Cuba Gooding Jr. Lifted Sarah Paulson’s Skirt Onstage. Do We Really Have to Explain Why This Isn’t Okay?

Apparently we do.
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At this weekend’s PaleyFest in Los Angeles, the cast of American Horror Story: Roanoke came together to talk about that season and the next. Unfortunately, all of that was overshadowed by Cuba Gooding Jr. thinking it would be a good idea to lift Sarah Paulson’s skirt up like everyone’s least favorite kid on the playground. This kind of behavior wasn’t acceptable in elementary school (because boys will be boys held accountable for their actions and treat girls with respect), and it sure as hell isn’t acceptable or appropriate as adults, let alone on a stage in front of 3,000 fans.

When Kathy Bates was introduced to the stage, Paulson stood to welcome her with a gigantic hug. The two were sharing a beautiful, fun moment of mutual admiration… so of course some guy has to burst in and make it about him. Him and her body. This is a phenomenon I’d say most, if not all women are all too familiar with.

Why did Gooding decide to lift her skirt? We don’t know. Maybe he thought it would be funny. Maybe he wasn’t getting enough attention. Maybe he assumed it would be seen as a compliment, that he thought the audience would enjoy this. Her dress was so shimmery and flowy and also seemed to have some sort of cape-like effect (or just a very high slit), and maybe he was entranced by it or wanted to figure out how it worked.

Whatever the reason, it does not matter.

Gooding and Paulson have worked together on a number of Ryan Murphy projects, so very likely, they’re affectionate or at least familiar enough for him to feel comfortable touching her. It’s not like he was a stranger. They’re friends, or at least coworkers.

It still doesn’t matter.

Nor does it matter that Paulson seems to laugh (after she screams and jumps away, that is) when she notices what he’s doing. We have no idea if she actually thought this was funny, or if she was fine with it. Women spend their lives having “laugh it off” and “don’t make a big deal out of it” ingrained in them. Laughter is a natural reaction to confusion and shock (and, I would imagine, getting to hug Kathy Bates), and we should not automatically write this off as acceptable behavior, just because because she seemed to be fine with it.

Because even if she was fine with it (and maybe she was), it sets a horrible example for everyone watching–for every man who sees Gooding touch a woman and expose her without permission, as well as to every woman who sees her reaction, her laughter–genuine or of shock–and is implicitly told that’s the correct response to something like this. We’re told we’re supposed to take his motives and his presumably playful intention into consideration when we react, and factor that into any discomfort we may feel.

Far too many men presume that they have the right to touch women without consent, and that they have the right to have their intentions inherently considered in our reactions. Neither is true.

(via Teen Vogue, featured image via Shutterstock)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.