#MeThree and the Movement
Updated: Mar 8
Like most movements, #MeToo has gotten a bit out of hand. My annoyance with it came to a head a couple of weeks ago with the public allegations against Joe Biden of wrongful touching. I spent days mulling over the many issues around it and have come to see things a little differently now.
Safety is at the heart of the #MeToo movement. Like Maslow's Hierarchy, people and for that matter, societies cannot positively evolve without the certainty of safety. Whether it be general physical safety or sexual safety, it boils down to not feeling threatened. Having that safety ignored by others or to feel pressure not to come forward is wrong. Few people will argue about that.
Unless you’re a teenager at the cusp of puberty, most of us know the difference between a sexual advance and an ‘atta girl/boy’ pat on the back. To me, allegations about sexual advances or personal space violations are critical only if they threaten someone's safety. And we know that there have been plenty of those violations - many unpunished. This is the heart of the issue and what has given #MeToo its steam.
Beyond that, it gets a lot trickier to interpret and involves more complex nuances between individuals. Cultural, contextual and generational issues come into play. For example, I have never heard of an allegation of wrongdoing that involved a hug shared at a funeral. But touching beyond a hand shake during celebrations - hugs, pats on the shoulder and so forth have emerged as a dicey area of potential space violation and can quickly spin out of control. It seems that the public trigger finger has gotten spastic.
That concerns me, because I see myself as one of those touchy types. It wasn’t unheard of for me to touch an employee’s arm or shoulder when I wanted to commend them or make a point. With hugs, I tried to ask permission first, but sometimes my “mom-self" had a hard time holding back. For me, a hug is like a punctuation mark - an extremely human one. So, regarding Biden, only those involved know what really happened. I certainly wasn’t there to judge. But, I have a gut feeling that like me, he is ‘old school’ and now struggling with nuanced boundaries and this allegation may have been nothing more than a political gesture. Who knows?
Let’s look at the issue on a grander scale, I'll call it #Me-Three. #Me-Three concerns the evolution of our culture when we overreact to touch. When allegations, legal actions and negative publicity become the norm, we respond by retreating into our personal body space creating a distant culture. Certain characters like Taylor Mason, the sexually ambiguous character in the show Billions, come to mind. She/he protects her/himself with a padding of emotional insulation and tonal neutrality. Is this the logical extreme? I think of my prior work environment, the hospital world, where patients face frightening health realities and comforting them by touching a hand, arm, shoulder or a hug can separate a deeply caring provider from an aloof one - what will become the norm there?
Most adults know there is a big difference between a caress, hug and handshake. And that hugs should be reserved for those who you share a trusting relationship. But, in my opinion, when we encourage a society to distrust their basic intuition to connect, we run the risk of stripping away more than a few sexual opportunists, we also leave behind innocent, supportive touching - a critical dimension of our humanness.
I’d love to hear your thoughts too!
Jane Rubin is the author of the memoir, Almost a Princess, My Life as a Two-Time Cancer Survivor available in most online bookstores. The royalties are donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.