Does intent take precedence over the consequences of your actions? Does the fact that you meant no harm mean that none should be felt?
It can be quite hard to speak out when you’ve been negatively affected by someone’s (seemingly) good intentions. Something that appears innocuous to others could have a significantly negative impact for the person on the receiving end. I’d be willing to bet that many of us have experienced that awful moment when doubt ripples through our minds and tricks us into keeping quiet about a problematic or disturbing behaviour we’ve been subjected to. The intention seems to carry more weight than the burden it inflicts – and it really shouldn’t be that way.
Recently in an article via The Cut, Lucy Flores (former Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Nevada) came forward to describe an encounter with former Vice President, Joe Biden. Just before going on stage to talk at a rally, Biden is said to have placed his hands on Flores’ shoulders, stood closely behind her, sniffed her hair and placed a slow kiss on the back of her head.
He [Biden] was there to promote me as the right person for the lieutenant governor job. Instead, he made me feel uneasy, gross, and confused. The vice-president of the United States of America had just touched me in an intimate way reserved for close friends, family, or romantic partners — and I felt powerless to do anything about it.
In a statement responding to the alleged improper contact he had with Flores, Biden explains that he’s never acted inappropriately and “If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.” An intention, as a motivating factor, seems to be viewed by many (not just Biden) as to where accountability begins and ends. There’s no real recognition or understanding of the impact, and therefore no real apology. Any true acknowledgement of error should always focus on the consequences of the actions.
I’ve been on the receiving end of some incredibly worrying and uncomfortable physical interactions with a few people before, very similar to the alleged contact Biden had with Flores, and in each case, the unwanted touch was explained away by onlookers, and/or the perpetrator themselves, as being fatherly or showing concern. This quickly taught me that agency over my own body can be eroded and disregarded as long as the intent behind an action can be perceived by others as honourable. Taking ownership of what transpired was not even a consideration for the “fatherly”, handsy comforter.
I’ve been thinking of the “he just likes to hug” is “touchy feely” and it is all meant “paternally” narrative.
1st reaction was it’s just a nice fatherly/friendly gesture. BUT
A) Not everyone wants to be touched and until very recently women haven’t had the power to decline 1.
— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) April 2, 2019
So where does that leave us? It creates traction for non-apologies and no adjustment of behaviour – because I can’t for one second believe that Biden, in this supposed instance, would’ve done that to a male nominee for lieutenant governor. We should all demand better from those around us, even if they’re well respected or liked.
What are your thoughts on this?