The Biden Dilemma

I can’t remember my exact age, but I was in a daycare program after school. The sun was out and it wasn’t too hot, so Tommy* (*not his actual name) and I were playing on one of those plastic playground sets outside in the back courtyard. In his exuberance, he came up to me, held me down, and kissed me twice. Pretty forcefully.

I remember running back inside. Obviously upset, one of the workers asked me what was wrong. When I told her, she gave me a smile and said, “that just means he likes you.” And went about her day.

At no time was Tommy reprimanded for holding me down. “Oh, he’s a hyperactive child!” she carried on when I was still upset. It was the days before ADD and ADHD, so “hyperactive” was used. But, at no point was I reassured with anything other than he liked me.

He liked me. I kept wondering what I was supposed to do with that information. He liked me. All I knew was, I did not like him as anything more than a friend and I did not like him touching me. But I was still supposed to find his actions as a compliment. That’s how they were phrased. A compliment.

I was a girl who developed early and quickly. Over my elementary and middle school years, boys would hug me at their will and tease me the next. “That’s how they show they like you.”

Still, no one was asking if they could touch my body and no permission granted. Bras were popped, the teasing escalated. Throughout all three years of junior high, one boy, not Tommy, taunted me during every assembly and homeroom. I hated going to my locker, because based on our last names, his was close to mine and I couldn’t just get my books out — I had to endure him. Taunting, teasing. Sometimes groping.

What made him stop?

I was waiting for one of my parents to pick me up after a flute lesson after school. He and his group of friends started all taunting me. I was by myself. It was dark. I was terrified. They kept coming closer. I asked them to leave me alone, maybe not politely but who cares at that point? When they wouldn’t, I reacted by kicking him. I didn’t aim, but my foot connected with the most painful part of his anatomy. He doubled over, his friends laughed, and I waited to be called into the principal’s office for weeks.

But he left me alone and held his books conspicuously after that.

Two or three years ago, before Thanksgiving, the Girl Scouts of America posted a blog post talking about consent. Reminding parents and guardians that if a girl doesn’t want to hug someone that she should not be forced to let anyone touch her body. How weird is that? We have to remind parents that a child has bodily autonomy, something that should be common sense. But, we’ve all been there: not wanting to give that awkward hug to that relative that is going to grab a quick feel to see how much we’ve developed since they last saw us.

And that brings us all to Joe Biden.

By now, you’ve likely heard Lucy Flores’ accounts of what transpired between her and Joe Biden and his rebuttal.

Let’s first address the elephant in the room: Biden can be an incredibly caring man who has been deeply touched by loss and a touchy-feely person, while simultaneously not cognizant of personal space issues.

Since the story erupted, I’ve seen a number of my friends, mostly Democrats argue so many upsetting points. From the “what’s the big deal?” questions to flat out saying it was “blown out of proportion” to accusing Flores of playing politics to take down Biden in favor of Sanders, every single post or comment has disappointed me further.

There is a fine line when it comes to questioning an accuser. A line that we should be wary of crossing. For too long survivors have hidden, afraid their past would be called into action, afraid that they would be accused of an ulterior motive for coming forward.

Consider this: the number of fraudulent rape cases is around 8%, per the FBI and usually the accuser has a history of lying to the authorities. Too often those cases are played out it the news, so that it becomes commonplace, placing an incredible burden on survivors of sexual trauma to have an angelic past and not suffer through any mental fugue in the aftermath of the attack, lest she is accused of making things up in subsequent police interviews.

While that 8% is troubling, 92% of women who do report, a very small percentage of overall sexual assault cases that actually take place, are burdened to prove one of the most traumatic things in their life actually happened. So, while peace officers need to proceed cautiously, they also need to proceed in a manner that allows a survivor to feel safe in the information they share. Feeling safe means that a survivor won’t leave out details that they think she will be judged for later.

Back to Biden and the implications I’ve maddeningly watched be put into play in less than a week.

Flores was speaking at a major event, the second most powerful man in the country was there to support her. As women, we are conditioned to be polite, to not make a scene. This burden grows deeper when the man is powerful and your very future and career is in his hands. The other part of this is, taking place in the venue and time it did, there was little to no time for Flores to process what happened to her to say anything.

As 2016 came and went without Biden on the ticket, she did not have to speak out, but in the weeks since 2019 began, there has been an overwhelming chorus of Biden supporters leading a charge for him to declare a candidacy, something he himself has not ruled out.

Even with Flores’ account, Biden still wasn’t dead in the water, if it hadn’t been for footage over the years, where he has made young girls uncomfortable with what our patriarchal society would deem to be a “playful” touch.

I knew a man when I had just passed the watershed birthday of 18, that would come up to me and other women he worked with, from behind, and put his hands on our shoulders and massage them out. He was rough, knocking out muscle tension so that your body responded positively. But he never asked and the moment he grabbed me, I always instinctively tensed up, anyway. Do you see how that’s a self-fulfilling gratification on his part?

I don’t think Biden is a creepy old man that deserves to be put out to pasture simply for this one account, but along with all of the people swarming to his defense, including his former Press Secretary in an op-ed published to USA Today, that no one ever addressed this issue with him says more about how pervasive this kind of thing is and how no one thinks twice about it.

If we are going to have a true reckoning of the patriarchy, there will be casualties on both sides of the political aisle. Defending Biden, whether by “not seeing the big deal”, thinking the story was “blown out of proportion”, or that “she’s doing this for political reasons” is an insult to those of us that are trying hard to fight powerful men from groping us, grabbing us, kissing us, or just plain putting their hands or their body parts near us in compromising situations where we risk our livelihoods for saying, “no”, but we don’t really want to say, “yes.”

This means Al Franken, too.