In general, I like to stay out of the political fray. I feel that way now more than ever, at least as far as open political discussions go. That doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. No, unfortunately for most of the people around me, I have plenty of opinions on a cavalcade of topics, most of which no reasonable person on the planet wastes much valuable mental energy considering. I don’t mean I’m always right or that my word has to be the last word. In fact, I usually enjoy hearing the opinions of others. I think it’s the only way to keep learning and growing as a person. I will freely admit that I do not know everything and that I have an ocean of things left to understand. I just mean that I don’t like bringing it up except in very rare circumstances where I feel like an actual discussion can be had. I don’t want to lose friends over politics. My parents and I almost stopped talking to each other over the last presidential election. I detest the cesspool of social media trolls who are willing to shout the most vile and repugnant things without responsibility for the meaning of their words or the harm those words cause. I abhor the ones willing to spew their hate-filled bile in person even more.
In terms of categorizing myself, politically, I guess I am an independent. I don’t really feel particularly aligned with any party. Whenever I think a political party is clearly speaking my language, it usually goes too far and mucks things up for me. In my mind, I am an ardent political activist. In real life, I’m a little too lazy and a little too conflict-averse to actually be one. Truthfully, I’m usually too intimidated to ask for an extra lemon wedge or a straw in a restaurant for fear of getting a derisive look or a dismissive sigh. (Not that anyone has ever actually done that to me, but still…it’s a thing I worry about.) So, am I really going to stand in the street at a rally or go door-to-door campaigning? Not likely, but I can’t entirely rule it out. For now, I remain as I am—a frustrated feminist lurker who watches and waits and (most importantly) who votes. In my head, however, I am a fearless, disobedient firebrand who will fight for important causes, and the time could come when I am pushed into actual, Frye-boots-on-the-ground activism.
That being said, the watching and the waiting is getting a little harder every day. Our current political environment is a circus, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Our country is more divided than I ever realized. Our government is more fragile than I ever realized. The things that I childishly assumed to be self-evident are not, and our country, as a whole, has not progressed as far as I thought it had. There has been an insidious widening of divisions along the lines of race, orientation, gender, and religious affiliation. While so many of us thought it was getting better, in reality, it was not. Today, the tools of oppression might be less noticeable, less overtly bloody, but the oppression, itself, remains.
Just because we’ve elected one black president doesn’t mean that racism is dead. Just because gay marriage is federally recognized doesn’t mean that there is no more homophobia. Just because more women have been elected to governmental positions and are holding more executive-level jobs does not mean that there is no gender bias or inequities in pay. The fact that here in North Carolina we spent so much time arguing over who can use what bathrooms just goes to show that as a people, we are far from socially evolved. (It’s really simple—everyone needs to use the bathroom from time to time, and transgendered people are not perverts by virtue of their transgendered status. I suggest that if you are that concerned about the genitourinary equipment of other people when you are in a public bathroom, you might be the one with the perversion.)
When I sat down to write this post this morning, this isn’t where I intended to go with it. I had intended to put my two cents worth in on Joe Biden and his recent video plea to women about his hands-on creepiness with women over the years. My thoughts aren’t particularly timely. As usual, I’m more than a day late and a dollar short when it comes to social commentary. The news moves faster than ever these days, and I’m not quick with things like this. I have to mull it over for a while before I’m willing to say anything at all, let alone write about it, but this Biden thing and his video Twitter post just won’t seem to fade for me.
Here’s the thing. Former Vice President Joe Biden said in his (perfectly casual and notably tieless) Twitter video that was uploaded by NBC to YouTube on April 3rd, “…social norms have begun to change, they’ve shifted, and the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset, and I get it. I get it. I hear what they’re saying. I understand it. That’s my responsibility, and I’ll meet it, but I’ll always believe that governing, quite frankly life for that matter, is about connecting with people.”
What that tells me is that Joe doesn’t get it at all. It is possible to connect with a person without caressing her (or him) like somebody’s creepy drunk uncle at a Christmas party. Mr. Biden, a handshake or a non-groping selfie will work just fine. You don’t have to touch foreheads with a stranger to form a bond…
…and this is not an issue of changing social norms.
It has never been okay to be overly familiar with a woman without her permission. Period. Full stop. When it was done in the past, it was just as demeaning, belittling, and inappropriate, then, as it is now—in public or in private. Has it ever really been acceptable to smell the hair of a woman you don’t know and then kiss her on the head? It hasn’t. We kiss children on the head. I’d venture to guess that a stranger kissing you child on the head would freak you out a little bit, at the very least. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Vice President. He’s an elected official, not the Pope, and as we all know, the Catholic Church has real problems in the inappropriate touching department—problems that stem from blind trust in men of perceived power. Until now, generally speaking, women have endured this kind of thing. We did not have enough power to ensure that we wouldn’t be overlooked, ridiculed, or punished for speaking out. Our unified voices were not loud enough. Now the chorus of resistance is rising. Now people are listening. That’s the difference—not a resetting of the “boundaries of protecting personal space…”
What Biden calls a social norm is, instead, a malignant distortion of social grace, and it’s not the only one. Distortions like these don’t change merely because they have fallen out of fashion. It’s not just the withering of a behavioral fad. We collectively learn from those brave enough to speak out about intolerance, bias, abuse, or discrimination, and then we collectively change. Naysayers call this “political correctness.” They are missing the point. It’s not about special interest groups oppressing the majority with unreasonable demands. It’s about people demanding to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s about people demanding to be treated equally regardless of whatever it is that makes them different.
So, Mr. Biden, if you really get it, if you really understand what we are saying, you will accept responsibility without saying “but” immediately afterward and without qualification. You will truly accept that what you considered to be a social norm was wrong and not just something that has fallen out of fashion. If you can’t, you are no better in that regard than the president we have now.
I realize that on the grand scale of social and political atrocities, this issue with Joe Biden is relatively small. There are other issues that require more immediate attention, but in our world, there will always be other issues going on. We are not wanting for atrocities, but this issue is a simple one to fix. It just takes a little respect and self-awareness. That’s not all it takes, of course, but that’s a good place to start.