When the candidates are lined up for political debates that start in two months you know that all sorts of issues will surface designed to let the proverbial fur begin to fly. So it is when the #MeToo movement meets the old style glad hand world of a politician such as Joe Biden – Democrats begin to do what they do best: turn on each other.
This past week, even before he had a chance to enter the fray, former VP Joe Biden, found himself facing charges that his well-known “touchy feely” style of politics became intermingled with allegations from several women from his past campaigns. Women across the country argued that what may have been acceptable in past generations did not excuse the failure of men today to understand what was never acceptable from their standpoint.
Initial responses reported women who outright condemned his behaviors followed by a chorus of women with a less negative viewpoint.
“Men were acculturated to behave in ways that ignored the sensibilities of women, and that is no longer acceptable,” Laura Petiford wrote. “I … struggle to understand how it is helpful to render men like Mr. Biden ‘unfit’ because of behaviors that were so deeply woven into the social fabric of this country that we are only now beginning to address them contextually.”
Susannah Sard wrote, “Sometimes we need to relax.” Eileen West wrote: “Joe Biden has plenty to answer for, especially his treatment of Anita Hill. Let his challengers question him on that, rather than being distracted by the media frenzy of the day.”
One person, who has supported a political competitor to Biden, acknowledges that she is speaking because Biden is considering entering the primaries; the other says that if Biden really respects women, he should not run and clear the field for the capable women candidates.
A kind of demand for a balanced perspective came from Theda Skocpol, a Harvard political scientist who stated: “Wait a minute: Is this what gender equality really means? Is this the kind of society we want to live in — where right-wingers can do any vicious thing they want to anyone and shrug it off, while people on the center-left are supposed to expel from public life anyone who says a single wrong word or has done something benignly intended in the past that now does not fit changed norms?
Questions we need to raise:
- How should we fairly look at a situation that confronts older men who have, in years past, adopted a manner that likely made women uncomfortable even though the man in question never understood how unwelcome his behavior was?
- How do we educate men about oafish and highly distasteful behaviors that may have been given a shrug of the shoulders in days of old but is now frequently being cited by women as outside established boundaries of comportment?
- Are we going to put otherwise admirable and respected men quietly – or, as in the case of former Senator Al Franken – not so quietly out to pasture as proverbial dinosaurs of our #MeToo time?
- Is this a debate that tries to draw a line between over exuberant affection vs. creepiness?
- How will conversations between men and women (need to) change and will new customs define those boundaries for generations to come?
I would like to believe that Biden and men of my generation – men that may have never previously given much thought that certain behaviors made women uncomfortable – are beginning to make themselves aware that such behaviors are no longer acceptable. I even believe that every woman who comes forward asserting that a man made an uncomfortable or unrequested touching of her body deserves to be heeded and an apology from the man in question should be forthcoming.
But what we need is a recognition that situations that do not involve claims of sexual harassment or male job empowerment should not become a basis for automatic disqualification of such men for future jobs at the grocery store or in politics. We are going to need a great deal of discussion between men and women in this area and I am in favor of men paying increasing attention to behaviors that are unacceptable. But women also must play a part in the quiet re-education of men on a subject of importance that will require a large adjustment on the part of many men.