Toxic Male Behavior Like Cuba Gooding Jr. Lifting Sarah Paulson's Skirt Must Stop
Updated April 7, 2017, 8 a.m. PT: Page Six has reported on Cuba Gooding Jr.'s response to the backlash to his lifting Sarah Paulson's skirt in public. It would appear that Gooding is unhappy with the way the incident was interpreted online and has spoken up, somewhat apologetically, about the events. According to Gooding, "I love the lady that is Sarah Paulson. We have a banter like brother and sister, which is how the spirit of that whole panel was. Yet that image was taken out to represent some kind of sexual misconduct, and that wasn’t my intent."
Gooding also reportedly called Paulson to apologize after the public outcry. "The first person, when I heard about the fervor, I called Sarah, I said, ‘I love you, I see you as my sister,’ and she said, ‘I feel the same way about you.' And so I let it go."
People Magazine has Gooding on record as saying the entire incident is a "teachable moment," which is a potentially problematic statement in and of itself.
After I stopped growling at my computer screen and the red I was seeing had faded from my vision, I attempted to parse what I was looking at as I watched Cuba Gooding Jr. lift up Sarah Paulson's skirt at Paleyfest. The action, caught on video and documented in photographs, appeared unsolicited. There appeared to be no warning from Gooding that he would do it, no indication that Paulson in any way enjoyed it and no reason it should have happened.
This video is jarring, disturbing and, frankly, as a woman it's infuriating to watch. Paulson is standing up onstage welcoming her American Horror Story co-star, Kathy Bates, who is walking over to join the rest of the cast. The cast is in a line, all facing toward Bates, so Gooding (who's behind Paulson) has the element of surprise on his side. As Paulson opens her arms to Bates, Gooding ever-so-slyly stoops down, picks up the hem of her skirt and begins to draw it up. Paulson shrieks. The skirt drops. She plays it off by holding up her hand, presumably signaling that it's no big deal. She's a better woman that I am because I would not have handled the situation so calmly.
My first question here is: What the fuck, dude? You couldn't have just kept your hands to yourself the entire time, like adults are known to do? Gooding's actions are disturbing to say the least because there is a sense of entitlement and toxic presumption happening in his actions. There is a chance Cuba Gooding Jr. believed he was acting in a humorous way and may have believed that Paulson (with whom he has co-starred in both AHS and The People v. O.J.: American Crime Story) might have taken it as a joke too. I'd argue Paulson's shriek and pulling down of her skirt indicate she did not find it funny at all.
And so, intended joke or not, I call Gooding's actions entitled and toxic because the ways in which Gooding thinks he can just mess around with Paulson — intimate, potentially embarrassing ways no less — betray a sense of male entitlement to female bodies that women know all too well. It may not have been Gooding's intention to sexualize or embarrass Paulson, but that's sure as shit what happened when he decided to lift up her skirt. At a professional event in front of their fan base, Gooding acted in a way that made him look like an entitled brat and reduced Paulson down to a joke, a joke she didn't ask to be part of. That entitlement is toxic behavior, without a doubt, and there's no reason that he should have ever done that.
Gooding's actions caused a widespread negative reaction on Twitter. People immediately reacted to the video with disgust and outrage, calling his actions "gross," "disrespectful" and "not funny":
Since the incident occurred, there's been no reported explanation from either party and no apology from Gooding, which is unfortunate but expected. What could he possibly say that wouldn't put salt in the wound? Paulson did not deserve to be treated like this. A woman whose body can become the target of a joke or turned into something to gawk at by a man who thinks that it's funny to look up her skirt at her genitals (in public, mind you).
I strongly encourage Gooding to consider his next career move in something other than comedy, because right now, he's the least funny person in Hollywood.
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