In the days since Lucy Flores detailed an encounter with Joe Biden that made her feel “uneasy, gross, and confused,” we have seen in real time the limits of how much Americans are willing to listen to women.
After Flores described a meeting where Biden put his hands on her shoulders, smelled her hair, and kissed her head, the former Nevada assemblywoman has been accused of everything from misunderstanding an everyday friendly interaction to deliberately trying to ruin Biden’s potential presidential run.
Some people have even compiled photo collages of Flores being embraced by other politicians — a sign, supposedly, of her hypocrisy. If she didn’t mind these touches, they say, why give Biden a hard time?
One of the most difficult hurdles for #MeToo is that women don’t want to talk about just rape and harassment.
All these reactions demonstrate the same thing: We are not comfortable talking about the violations women endure unless they’re explicit, violent, or illegal.
I am sure Joe Biden is a nice guy. I feel confident that the former vice president’s trademark handsiness — which feminists have covered for years — didn’t bother all the women whose shoulders he rubbed or cheeks he kissed. I also believe Biden when he says that never in his years of giving “expressions of affection” does he believe he ever acted inappropriately.
But ultimately, this is not about him; it’s about the daily indignities women are expected to put up with because those experiences fall short of explicit harassment or assault.
The lingering hugs from uncles. The man at the bar who, instead of saying “excuse me” when he wants to get by you, places his hands on your hips and moves you himself. The unwanted hand on your pregnant belly. The too-wet kiss from a man you’ve just met.
One of the most difficult hurdles for #MeToo is that women don’t want to talk about just rape and harassment but also the mundane disrespect that chips away at our sense of safety and bodily autonomy. We want a serious conversation about what incessant objectification and diminishment does to us and changes how we interact with the world.
The response to this call has not been so nuanced. Women, we’re told, are enacting a “witch hunt” or “ruining men’s lives.” Can’t we even give a woman a hug?
Is it really asking so much that our standard for treating women well goes beyond “don’t sexually assault” and “don’t pull your dick out at the office”?
This reaction seems to imply that any behavior that falls short of Weinstein-esque horror is not that big of a deal, and that the women who bring it up are, at their core, whining.
Why are women meant to put up with these small infringements? Because at least it’s not rape? Is it really asking so much that our standard for treating women well goes beyond “don’t sexually assault” and “don’t pull your dick out at the office”?
Those who believe this is simply a matter of misunderstanding must then fundamentally not trust women. But women have been dealing with these interactions since, unfortunately, before puberty. We are the utmost experts in what they mean — what’s appropriate and what’s demeaning.
I also wonder how many men would be fine with a boss who rubbed their shoulders while deeply inhaling the back of their head. The truth is that if men had to deal with a fraction of the indignities women are expected to endure, they would revolt.
The effect of these seemingly minor infractions is one that women know all too well: Every shoulder rub and unwanted kiss tells us how little our personal space, privacy, and dignity really mean. Women are reminded of our place again and again and again. And then, when we’re told it’s all in our heads, we’re reminded one more time.