That Gov. Cuomo Photo Captures A Casual Horror Women Recognize

The picture of Anna Ruch and the New York governor is remarkable — not for its aesthetic quality, but for the familiar moment that it captures.

If you’re a woman, you probably recognize that facial expression.

You know the one I’m talking about. The face you make when a man — usually older, usually more powerful — gets a little too … touchy. The look that threads the needle between “Fuck off” and “Thank you for this pleasant interaction, sir.” The look that says, “Please stop doing that, I feel extremely uncomfortable,” and also telegraphs that you’re not trying to escalate the situation. You are, after all, a younger woman.

It is this face that a friend captured Anna Ruch making the moment she said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo grabbed her cheeks and asked, “Can I kiss you?” at a wedding in 2019.

Ruch, now 33, is the third woman to come forward with a story of nonconsensual, sexually inappropriate behavior at the hands of the governor, a man long known for his bullying and self-aggrandizement. Two former female aides have also accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. All three women are decades younger than him.

Ruch told The New York Times that she first met Cuomo at the aforementioned wedding reception back in September 2019. Ruch said that almost immediately after being introduced to her, Cuomo “put his hand on [her] lower back.” And when she removed it, “the governor remarked that she seemed ‘aggressive’ and placed his hands on her cheeks,” according to the Times. “He asked if he could kiss her, loudly enough for a friend standing nearby to hear.”

Ruch ultimately “pulled away as the governor drew closer,” but his lips made contact with her cheek.

The incident left her feeling “confused and shocked and embarrassed,” she told the Times.

The photograph of Ruch and Cuomo is remarkable — not for its aesthetic quality, but for the casual horror that it captures: a moment that feels almost common, but one that we are rarely privy to except in the shadows of our own memories as women. It’s remarkable precisely because it freezes in time an interaction that feels anything but.

In the photo, Cuomo stands over her, his hands wrapped tightly around her face. You can almost feel her in motion, trying to pull back. Her face is contorted into a strained half-smile, and her eyes are open in recognition of what’s about to happen. Her hands are hidden behind the governor’s arms in the picture, and I found myself wondering if she was contemplating pushing his hands off of her cheeks at that very moment. I wondered if she felt as stunned as her facial expression suggests.

There’s a reason New York state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, herself a young woman, tweeted, “The photo in this article speaks for itself.”

Women are taught, subtly and overtly, to de-escalate interactions with men that violate their boundaries but may not cause overt physical harm. We freeze and wait for it to be over. We uncomfortably smile. We back away. We nod while shifting our faces away from their lips or moving our hips away from their hands. We try to assert our agency in the cracks of their domineering.

Often, we end up feeling like we don’t have agency at all.

“I didn’t have a choice in that matter,” Ruch told the Times, explaining why the incident had left her rattled. “I didn’t have a choice in his physical dominance over me at that moment. And that’s what infuriates me.”

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