Have the grounds for feminist complaint ever been lower?
Conservative pundits and Republican politicians are joining the Democratic outcry against former vice president Joe Biden, accusing him of inappropriately touching females. They are making a serious mistake. Conferring legitimacy on this latest and craziest flare-up of #MeToo hysteria will further weaponize females to take out any man of their choosing, based simply on their feelings. More consequentially, it will make society impossibly fraught and brittle, intolerant of the ordinary messiness of human interactions and unaccepting of generational differences.
The crusade against Biden began last week when a left-wing Democratic operative and social justice advocate accused Biden of having inappropriately kissed her in 2014. Lucy Flores was running for Lieutenant Governor of Nevada and was about to make a campaign speech. Clearly nervous, she was ‘taking deep breaths’ behind the stage, she says, when she ‘felt two hands’ on her shoulders. ‘I froze,’ she wrote in The Cut. ‘“Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?”’
She claims that he ‘inhaled’ her hair and then ‘proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused.’
Flores admits that his behavior ‘wasn’t violent or sexual.’ Indeed, he kissed the back of her head, not her mouth, in what was patently an effort, however clumsy, to boost her confidence. Nevertheless, she calls his actions ‘demeaning and disrespectful.’
Flores decided to come forward with her accusation, she writes, after seeing other examples of Biden ‘getting uncomfortably close with women and young girls:’
‘Biden nuzzling the neck of the Defense secretary’s wife; Biden kissing a senator’s wife on the lips; Biden whispering in women’s ears; Biden snuggling female constituents. . . . Had I never seen those pictures, I may have been able to give Biden the benefit of the doubt. Had there not been multiple articles written over the years about the exact same thing — calling his creepy behavior an “open secret” — perhaps it would feel less offensive.’
(The stories to which Flores links here were all published in 2015. Somehow it took her four years, on the eve of Biden’s presumed presidential announcement, to share her pain.)
There is no video of the Biden-Flores interaction, though her account alone rebuts her gloss of it as predatory. But we do have video of what Flores calls the ‘exact same thing.’ In 2015, Gawker posted a characteristically snarky article that exhaustively gathered all the allegedly damning video evidence about the way Biden ‘creeps on women.’ So what do we see? An elderly man who instinctively uses his hands to reach out to people in greeting, empathy, or alliance, and who occasionally plants a kiss on the top of heads or even lips. To read a sexual agenda into these moments of physical contact, as the Gawker article and its contemporaneous imitators did, is lunatic.
‘He clutched two elderly woman [sic] at once,’ screams one Gawker photo caption. Biden has a hand on the shoulder of two bespectacled, white-haired octogenarians and appears to be planting a kiss on the forehead of one of them. Only a pervert would see sexuality in the image. In another two shots, Biden is in a diner with three bikers. The female biker may be sitting in his lap; in any case, Biden is close behind her with his hands on her shoulders. The caption sniffs: ‘He’s very fond of the touching from behind — generally frowned upon with strangers.’ ‘Touching from behind’ may be ‘generally frowned upon with strangers,’ but the female is patently not frowning but having the time of her life. Sadly, she appears not to have read Catharine MacKinnon or Judith Butler.
Another Gawker caption is equally blind to context and the actual details of the scene: ‘He was very affectionate at a soldier’s funeral.’ Biden is leaning down to a grieving woman and speaking to her with his hands on either side of her face. Touch is one of the principal means that humans have to console each other. In the world we are entering, however, any such physical contact will be forbidden unless contractually provided for in advance.
Gawker and other outlets have exhumed photos of Biden with young girls. In almost every one, the girls’ parents are standing next to them in an even larger crowd. There is no possibility that Biden is going to abduct the children for sexual favors. In several cases, he has left his hands on the shoulders of the child absent-mindedly while he chats with their taller siblings or an adult. He may kiss the top of a child’s head. The children sometimes look uncomfortable, Biden’s critics assert triumphantly. Of course they do! That is what it means to be a child: you have to put up with the clumsy, unbidden gestures of ‘old people,’ whether your own relatives or strangers. Such feelings of awkwardness and impotence were once understood to simply be part of the normal transactions between the generations, like receiving an ugly sweater on your birthday from a grandparent. Now they are grounds for feminist complaint.
