Most men have already proved themselves capable of empathizing in this way—only with other men. Would Biden have smooched Beto O’Rourke’s head backstage at a rally? Would he have grabbed an unsuspecting man’s face and rubbed noses with him, as he allegedly did to a congressional aide in 2009? Maybe! Biden did have a habit of whispering sweet nothings into Obama’s ear. But his famously touchy demeanor usually manifests as bro-y back slaps and bear hugs with men; with women, it’s a patronizing set of hands on the shoulders, an unsettlingly close lean, a kiss on the head. He knows enough about body language and personal comfort to touch people differently based on their gender. A politician concerned with gender equity might have given some thought to why that is.
It’s telling that Biden has constructed his defense around the claim that he never had the “intention” of causing women discomfort. He’s placed the burden of reckoning on the recipients of his actions, the women who mistook his friendly gestures as invasive and unsettling. But good intentions that forge ahead, time after time, with no regard for the unique circumstances of each situation are no longer good—they’re careless. Any leader might occasionally offend women or step out of line in physical interactions with them. But he’d do so in spite of his sincere best efforts, not because he seemingly didn’t care enough to try.