I think we’re all coming into the next presidential election with a lot of opinions. In a sadistic way, I’m looking forward to hate-watching a lot of the political back and forth.
With such a wide field of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, it’s easy to find silly weaknesses. For example, I have a really hard time feeling enthusiastic about candidates who literally just lost an election. I kind of feel like that’s getting turned down for a middle management position and immediately applying to be CEO.
(Yeah I went there, Beto.)
But sexual harassment is more than a silly weakness, and that’s the biggest problem Joe Biden is facing right now.
Joe Biden’s in the middle of the weird political game where he’s not officially running for president but come on, everyone knows he’s running for president. Lucy Flores and a number of other women have come forward to tell their stories of when Biden touched them inappropriately and made them feel uncomfortable.
I’m not asking the question of whether or not these incidents happened. I believe these women without qualification. As has been reported, this fits into Biden’s overall reputation. But the clear theme seems not to be overt sexual harassment but rather misplaced and unnecessary affection. Biden has a habit of touching women around him in ways that cross personal and professional boundaries.
I applaud these women for sharing their stories. We need people in power to rethink the way they interact with professional associates, no matter what industry you work in. Biden needs to take what these women are saying to heart and become aware of his toxic behavior.
But is this really the kind of toxic behavior that should disqualify someone for running for president?
Or, is this a learning moment for both harasser and harassed?
I am raising two daughters, and I am beyond thankful that our society has awakened to the rampant sexual harassment found in all walks of American life. I think they will have the chance to find jobs in a safer and more opportunistic workplace than the one I entered. It’s important that we call out sexual harassment and keep the national conversation going.
But we also have to understand that sexual harassment is so common, and so misunderstood, that the deeper we dig to suss it out of society, the wider the net of sexual harassment becomes. The bigger the net, the more fish we catch. The more fish we catch, the more we can be picky about what fish we clean and devour. At some point, we have to decide to let some fish back into the ocean.
Biden should be held responsible for his actions. But what exactly is a fair and balanced punishment for making lots of women feel uncomfortable? I’m not convinced that his punishment should be to retire in obscurity.
I’m also not saying he’s the best candidate for president. It’s far too early to say he has my vote. But this should not be considered his disqualification.
When I was in high school, I worked as a dishwasher, cashier, and waitress at a greasy spoon in my home town. There was a super cute boy who also worked as a dishwasher. I had the hots for him but he was super shy and super religious. I used to tease him mercilessly about how one of these days I was going to talk him into a date with me.
I had a bit of reputation at this point. Let’s just say that he was definitely not going to invite me to Sunday school.
I remember having a lot of fun with it. He was even cuter when he was blushing, and it got to the point where he was blushing just to see me walk through the door. The cooks and the other waitresses sometimes got in on it, too.
It was all in good fun. I knew he wasn’t interested and I didn’t seriously think he would ever suddenly turn around and say, “Yes! I’m dying to take you out to dinner because I secretly love you.”
Now as an adult, I realize what I did was wrong. He was a nice boy, so he wasn’t going to respond to my harassment in anger. I was a cute girl, coming on hard, and there was a limited number of things he could do about it without facing his own stigmas. I’d come in the back to drop off dishes and tease him. The middle-aged men cooking next to his work station would urge him to take me up on it; they would in a heartbeat if they were 20 years younger and had half the chance. My fellow waitresses would tease him about being next in line behind me. If he pushed me away too hard, he’d be teased for other reasons.
I’m not still in touch with him and I have no idea if he would consider that sexual harassment or not. I know that I do. I know now that it was wrong. I guess at the time I thought it was okay because I saw men as having all the power. Men had all the power and all the options anyway, so it made me feel good to play-act that I was the powerful one. That doesn’t make any of it okay, it’s just an honest reflection of my thoughts when I was 16 years old.
Of all the vast and important reasons why I am not qualified to be president, I have a hard time believing that this incident is one of them. Fifteen years have passed since then and I’ve made far more consequential mistakes in my life. In fact, my insight into my own behavior has given me a more nuanced understanding of sexual harassment and the power that men and women hold over each other.
But my intentions were certainly more malicious than Biden’s. My actions had potentially more lasting consequences.
We Must Appreciate Nuance
We’ve had an epiphany, as a society, about how deep and how nuanced sexual harassment can be. Now we need the revelation about how to move forward and heal after sexual harassment.
It’s a good thing that our me too net grows bigger every day. It’s catching more and more specific situations of sexual harassment that have been festering in our society. But we need to get rid of the policy of killing everything we catch.