Alyssa Royse wonders how we would react if the sexual harassment leveled against Anderson Cooper on New Year’s Eve had happened to a woman.
Barring one obscure episode of Seinfeld in which she played George’s assistant, I don’t think I’ve ever found Kathy Griffin funny, and I give the credit for the Seinfeld episode to the writers. But not until New Year’s Eve this year, when she used Anderson Cooper and his penis as a punch line over and over and over again, did I find her offensive. One penis joke would have been fine. But when he kept saying no, and she kept going, I became increasingly horrified. When she kept insisting that she knew he “wanted it” even when he kept saying he didn’t, I became enraged. When she kept touching him, and making moves to “get him”, I wondered if I was just insane.
Let’s be clear, this is Rape Culture, plain and simple. This is using another person’s body as a tool for your own gratification, whether it’s a laugh, attention, status or a schtick. This is putting your goals ahead of someone else’s right to agency over their own body.
Even though it was a woman doing it to a man.
Do I think that Kathy Griffin was being outright abusive of Anderson Cooper? Maybe not. But I do think that seeing this behavior normalized by two public figures degrades our understanding of bodily agency in relationships. It literally makes a joke out of our boundaries.
To make this crystal clear, imagine this scene played out between any two different people. Try reversing the genders: the guy repeatedly grabbing the breasts or crotch of the female anchor and asking if she wanted him to perform oral sex on her. Imagine that every time she said no he said, “oh come on, you know you want it” and grabbed at her, and that it happened over and over again.
Best case scenario, Griffin and Cooper both think this is funny and are totally in on it together. In which case, CNN has a lot to answer to for thinking that this behavior was funny and agreeing to air it. One has to wonder if they would think it was funny if this were just taking place in the break room at their offices, no cameras to help drive ratings. If it’s not funny there, then it’s not funny to sell it to the rest of the world as acceptable behavior.
In another scenario, Griffin went a bit rogue, as she’s been known to do. Then what we’re talking about is workplace sexual harassment. I mean, Cooper pretty much has to go along with it, right? After all, they are live on the air. In that case, wouldn’t it be the responsibility of the producers to cut to a break and haul her marauding ass off stage? No. Again, reverse the gender roles, what would we say about a company that let their female employees be touched and talked to in this way?
In my opinion, Kathy Griffin needs to apologize and acknowledge that what happened on New Years Eve was inappropriate.
Even if she doesn’t think she needs to apologize to Anderson Cooper, she sure as hell needs to apologize to the legions of women who have been fighting for generations to end this kind of behavior in the workplace. At the very least, Kathy Griffin needs let us know that she knows this kind of harassment isn’t funny when it happens in the real world. I may be dreaming here, but an acknowledgment that this brand of comedy is what feeds rape culture in the real world would be awfully nice.
One explanation people have used for this behavior is that Griffin and Cooper are friends in real life. But that’s what bothers me the most. As if the fact that they are friends means she doesn’t have to respect his boundaries, means that his “no” doesn’t really mean “no”, or means that she’s allowed to do things that humiliate or degrade him in public or in private.
Why does that piss me off so much? Because that is the very hallmark of of Domestic Abuse. “But baby, I love you, I didn’t mean to hurt you.” “But you’re my wife, I’m allowed to do this.” “That’s just how our relationship is, I’m sure he doesn’t really mean anything by it, I know he loves me.”
This is Rape Culture. This is one of countless instances in our media culture that tells us “no” doesn’t mean no. That it’s okay to keep going after the prize even after someone expresses his or her boundaries.
No. A thousand times, NO.
On behalf of every man, woman and child who has suffered abuse at the hands of a loved one and thought that’s what love was, on behalf of every man and woman who has had to endure a sexually hostile work place, on behalf of every rape victim who heard their attacker say, “Oh, come on, you know you really want it,” Happy New Year, Kathy. Thanks for the many unhappy returns to sexualized violence in a culture that confuses rape for humor, accomplishment and some kind of sick joke.