Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are locked in a pissing match, disguised as a policy debate, over who is man enough to run New York City.
The governor’s constant critique of the mayor’s management is really a coded challenge to his masculinity.
Take, for example, a recent response from the governor’s spokesperson to the mayor’s ongoing complaint that the state is depriving the city of critical resources: “Everyone is tired of hearing about what the mayor ‘feels’—he should just try to do his job. Actions—not words and feelings—are what matters.”
Classically, this is how men have excluded or diminished women in the workplace, creating a false dichotomy between emotions and competence. Having feelings is the opposite of action and makes you bad at your job. If the mayor were a woman, the same rhetoric would be obviously sexist, but used against a man it’s a more subtly gendered attack for being like a woman. When the mayor forcefully advocates for more resources, and denounces the governor for withholding them, the governor wants us to believe that the mayor is being hysterical.
In contrast, the governor positions himself as a paternalistic savior to those in need of his protection.
At an announcement about the MTA’s efforts to combat the Zika virus, Cuomo reiterated the point by taking an oblique shot at de Blasio: “If any mayor is not doing his job…or is playing politics…I’m not going to allow people to suffer and pay the price.” It’s unclear how de Blasio has failed here. The Department of Health has been aggressive about public outreach, and as of June all diagnosed cases had been successfully treated. Plus, the MTA is a public authority controlled by the state, so it’s not even in the mayor’s power to set policy. Regardless, there’s the governor asserting his status as man of the state, taking action against a manageable problem as if it were a crisis.
This bad behavior goes beyond bullying to reveal a toxic masculinity.
“If the definition of masculinity is to never show your feelings, never back down, always be strong, be tough, never cry, than toxic masculinity is an over-conformity to dehumanizing ideas of masculinity,” explains sociologist Michael Kimmel, founder of SUNY’s Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities. “Any solution to proving your masculinity taken too far becomes toxic.”
Particularly for women and children, who often serve as props in Cuomo’s performance.
There’s a homeless crisis? Blast off a letter to the City highlighting an erroneous rape report and threaten to take charge. An increase of reported incidents of sexual harassment in the subway? Send in the cops. Lax emergency procedures at daycare centers? Accuse the mayor of child endangerment.