Biden is a symptom, the issue is our culture

For many men, accusations from women regarding our behavior causes outrage: What am I, Harvey Weinstein? Apparently women can’t differentiate between rape and minor infractions. Yet it’s always these same men who roll their eyes when inappropriate behavior is legitimately called out, even if not criminal:

Why is everyone so easily offended? If it was a problem they should have said something at the time.

The recent allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden have started piling up with a number of women talking about how Biden invaded personal spaces and created feelings of discomfort during interactions through his long political career. No woman has called his actions sexual in nature, but their grievances are valid nonetheless, especially when the gentleman in question is looking to take the nation forward from the pussy-grabbing Trump years.

The women:

  • Amy Lappos claims Biden rubbed his nose against hers during a political fundraiser in 2009 when she was a congressional aide for US Rep. Jim Himes:

“It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head…. He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me. When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth.”

  • Lucy Flores, Nevada’s former lieutenant governor nominee, was left in shock after Biden smelled her hair and gave her “a big slow kiss” on the back of her head at a 2014 campaign event.
  • D. J. Hill was left feeling “very uncomfortable” when Biden rested his hand on her shoulder before moving it down her back at a Minneapolis fundraiser in 2012.
  • Vail Kohnert-Yount, who interned at the White House in the spring of 2013, recalled Biden putting his hand on the back of her head, pressing their foreheads together, and calling her a pretty girl – at their first interaction in the West Wing.
  • Caitlyn Caruso, after telling him her story of sexual assault at a University of Nevada event in 2016, said Biden hugged her “a little too long” and placed his hand on her thigh.

And this of course comes after rumors that Biden’s team were looking to use the strength and clout of a Black women in Stacey Abrams to boost their ticket.

Before you continue reading, consider for a moment having someone, whether a stranger or your boss, push your forehead or nose against yours, or come up behind you, grab your shoulders, smell your hair and kiss your head, all without asking if this is OK. A violation does not have to be sexual; it is a violation either way.

Also consider how Biden’s innocent interactions weren’t shared with the men he worked with. If you offer your hand to shake with a male colleague but go to hug the woman, then there is a problem with your selective behavior.

But here we are, even when the accusations aren’t looking to lock someone up, and people are still losing their shit. I’ll point out, though I don’t need to, that the majority of those with problems in the media are white, cis and straight. I’m talking of the Bill Mahers in the world.

According to Maher himself, these women should have spoken out sooner. It isn’t assault, it’s “not that fucking serious” and shouldn’t be discussed. Tainting a potential Democratic candidate will only impede beating Trump in 2020. This isn’t the time for petty allegations.

On his show Real Time, Maher brought up how people naturally interact, connect, and sometimes it gets physical. It happens to both men and women; if it goes too far then just say in the moment. Men let you know so the embarrassment shames the accused into changing their behavior. It’s easy; if men can do it then women should too.

Maher, with his shroud of privilege, is oblivious to the fact men are allowed to react in that moment. Our culture is designed for men to do what they want. Men are encouraged to make change; women are taught to follow. While men are credited for calling out bad behavior, and (white) men can cause harm and get away with it, we still struggle to even believe the women victimized by violent acts. We give women little to no reason to think anything will come from their speaking out.

Men always insist on the innocence of our actions. We didn’t mean anything by it so how could you portray it that way? As Ms. Karasek said, “it doesn’t matter how the woman feels about it or they just assume that [we’re] fine with it.”

On Wednesday, Biden released a video saying he would make the effort to change and understand. This is a good step. But his lack of an apology was noticeable. Rather, he insisted he had nothing to apologize for because his intentions were never problematic. And of course Maher lauded this approach. But the will to change doesn’t mean anything if you’re unwilling to hold yourself accountable. It holds even less sway when Biden made jokes about the situation at a public event the day after his video say him pledge to change his behavior.

In the run-up to 2020, what kind of world are we looking for? We’re already living the one where men can act without consequence, where apologies are sanctioned as weakness. Are we not better than this?

This isn’t about political purism – no candidate is perfect and seeking it will leave you empty handed. But if we were to scale ones character, Trump would be a three at best. Those looking to win at all cost like the Bidens and Mahers are around 5-7. So I ask, why are we settling? Why are our standards not set on at least an eight? A six may be better than Trump, but at what cost? We should have a leader who reflects values and respects the diverse communities who exist on the left of party politics. When someone fails to listen to or acknowledge their behavior towards the women who compile the majority of the progressive base, then what exactly are we fighting for if its not to be better?

As Ms. Reade tole the Union, her experience working with then-Senator Biden, though not sexualized, was akin to being a lamp: “It’s pretty. Set it over there. Then when it’s too bright, you throw it away.”

These women are representative of the millions made to feel uncomfortable every single day. Through the wolf-whistling, inappropriate shoulder rubs, and the asking to wait on meetings and events; the expectation to show a certain amount of leg, a standard of femininity, and visual aesthetic; to be the sole provider of emotional support and service; the demand to stay silent, to not resist, to not question, to not be too loud, to not speak aggressively; to be the cheerleader but not the athlete.

Instead of discussing casual misogyny in our culture, we defend the actions of men over the reactions of women. We fight over whether it’s Weinstein-enough to be worthy of our attention, and ignore how women suffer microaggresive behavior everyday, with statistics showing millions leaving the workforce because of toxic culture. We blame women for being unable to handle the added pressure, while playing ignorant when a man’s “not that fucking serious” actions redefine or completely erase a woman’s career.

The issue isn’t Biden, it’s the culture we continue to accept, and the millions of futures we alter because we’re unwilling to change. If we were, we’d already have more women in the workforce and the government, including the West Wing position Biden wants.

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