In 2017, the #MeToo movement swept the nation. Thousands of women (and men) spoke out, telling their stories of being sexually assaulted. The impact was immediate, and continues to this day. The conversation around sexual assault has changed — and we are able to confront issues related to sexual violence more directly.
Yet the #MeToo movement has not addressed a problem that remains pervasive across the United States, in workplaces, at family events, between friends, and even among strangers: men touching women inappropriately. Whether it’s putting a hand on the small of a woman’s back as they pass by them, rubbing their shoulders, grabbing them around their waist, or otherwise invading their personal space, too many men feel entitled to put their hands on women without their consent.
Recently, former vice president Joe Biden has made news for his history of touching women inappropriately. Biden has long been known for his habit of being “handsy.” He has been photographed and videoed doing things such as grabbing the upper arm of a preteen girl, whispering in her ear, and then kissing the side of her forehead while she looked uncomfortable and flinched. All of this occurred while her father was sworn-in as a U.S. Senator — and it was all broadcast on television.
Lucy Flores, a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in Nevada, recently wrote about how Biden came up from behind her in 2014, leaned in, smelled her hair, and then kissed the back of her head. As she described it, his actions made her feel “uneasy, gross and confused.”
Biden is far from the only man who has inappropriately touched women in public. During Aretha Franklin’s funeral, Bishop Charles H. Ellis III hugged singer Ariana Grande in a way that ended with him fondling her breast. After an outcry, he stated, “It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast….maybe I was too friendly or familiar, but again, I apologize.”
Many women have a man — or men — in their lives who they instinctually avoid because they know that he will touch them inappropriately. These men may take advantage of any opportunity to put their hands on women, like grabbing their waists when moving past them, touching their arms, or giving them unnecessary hugs. Most of this is behavior that they wouldn’t do to another man, yet they don’t hesitate to touch women in this way. Men who act like this do so for a reason: because they feel entitled to access to women’s bodies.
When confronted with inappropriate touching, women often freeze. They may smile, and laugh it off out of fear that they will seem like they are overreacting if they say something. This kind of touching (and the expected social response) sends a message to women — that your body is not your own, and you have to pretend that it is OK to be touched by this man. But as with any other touching, it isn’t acceptable for someone to put their hands on you without consent. We all have a right to say no.
In the grand scheme of gender-based violence, this may seem like a relatively small thing. Yet it is indicative of a bigger problem: lack of respect for women. As a society, if we tolerate inappropriate touching, we are conveying the message that women do not have the right to say no — and that men have the right to touch women’s bodies even when they don’t want to be touched. That is why it is important that we speak out on this issue, and all issues that impact safety and equality.
At Blackburn Center, we offer a range of services to victims of all types of violence. Our hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122. We also offer community services, such as education and training programs for schools, community groups and businesses. To learn more, contact out office.