There are undoubtedly photos of Biden putting his hands on the shoulders or heads of young boys. We are not seeing them because they don’t fit the narrative. We already know that he is equally physical with men. Mark Bowden has described him scooting as closely as possible to interlocutors, leaning forward, ‘occasionally reaching over to touch your arm or leg for emphasis.’ Dick Harpootlian, a South Carolina state senator, said that Biden ‘is a hugger. . . he hugs men, women and children.’ But even if Biden pats only girls on the cheek, that, too, fits a traditional pattern in which elderly gentlemen are given a license to express their affection for young girls. To sexualize this, without more, is petty, if not squalidly lurid.
The pièce de résistance in the harassment narrative is a video of Biden from 2015 allegedly ‘groping’ Stephanie Carter as President Barack Obama swears in her husband as Secretary of Defense. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show ran a contemporaneous take down called the ‘Audacity of Grope,’ during which Stewart, eyebrows cocked ironically, marveled that Biden had left his hands on Carter’s shoulders for a full 28 seconds. The producers actually timed the scene with a stopwatch. The only problem with this ‘grope’ narrative is that Carter has explicitly rejected it. Biden was acting as a welcome friend to try to calm down her nerves, she wrote in a Medium post on Sunday.
A second accuser came forward this week. Amy Lappos met Biden at a political fundraiser in 2009, she told the Hartford Courant. She, too, admits that her encounter with Biden was not sexual. And yet, because it made her feel uncomfortable, it was still ‘sexism or misogyny.’ It ‘objectified’ her, she said, displaying her Gender Studies 101 bona fides. Yesterday, two other females trickled over the finish line to declare that Biden reach-outs also made them ‘feel uncomfortable.’ Biden, for his part, has said that it was never his intention to make anyone feel uncomfortable. ‘Not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately,’ he said in a press statement. In the new feminist era, however, the character of a male-female interaction is determined not by a reasonable person standard, and certainly not by the perception or intention of the male. The exclusive guardian of an encounter’s meaning is the female’s subjective response. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Politico Playbook: ‘In the world we’re in now…people’s space is important to them, and what’s important is how they receive it and not necessarily how you intended it.’ Lucy Flores said that as photos of Biden’s other physical encounters with constituents surfaced, her ‘anger and resentment grew.’ This is key: Feminist resentment of a world perceived as too male will be the driving force from here on out in regulating social interaction.
Contemporary feminism emerged simultaneously with sexual liberation. The latter offered freedom from what were deemed repressive sexual norms that paternalistically protected females from the voracious male libido. The male and female libido would henceforth meet as equals on the sexual battlefield, unrestrained by norms of chivalry, gentlemanliness, or female modesty and prudence. Feminism is now evolving, however, into a new monastic cult characterized by an aversion to the flesh and a terror at physical contact with males. The Saudi and other Muslim cultures prohibit males from any physical contact with an unrelated female lest the touch of female flesh provoke male lust. We are moving to that standard here. Feminists continue to gripe about being left out of male bonding experiences. If the new rule is that gregarious males can continue to glad-hand other males but must stay one foot away from females, another source of connection to potential power layers will be lost.
To see where this narcissistic insistence on one’s own ‘space’ is taking us, look no further than Antioch College, the harbinger of all once-unimaginable identity politics absurdities. In 1990, Antioch was universally mocked for requiring explicit verbal consent for each progressive erotic stage of a drunken hookup. Two decades later, college rape bureaucrats and state legislatures the country over were imposing affirmative consent policies on campus sex. Antioch is now applying affirmative consent to purely Platonic physical contact. A third-year Antioch student described to the New York Times last year her shock when her mother hugged her during her first visit home. ‘If you don’t want to be touched and your mom wants to hug you, you should be allowed to say no,’ the co-ed said. ‘It’s about having autonomy over your own body.’ Is this the self-engrossed, instantaneously-offended world we want to live in?
The Republican rush to exploit this current #MeToo frenzy is understandable. Not only is Biden the strongest challenger to Trump for 2020, but he has self-righteously stoked delusional feminist tropes about rape culture for decades. He jumpstarted the Obama administration’s demand that colleges decimate any remaining due process standards in campus rape tribunals. He has embraced the ‘Believe Survivors’ mantra, as K.C. Johnson writes in City Journal. It is just that he be hoist on his own petard. Yet more is at stake here than fitting retribution for a political opportunist: what is at stake is the possibility of normal human life.
This piece originally appeared at Spectator USA
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor at City Journal, and the author of the bestselling War on Cops and The Diversity Delusion (available now). Follow her on Twitter here.
Photo by Mark Wilson / Getty Images