Joe Biden may see his affection towards women as harmless when in reality, they are not.
The current social climate has caused the general public to question the ethics of men in positions of power showing affection to younger women in the workplace. Joe Biden’s intimate physical contact with younger women may seem harmless from his perspective, but for the recipient of the unwanted touching, it is a sexual assault.
In the past, he has been seen as an innocent, friendly, affectionate older man who is unaware of his actions. His intimate displays of affection towards his female staff is not a cute quirk, it reveals the unhealthy patriarchal culture which persists in today’s workplace.
The treatment of Joe Biden from the media represents the dominant office culture of elderly men in power touching younger women in the workplace. These men are clearly abusing their positions of power, yet they are still seen as innocent old men who are unable to change their ways in order to adapt to the current society. Biden should not be excused for his actions. A man who has held himself as a spokesperson in the fight against sexual assault on college campuses should have a clear understanding of what sexual assault looks like. He may view his actions as harmless, but in order to respect the emotional well-being and safety of his female staff and interns he must educate himself and change his behavior
The explicit power struggle behind seemingly innocent gestures of affection in the workplace has existed for decades. Biden has unfortunately remained unaware of the unintentional display of dominance that is conveyed by touching or kissing a female employee in the workplace. Physical interactions that involve an unequal power dynamic create a complicated inner dialogue for the women involved, they may feel uncomfortable yet at the same time, they feel pressured to remain silent.
The lack of self- autonomy and consent from the women involved creates a silent power struggle, societal norms preventing them from openly objecting to the physical contact. If they make a scene, they risk losing their jobs or ruining their professional reputation. The entire situation is win-lose, any reaction will result in a negative result for the women.
The men come out as the victor, while the women continuously face defeat. There is no positive outcome from calling attention to the misconduct of their bosses. However, the male’s inappropriate behavior is excused by the media based off of their status, gender, and ethnicity. They may face minimal criticism, but their professional reputation and jobs remain intact.
Change of the times
The fine line between affection and groping is often crossed by those who are unable to understand the current social climate, acceptable norms and the repercussions of their actions. Often times, men like Biden may not realize that their behavior is no longer considered socially acceptable in the workplace. Growing older means that the social culture of one’s environment changes, in Biden’s case he has been unable to adapt to the new culture. This social divide between male bosses and female employees creates a confusing and uncomfortable environment for young female staffers and interns.
Showing signs of physical affection towards female co-workers may have been acceptable during Biden’s early career, however, the women he works with today may have a different interpretation of his actions than women thirty years ago. His current actions show that he has failed to acknowledge that the times have changed. The fact that Biden has failed to properly adjust his behavior to refrain from engaging in inappropriate behavior, clearly shows that he is unable to understand the extent of his actions. Biden’s depiction as a bumbling politician further solidifies the unhealthy social divide between men and women in the workplace. He is a product of his time, but that does not excuse his actions.
Despite the implications of his actions and current climate Biden continues to demonstrate a lack of understanding of why his actions towards young female staffers or interns are inappropriate. Although Biden has easy access to information on current acceptable standards of conduct, he continues to remain ignorant of the inappropriate nature of his actions in the workplace. The changing culture around sexual assault has caused Biden’s physical displays of affection to be seen as problematic and creating a hostile work environment. His experiences during his early career are no excuse for showing his affection through touching and kissing the workplace.
Although he may view his actions as innocent, he fails to take into consideration of the personal comfort levels of the women involved. His personal social connotations behind his actions have not changed, while the rest of society has updated their interpretation of sexual assault to include unwanted physical contact.