You know who you are: You’re part of the establishment (maybe a partner, senior corporate counsel, or of counsel), you’re a born glad-hander (which is why you’re so good at client relations) and you simply cannot keep your hands to yourself, especially when it comes to the ladies. You give them bone-crushing hugs, rub their shoulders or kiss them, lingeringly, on the forehead.
That more or less describes what Biden did over the years—and he’s getting hammered for it.
Last week, former Nevada Lt. Gov.-nominee Lucy Flores wrote in New York magazine that Biden gave her “a big slow kiss” on the back of her head and sniffed her hair at an event in 2014. Then, congressional aide Amy Lappos told the Hartford Courant that Biden “put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me,” adding, “I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth.”
As of last count, six other women have joined the chorus to condemn Biden about encroaching on their personal space. And though Biden has issued a video apology, he is facing pressure to drop out of the presidential run. As Lappos told the Courant, Biden went too far, crossing a line that’s “not grandfatherly.” She also said, “It’s not cultural. It’s not affection. It’s sexism or misogyny.”
Whoa. Let’s take a breath. While I agree that Biden’s actions are kind of icky and inappropriate, I certainly do think they are “grandfatherly” and “cultural,” which is exactly the problem: Biden is a dinosaur, a creature of past eras. That said, I’d argue he was trying to be affectionate, albeit with actions that are arguably sexist. As for misogyny? Nah. I honestly don’t think it rises to that level.
Why then are we bothering to make him into some kind of icon of odious male behavior?
To me, his overwrought displays of affection, or whatever you want call them, are not worthy of a grand #MeToo reckoning. To state the obvious: What Biden did was not sexual assault. Also to state the obvious: What Donald Trump bragged about (“grabbing them by the pussy”) and the charges by the 23 women against him (which include allegations of groping and forced kisses on the mouth) were sexual assault.
For the #MeToo movement to have credibility, I think it is critical to draw a distinction between awkward, antiquated behaviors and ones that are far more deliberate and serious. So I wonder if women are shooting themselves in the foot by demanding that Biden drop out of the race. (For the record, I’m not a Biden fan. I’m one of those angry women who feels he really screwed up his handling of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings.)
By that same logic, I’m not sure that every out-of-touch partner who’s made stupid sexist comments (such as complimenting a woman’s appearance—which I don’t think is that awful) or hugged a female colleague too closely should be automatically put out to pasture. One caveat to this, of course, is that they amend their behavior going forward. At this point, everyone should know better.
So, yes, by all means call out inappropriate behavior when you see it. And scold those old goats and send them to re-education camp, if necessary.
But hang them out to dry? Not worth it.
Contact Vivia Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org.