April 9th, 2019 – Sorry Joe, social mores have not changed. It was never reassuring to receive a gratuitous massage from the wrong person at the wrong time. It was never pleasant to be stuck in a lingering hug or handshake you can’t shake out of. We, the receivers, have been begrudgingly accepting it as part of the tax on being a woman or the individual with less power for years.
We throw up in our mouths a little and move on with our day. Women have been making fun of space invaders long before it was a video game, much less a national conversation. Everyone agrees that Biden’s behavior is not sexual assault that rises to the level of a Harvey Weinstein encounter or molestation. But it is unwanted physical touching nonetheless that should be pointed out and curbed.
Last week, Me Too movement founder Tarana Burke denounced Biden’s joking reference to the accusations as disrespectful. But the truth is, most of the jokes are directed at Joe Biden himself. Biden is the laughingstock here, because the whole country agrees that hair sniffing and Eskimo kisses from a politician is gross and weird. And that’s funny! And that’s okay. Laughter makes a salient point more memorable.
Let’s backtrack. The last year and a half has been a reckoning for men and our society as a whole. We have gone on painful journeys with scores of women who have recounted the horrors they endured at the hands of evil men in private spaces. It’s been a lot to process with some fumbles and mischaracterizations along the way. Maybe too many claims were elevated to national attention: stale claims, unsubstantiated claims, accusations that arguably threatened to destabilize the movement. But with Biden, we have weird and uncomfortable behavior that nobody likes, happening in plain sight in public spaces and it’s actually funny.
The Me Too movement has led us to this moment of being able to articulate what it is that we don’t like and have it publicly validated for the first time. Instead of gasping in horror, we are laughing at the perpetrator, all of us together. We are all victims here. And that’s a good thing. It just feels a little strange because we’re nauseous and laughing at the same time. But don’t be fooled, it is funny. And that’s okay because laughter is powerful. Laughter makes you want to tune in and repeat it to your friends. It means we identify with the receiver.
Man and woman alike, we have all experienced it on some level and have not appreciated it. This is not nor has it ever been the norm. Nobody wants some dude in their space. And worse, nobody wants to be forced to tolerate it because the dude has power.
It’s healthy for our society, and the Me Too Movement, to have this particular conversation about Joe Biden. In the past, we have allowed otherwise impressive people to get away with this sort of creepiness. Oh well, there’s his intellect and ability to do his job, and then there’s this weird social quirk. Nope! It’s not a quirk. It’s a behavior completely capable of being unlearned. We have arrived at a time where it is appropriate to hold a highly intelligent man such as Joe Biden to a higher standard of “yes, you can be successful and smart on your job but also socially aware and that’s part of your job now.”
I have already seen the positive effects of this conversation. As a comedian, I have been greeted in clubs with unnecessarily tight hugs or accidental-on-purpose mouth kisses. Lately, that is becoming less and less common. Holding up habitual gropers to ridicule is working. And that’s no joke.