Listen Up, Joe Biden

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The march towards the 2020 presidential election continues unabated. The field on the Democrats’ side seems to be widening every single day. It’s beginning to feel like every prominent member of that party is considering or has declared their intention to run for the highest office in the nation. To almost no one’s surprise, that field will likely include former Vice President, Joe Biden. It’s likely that Biden and his team predicted that negative stories about him would hit the press – he’s faced criticism for how he handled Anita Hill’s testimony during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. What he may or may not have anticipated is having his own personal “Me Too” moment. Several women are now coming forward to say that Vice President Joe Biden has touched them in ways that make them upset.

At press time, no woman has come forward saying that Biden assaulted her in any way. The stories all center around the idea that he may have touched them in a way that they did not welcome or appreciate. The women use words like “uncomfortable” and “icky.” Biden, for his part, has posted a video to his Twitter feed, promising that he will be more mindful of people’s personal space in the future and that he will take responsibility for his actions. However, he has been criticized for not actually issuing an apology in the video. Perhaps he has reached out to the women individually. If he hasn’t, he should.

Look don’t touch

I can believe that Joe Biden never meant to upset these women. I’ve seen, from his defenders and from himself, that he is a touchy-feely guy because he wants to foster human connection. I can totally relate to that. Touch is my “love language.” I love to give hugs, reassuring arm pats, and just get physically close to people that I care about. But what Biden and a lot of other men who consider themselves “physically affectionate” fail to realize is that, unfortunately, there is a double standard that cannot be overlooked.

As a woman, people are much less likely to suspect that I have ill intentions when I make physical contact with them. Men do not enjoy that privilege. It may be unfair and sexist, but it’s true. We are also living in a time where we are hyper-aware of how men conduct themselves around women. Rightfully so, if you ask me. For too long, women have been doubted or minimized when they tell their “Me Too” stories. Men, I know this may be upsetting when you’re the type of person who has no intention of hurting a woman, but you’re just going to have to ride out this moment. More importantly, you are going to have to listen. That includes you, Uncle Joe.

The right to say “no”

Biden has long believed that his propensity for making physical contact with people is a way to show that he cares. He’s not wrong. He’s just wrong to think that every person is going to respond positively to his behavior, and he’s absolutely wrong to think that it’s appropriate in any sort of workplace.

I used to tour with a children’s theatre that put on a show that taught children how to recognize sexual assault. One of the lessons that it included is that kids have every right to say “no” to any kind of touching that they don’t want to experience. We also took the time to reassure them that touching people is not a bad thing, as long as that person is okay with it.

The presidency

It seems too early to determine whether this will affect Joe Biden’s bid for the presidency. At this point, I am undecided about whether he should continue to run. I would really like to see him apologize directly to the women who have come forward with their stories. I would like the rest of us to continue our dialogue regarding what kinds of touching and other behavior are appropriate both in and out of the workplace. We, as a society, can weather this debate and come out stronger, with an appreciation for one another’s boundaries. Let’s rise together on this teachable moment.

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