Who knew playoff-hockey could cause so much excitement?

The facts as they seem to be known:

New York State Assemblyman Tom Hoyt (D-Buffalo, Grand Island) invited a number of his fellow legislators and their support staff to watch a hockey game at an Albany area sports bar.

Assemblyman Mike Cole (R-142nd District) attended.

Cole drank to excess and eventually retired from the bar with a 21 year old female intern who was sitting at his table; they had never worked together and met for the first time at the event.

Cole “walked her home” and slept on the floor of her bedroom. Both claim that no physical contact or relationship took place. Most people seem to be taking them at their word, save for a few liberal blogs that made lurid quips, fantasizing about a different sort of encounter.

When news of this leaked, the intern was immediately fired from her position. She evidently violated a no-fraternizing rule, specifically one that forbids interns from attending events where alcohol is served (although other interns also attended the event without incident). While some journalists indicated that the woman, still anonymous, received both her full stipend and academic credit for the internship, other reports seem less optimistic: Assembly spokeswoman Sisa Moyo stated that payments terminate with employment and that academic credit is wholly at the discretion of her school.

A month later, Cole was censured by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Cole was also stripped of his position on the Assembly’s Drug and Alcohol Abuse Committee and its $9,000 stipend. He is no longer permitted to participate in the Assembly’s intern program, meaning his own intern had to be reassigned elsewhere.

 

Reporting on local politics is always a bit funny: in this case, you have the liberals complaining that The Buffalo News did not cover the story quickly enough after the New York Post led with it, while conservatives argue that Cole being censured is ridiculous considering that serving Democratic officials who have been indicted for criminal offenses have not met with that same punishment, token as it might be.

I find the liberal reaction to be especially ironic. First, with all the sleaze filled jokes in area blogs, it’s interesting to see the so-called progressive party asserting the belief that men and women can’t be friends or even do a solid favor for one another as passing acquaintances. I guess a decade of jokes about how “pimp” Bill Clinton was, something still thought to be to his credit amongst some circles, will do a number on your mind.

Journalists didn’t help though: some wrote that Cole slept on the bedroom floor while others either lacked that information or omitted it, since no one really had any idea what “bedroom” meant: other than the fact that it was a Big Red Flag when the political machine started chewing. “Bedroom” can mean a variety of different architectural configurations when it comes to 21 year olds. They tend to lack some of the more advanced options, such as studies and foyers, for putting away besotted friends.

Most people seem to understand that something unfair happened to the intern.

They get that she lost more even though she was the one with far less power and responsibility. It’s easy to see that something isn’t right about that—especially after three Spiderman movies.

But for most, that’s where the questions stop.

Fire Mike Cole, too, that will make things right.

Or forgive him, we all make mistakes, and gosh darn it, we should find another opportunity for the young woman. To many, questions of fair and unfair begin and end with the individuals involved.

However, this is a story of gender.

For the Assembly, their carefully crafted no-fraternizing policy made what happened or didn’t happen on that bedroom floor irrelevant. This is expedient for them as they no longer have to prove what went on behind closed doors: the intern’s crime was entering a public place of business, a pub, and sitting down at a table with political big dogs. As soon as she did that it was game over. Her bad.

The intern would still be just as fired if Cole had raped and murdered her on the walk home.

I’m not against the Assembly’s fraternization rule. Yes, it’s pathetically insufficient when it comes to protecting against abuses of power. That doesn’t mean that having no protections at all would be superior. Just because one thing is sometimes silly doesn’t mean another thing isn’t absurd.

In a world with infinite constellations of power and authority, the idea of freely consenting adults is more than a little bit naïve, no matter how bankable; capitalism sure enjoys the thought and it certainly repeats it often enough.

I do think the no-fraternizing rule hurts women.  I also think that the alternative would likely hurt women more.

The real problem is with men—the people who not only imposed the rule but made it necessary in the first place.

Mike Cole’s constant refrain throughout his ordeal has been that he’s “taking responsibility.” He knows he should have called a cab. He shouldn’t have consumed so much alcohol. He messed up and now he, two interns, and his family (although I think the very concept of his marriage is unfairly privileged in these discussions, something that deserves to be examined at length) have paid the price for his mistake. His responsibility doesn’t end there, though.

All males contribute to a culture that made the no-fraternizing rule necessary. Not only is Mike Cole to blame, but also the man who censured him, Sheldon Silver, and myself. The very existence of the rule demonstrates that women are not equal members of our society.

That might look like a circular argument, and there are people who believe that eliminating evidence of inequality (and especially responses to inequality like Affirmative Action or Hate Crime legislation) would magically make inequality itself disappear, but I’m not one of those people.

So let’s back up just one second: “walked her home.” That’s what Cole did, according to just about every newspaper covering the story. Everyone seems to think that’s what he did. Going through the reports, one can read one “walked her home” after another, like he, in his stupor, somehow knew the way better than she.

It does have the effect of making it look like a mutually beneficial transaction: he protected her, so she let him dry out. Since she needed him for something, that “protection” being her motive for allowing a strange man into her home, it’s easier for people to imagine nothing untoward happened. People, other than a few liberal rags, are less likely to attribute more scandalous motivations to her.

Very kind of the newspapers to do that for her.

Now, imagine if she walked his stumbling ass back to her place and just flopped him on the floor in a drooling pile. It might be closer to the truth but—somehow—the public uttering of that truth would be more dangerous to her than those strange men who haunt the alleyways of that walk home.

If Mike Cole wasn’t a chivalrous knight, she’d be a craven slut.

Very kind of the newspapers to do that for him.

If women weren’t afraid to walk the city streets at night, Mike Cole wouldn’t have been able to justify, if ever feebly, his decision to go home with a woman half his age. Rapists—and the racist propagandists who have profiled rapists as deranged “urban” men who attack women at random and not husbands, fathers, and brothers who betray the women who trust them the most—are the people whom Cole should be thanking. After all, the mere thought of their existence made his own actions seem rational to him.

On the other hand, that same fear, fear that Cole materially benefitted from, would prevent most women from doing what he did: crashing in the bedroom of a stranger of the other sex. Women know that more than a few men (and not just those skulking in dark alleys) view a woman’s acceptance of such an invitation as, well, an invitation of its own.

As a people, we see things in terms of transactions. That’s why the “walk home” for the “place to sleep” equation was rendered in nearly every article covering the story. As a woman, she couldn’t possibly have been just doing something nice for a drunk who couldn’t take care of himself. Only men have that kind of magnanimity. Only men are able to rise above the equation. I am reminded of that scene in American Beauty where the protagonist nobly decides he has only warm-fuzzy feelings for his daughter’s best-friend, laying naked in his arms.

Sure, we’re protecting you from us, but just look at how good of a job we’ve been doing, lately…