Sunday, April 28, 2019
By Prof. Justine Dunlap
Joe Biden—boy is this guy generating a lot of press. Much of which is a natural pro and con discussion of his past acts, be they legislative, political, or personal. There’s so much to catalog about Uncle Joe, it’s hard to know where to start. But his seemingly ceaseless need to touch people warrants a little more ink as his embracing nature can serve as an object lesson in gradation for us all.
The current #MeToo world teaches that women have been subject to all levels of objectionable behavior. For centuries, they were deprived of the legal or moral support to take action, to get redress, to speak out, or to have the costs of speaking out not exceed the costs of staying silent. In many quarters, that deprivation remains palpable, the benefits of #MeToo notwithstanding. However, the attention now afforded unwanted behavior makes it more likely that behavior that treads on the criminal side will have consequences.
The #MeToo movement, it is also said, has blurred the line between offensive and non-offensive behavior. In other words: men just don’t know how to act anymore or no longer know the rules of engagement.
The first response to that concern is this: It is not really that hard to distinguish appropriate from inappropriate behavior about 90% of the time. So, except around the edges, it’s easy to stay within the lines. One lesson then: avoid the edges if you are not sure.
The second response is: objectionable behavior comes in different forms but, like the difference between a personal foul and a flagrant foul in basketball, some actions are simply and obviously worse than others. Which brings us back to Joe Biden. And, perhaps, back to new rules of engagement.
We can hope that we have all gained valuable perspective from the increased focus on how one’s behavior makes another person feel. Joe Biden now has this perspective. He now gets it, he says. His touchiness, his need and desire to establish a human connection, has endeared him to some and may be a source of some of his popularity. But his touchiness is not universally popular or always individually appreciated. His actions have made some recipients uncomfortable and, with some of the photos floating around the web, even some non-recipients may have had a hindsight-is-20-20 cringe.
Two things seem clear from Biden’s former embrace of the embrace. First, it is not a respecter of gender. Just search for the pictures of his up-close and personal clutching of his boss, the famously reserved President Obama. And, second, this universality suggests that it is not based in predation.
So it’s good to hope that Biden “gets it” and will henceforth more carefully think about whether his need for a human connection is matched by the prospective huggee. So too should those touchers among us try to get it. A clasp on the shoulder or a side hug are not always welcome. But we all know—natural touchers or not—that such a clasp or a hug is not equivalent to the predatory actions that led to #MeToo.