What Did Joe Biden’s Kiss on the Head Really Mean?

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I tell myself I’m better off not having an opinion.

Having an opinion, or rather having and expressing an opinion, is to invite an avalanche of correction from women who think every single physical touch from a man translates to sexual harassment.

I just don’t buy it.

I can see being Lucy Flores and having Joe Biden put his hands on my shoulders and kiss me on the top of my head. I can see it so vividly it has probably happened to me — an older colleague, charmed by my savvy, maybe, proud of my accomplishment, wanting to express affection and goodwill, kissing my head or my forehead, or standing with his arm around my shoulders. That’s happened. Not lately, but yes, it has certainly happened to me.

Of course, I’m not talking about strangers or people whom I had just met. I’m talking about professional colleagues who considered themselves to be like older brothers or father figures. And I often regarded them in that way. Their physical expressions of approval and affection felt comfortable to me, like how how one guy might slap another guy on the back or high-five him and do a five-minute handshake. In my career-building years, it felt like acceptance, camaraderie, success.

So I can see how Joe Biden might have thought he was recognizing Lucy Flores as an up and coming politician , a sister, as it were, him being the big brother or even the dad. And he might have thought he was encouraging her, sharing his admiration for her, and so he felt drawn to bestow some kind of blessing on her.

He thought wrong.

Or he didn’t think, which is more likely the case, because most men like Joe Biden, of whom I have known plenty, don’t ever think about how their actions will be interpreted. They just act. They assume what they do is appropriate and welcomed.

What I thought of when I heard Lucy Flores description of the incident wasn’t that Joe Biden had sexually harassed her. My immediate reaction was that he had patronized her, acted in a way that made her appear to be the little sister, elevated himself to be one whose approval is to be prized. By kissing her on the top of the head, like a parent would kiss a child, he established his superiority.

Basically, it’s not Joe Biden’s place to be kissing the head of a woman running for Lt. Governor of the State of Nevada. She wasn’t a child needing his approval or a sister wanting his affection. She was a political candidate waiting to speak to a large audience and his action, as well-intentioned and non-sexual as it may have been, had the effect of marginalizing her. Kissing her on the top of her head made this candidate for high office just a girl.

So I don’t know what Joe Biden does with this. His political history is full of good old boy hugs and kisses on the head — probably with both men and women. He thinks he is being generous with his life and his affection and many people who receive his physical attentions will feel that way. But some won’t and he won’t know that until later.

The best he will be able to say is that it wasn’t his intention to make Lucy Flores uncomfortable and, indeed, it probably wasn’t. But the time when that mattered is over. It’s not a woman’s job to discern a man’s intentions; it’s a man’s job to manage his behavior in a way that no one has to question his intentions. That’s the lesson here — for all of us.

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