speech, Cuomo addressed his three adult daughters.
He acknowledged the hurt he felt watching them take in the allegations, and said he envisioned a better future for them than the women who came before them.
“I want them to know from the bottom of my heart that I never did and I never would intentionally disrespect a woman or treat any woman differently than I would want them treated,” he added.
The implication: Cuomo’s nod to his daughters invoked a sentiment that has long irked many women: That some men seem to show empathy for victims of sexual misconduct because they themselves have daughters, wives and mothers — not simply because those women don’t deserve to be treated that way.
The problem: “Any person, regardless of if you’re a father or if you have daughters, should know that this behavior is unacceptable,” Nunes said. “Just having daughters is not enough justification for you to say, ‘I’m empathetic,’ because you still did it.”
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