Today’s MOZEN: Let’s Be Real

Recently, former Vice President, Joe Biden, was accused of inappropriate touching by at least two women. Even though neither suggested that Mr. Biden’s behavior was sexual in nature, the women felt that their personal space had been violated in a way that made them uncomfortable to say the least. The act involved Mr. Biden holding their shoulders and planting a kiss on the back of their heads during public events they attended together.

Perhaps, a few years ago, these incidents may have been seen as if not insignificant, then certainly harmless. But, we are now in the era of the #MeToo Movement, a time for zero tolerance for any type of sexual predation. And, some women saw Biden’s behavior within that paradigm. However, many others saw it in a different light, i.e. his behavior may have produced an awkward moment for those women but questioned if it rose to the level of abuse.

Although I can see this from both points of view, I tend to side more those who see it as awkward or even inappropriate, but hardly abusive. And, I believe that a reasonable compromise can be reached.

I do empathize with the women. No one should be touched if they do not want to be. As a matter of fact, growing up, my parents emphasized to me that no one was EVER to touch me without my permission. Ever. They felt so strongly about it that it is one of the reasons I was never tattooed — NO ONE was to mark my body. So, if you touched me without my permission, we were going to fight. Plain and Simple.

However, I also came from a Sicilian-American family, i.e. a culture that is built upon open displays of affection. ALL the women in my family were huggers and kissers — so much so that we often tried to hide from them to avoid the constant barrage of lips and arms! And, the men were almost as dedicated to physical affection as they were. My father was always pinching or prodding me, one of my cousins, or friends as a way of conveying his friendship and love. His teasing was NEVER sexual in nature and most people saw it for what it was — a simple display of warmth and tenderness. But, not EVERYONE did and my mother constantly reminded him of this saying, “Joe, stop it! You don’t know what the kid’s reaction will be.” He would respond, “I’m just having fun.” She countered, “well, that’s YOU — not them”.

And, she was right.

Some kids screamed with laughter and glee while others seemed to almost recoil in horror. Adults (whom he often responded to in similar fashion) might react the same way. Obviously, it is NOT for everyone. Therefore, EVERYONE’S personal space should be respected — not just girls and women, but boys and men, too. But, remember, my father and Mr. Biden (Biden is 76 and my father, if he were alive, would be 100) are from different eras when the way we saw these moments were viewed very differently. So, they were expressing THEIR reality in a way they were taught was basically harmless, at least in their own minds.

Furthermore, let’s be real here: there is no moral equivalence between what Joe Biden and Joe LoBuono (my father) did and that perpetrated by the likes of Harvey Weinstein (allegedly) and Bill Cosby (convicted). They used their power and influence to take advantage of their victims. Tenderness, affection, and support, I believe, never entered their minds. My father and Mr. Biden may be described as impish while predatory more accurately describes the others.

Look, times change and they SHOULD. What may have been funny and harmless a few years ago now may seem insensitive and boorish — wearing Blackface as a costume or joke immediately comes to mind. So it is with touching. It is now (if it EVER was) inappropriate, even with the best of intentions, to lay your hands on another person without their permission. And, it’s not really hard to do. It just takes a little bit of mindfulness exhibited by ASKING if its OK or, alerting others that if you do make that mistake, they should please inform you IMMEDIATELY that it is making you uncomfortable. In this way, BOTH people may be satisfied. If you are naturally affectionate and show it through touching, you may do so while at the same time respecting another’s personal space and needs. Because we need both: the human connection brought on by a gentle, reassuring touch and the respect for others by knowing that others may not feel exactly the same way.

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