Can we talk about how Vice President Joe Biden is being inappropriate?

posted at 10:01 pm on January 6, 2015 by Mary Katharine Ham

I know he’s crazy ol’ Uncle Joe. I know he’s loveable and of a different generation, blah, blah. I know he wears aviators. I know he has a voting record and a party identification that make this kind of behavior suddenly charming and eccentric instead of creepy. But while the online feminist community is fighting the scourge of men who don’t cross their ankles on the subway with all it’s got, the Vice President of the United States is making teenage girls actively uncomfortable by nuzzling and touching them on national TV.

This is not charming.

To my knowledge it is it not a prerequisite to being a United States Senator that your daughter be touched by the VP during the swearing in, but perhaps there is an iTunes-style terms and conditions where no one reads the fine print.

As Mollie Hemingway points out, there would be a storm like no other if Dick Cheney were doing the equivalent of copping some feels at a Taylor Swift concert. There would be no end to the outraged think pieces on how Biden’s claiming of a young woman’s space is an emblem of our society’s disregard for the autonomy of women when in the vicinity of men of power. But, you know, this is just the VP, not #manspreading.

Instead, today Joe Biden has been described as “Biden being Biden,” “great TV,” “full of surprises, outtakes and bizarrely charming moments,” a “political meteor shower.” He was “schmoozing — and smooching” and saying “the darnedest things.”

Biden is, of course, gregarious with everyone but he is handsy almost exclusively with women, and today, with several teenagers. He famously nuzzled a biker woman on the trail in 2012 in a photo that went viral, but at least she was a grown woman.

I was watching these young women today, being made uncomfortable in an already high-stakes situation for teens, and I wondered how I would have reacted at their age. Or, now for that matter. I’m not great at masking my feelings and I’ve called men out in bars or physically removed their hands from me for pulling the same moves. If it were a daughter of mine in their situation, I’d want her to feel perfectly secure asserting her boundaries and requiring even the VP recognize a widely understood sphere of personal space with people he doesn’t know. Perhaps he just needs one of those cultural guide books that teach you whether to kiss, bow, or shake hands.

It’s not the biggest deal in the world and I don’t think Biden is some sort of dangerous character. I don’t think a man heavier on compliments and familiarity than most should be a social pariah. I’m a fan of the Joe Biden random compliment generator. I also think he could take the feelings of these young women into account and leave them off his hug target list. Take it down a notch, Uncle Joe. That would be charming.

Update: I should add, I kind of feel like a jerk for even putting the pictures of these lovely young women up to point out the issue, here. Ladies, you were composed and classy and none of this should be read as indictment of your behavior!

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