By Ellen Snortland
Dad died in 1998. I’ll never forget the man who came up to me at the funeral and said, “I am a janitor at Prairie States Life. I’m here because your dad always had a kind word for me and knew my name. Yes, he was the president and a big shot, but I never felt like a poor man around him.” Compare and contrast with the A-Hole of Albany. I’m guessing that the janitorial staff working the Capitol of New York won’t show up at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s funeral. Not that anything other than his reputation is dying — or, more appropriately, being unearthed — in the past few weeks. However, it looks like his public legacy is now damaged beyond repair.
The more revealed via eyewitness accounts about behind-the-scenes Andrew Cuomo, the more offensive he becomes. And he’s an equal-opportunity offender to females and males alike: yelling, screaming, belittling, threatening and retaliating. In other words, a colossal expletive that rhymes with “sickhead.”
Behaving this way is not a crime, nor is it a tort. A short review of a “tort”: Neither a dessert nor a sandwich, a tort is behavior or negligence that creates measurable damage. If being a total jerk was a capital offense, it could be argued that we could have a new and effective means of creating a more civilized society. Alas, there are both good and bad a-holes, and they are not all men. Interestingly, it does seem to be a male-dominated field, although I suspect the cultural dictates for women to always be “nice” will keep them in the “A-hole Closet” a bit longer. Unless, of course, they are given full rein to manifest their foulness, as several women around powerful men are sometimes granted. All dominating groups have collaborators in the victimized group — all of them.
The crazy-making part is acknowledging the long line of jerks who have gotten into positions of power and continue to do so. It would seem that we sometimes make it a necessary condition for leadership in our society. Could it be that we reward appalling behavior with money, influence and power? I am mature enough to realize that we need nuance more than we need simple solutions, as there are many gray areas.
What’s not gray is that bad governance is more straightforward to prove than gross gender behavior. For example, the intentional underreporting of the number of dead individuals in a pandemic, rather than a “he said, she said” situation. When considering Cuomo, what stings for me is the incidents involving former Sen. Al Franken. He invited and welcomed — then begged for — an investigation yet never got one. Cuomo also asked for an independent investigation and is about to get one: an impeachment investigation, with law enforcement fully cooperating. I still cringe when I think of the intellect and wit we wasted by ousting Franken, thereby attempting to “prove” Democratic integrity. Censure the guy if you have to; don’t get rid of him “on principle.”
But wait! Is this yet another “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” situation? Case in point. As a journalist and actor, sexism and ageism dictated that I be turned out to pasture after 35. I could actually see producers who had found me attractive in my late 20s and early 30s turn off as I walked in for an audition. In my mid-30s, I was pushing the “breedability quotient” boundary. And when women’s power is dependent on their BQ, the dominant white male cis culture turns away. They remove the women who don’t fit anymore to make room for the new batch of Hot Gals.
And do women exploit that? You bet they do, and as much as it irks me, I don’t blame them. People use whatever clout they have, because their attractiveness to the men in power is their Golden Ticket.
The irony is this: The best and only time female-identified women can impact ageism is when they are not old. Yep. If women don’t address ageism when they are young, their capital and influence go steadily down as they get older. Ugh. Just try combating ageism when you’re old when people don’t even know they’ve stopped listening to you. It’s fun to watch! Not.
All this begs the question: What do we do with the a-holes? Part of their despicable nature is to insist on being right and staying put — to hibernate until the controversy blows over. So, what do we do? Reintroduce the Scarlet Letter for men’s foreheads who have been “outed”? Put them in stocks and pillories? Sounds better than what we do now: give them platforms and accolades.
I know many people thought my dad was a pushover and that he wasn’t ambitious or greedy enough. Well, maybe. But he made his janitor cry when he passed away, and that is a legacy I am proud to have.
Ellen Snortland is a columnist and writing coach. Reach her at email@example.com.