Bad touch
In any culture, it is unacceptable to assume that it is okay to touch someone. Image Credit: Stock image

Highlights

  • Etiquette expert tells you how to recognise the wrong touch from the right one.
  • What is the appropriate reaction when someone violates your space?
  • Why is anything beyond a handshake best avoided.
  • Former US vice president Joe Biden and Indian BJP spokesperson in the news for #MeToo

Dubai: Former US vice president Joe Biden has been accused of sexual harassment multiple times now and social media users cannot stop sharing clips and images of his interactions with women.

Lucy Flores, a former Nevada State Assembly woman accused Biden on Friday, March 30, of touching her inappropriately and kissing her on the back of her head in 2014. Soon after, on Monday, April 1, Amy Lappos, a woman from Connecticut said Biden touched her inappropriately and rubbed noses with her during a 2009 political fundraiser.

The reports have added to Biden’s history of unwanted contact with women and could potentially harm his political presence. Biden is yet to join the 2020 United States’ presidential elections, but it is widely speculated that he will be announcing his campaign in the coming weeks.

Following the harassment reports, a trend on social media emerged. People shared videos and images of Biden touching young girls and women that seem uncomfortable with his approach. Most of these clips are from official events that took place while he was vice president.

Twitter user @TimRivard shared one of such videos from the senate ceremonial swearing-in and wrote: “Is anyone really surprised that gropey #JoeBiden is being accused of sexual harassment?”

Really I saw the creepy Joe Biden videos years ago. Why is this just now coming out?

- Tweep Andrea Greene Myers, @hahabirdpumpkin

While tweep Andrea Greene Myers, @hahabirdpumpkin, was surprised that the incidents are only emerging now: “Really I saw the creepy Joe Biden videos years ago. Why is this just now coming out?”

There are those who are excusing his actions.

Cheri Jacobus, @CheriJacobus, a political strategist called the behaviour “inappropriate”, however didn’t seem to classify it as harassment: “It’s not sexual harassment, and he does it to everyone. Tacky and inappropriate, yes, but not sexual harassment.”

In an earlier tweet Jacobus had written: “Joe Biden is tacky and inappropriate in that he is often ‘grandpa’ affectionate with women and girls, but he is not a sexual harasser. That said, this is a great teachable moment for him and all men in his generation to understand what is welcome and appropriate, and what is not.”

According to US media reports Biden’s spokesman, Bill Russo has commented on the issue. Russo said: “These smears and forgeries have existed in the dark recesses of the internet for a while. And to this day, right wing trolls and others continue to exploit them for their own gain.”

Personal boundaries

The incidents surfacing have started an important conversation over personal boundaries and further fuelled the #MeToo movement.

User @EricShapiro3 tweeted: “Joe Biden’s inappropriate conduct will be the ultimate test of whether liberals are willing to embrace #MeToo when it means holding accountable a politician many of us are fond of. For the sake of survivors and the country, I hope we pass the test.”

However, there are those who believe the movement is being misused for political gains. Twitter user Frank Walls, @FrankWalls31, wrote: “Pretty horrible to waffle around the pros and cons of Joe Biden and #MeToo as like pretty clear political pawns. That’s not what it’s supposed to be about you…”

Beyonce harassed?

American actor Omari Hardwick found himself in a similar debacle as superstar Beyonce’s fan base went after him after a seemingly awkward exchange between the two at the 50th NAACP Image Awards.

A video posted online showed Hardwick kissing the singer twice after she won the Entertainer of the Year award. Members of the beehive claimed that the interaction seemed to be uncomfortable for Beyonce, however, she is yet to comment on the incident.

Twiiter user @ohphillia posted: “I know what Omari Hardwick did to Beyonce with the kisses may seem trivial to some of you, but that’s what literally happens when we greet some of your dads, brothers, boyfriends, colleagues and bosses. There are boundaries and he encroached... it’s disconcerting.”

Omari Hardwick’s double kiss on Beyonce is cringe worthy!

- Tweep @KevOnStage

Tweep @KevOnStage commented on the issue: “Omari Hardwick’s double kiss on Beyonce is cringe worthy!”

Whereas, @Jaidus_, thought that it was merely an awkward interaction: “The fact Omari Hardwick is trending for ‘kissing’ Beyoncé proves that: 1. There are a lot of people with an unhealthy obsession with Beyonce. 2. Most people, celebrities included, still have awkward interactions with people they admire.”

Indian politician pats, hand-feeds woman voter

In India, Twitter users are dismayed at the conduct of Sambit Patra, the official spokesperson of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party who while campaigning in the temple town of Puri in Odisha for the Lok Sabha elections posted a video of himself visiting one of the families in the constituency.

The video shows him eating food at a family’s house while a woman cooks on the hearth, an earthen oven, in the background. He later touches the woman on her back and hand-feeds her. Another woman is brought to him, he pulls her by the arm and hand-feeds her, too. Is it appropriate for a politician to enter a poor man’s house and touch or hand-feed the women in the house, all in the name of political campaigning?

Twitter user @subytweets shared the video and wrote: “If I go to a stranger’s house, pat/rub the lady of the house against her wishes (she’s too timid to object), force feed an adult lady holding her by shoulder, wouldn’t it amount to sexual harassment? @NCWIndia Just because they’re poor doesn’t mean you could force them to act like this.”

@nishaDev1 tweeted: “Sambit Patra will do anything in Puri to gain votes. Imagine, giving food to the mouth to a grown-up woman. And patting the woman’s back. It is utterly shameless and Patra should apologise...”

Tweep @vg_inc posted that just because they were poor women, did not mean they would not mind: “This behaviour is really unbecoming of Sambit Patra. Poor women also have some self-respect.”

@SoniaMinochka added: “... sadly, in our country the powerful [and] super-rich take everything for granted.”

And @jawaharsingh posted: “Disgusting... violating the personal space of the poor hapless women for whom he is an uninvited stranger.”

Disgusting... violating the personal space of the poor hapless women for whom he is an uninvited stranger.

- @jawaharsingh, Twitter user

A few others used the opportunity to point out that the BJP was not standing up to its promises again. The Ujjwala Yojana scheme, launched by BJP in 2016, promised to provide free cooking gas connections to rural women in Below Poverty Line households. The government had cited the scheme as one of its key successes.

Tweep @nishaDev1 posted: “What a shame. Sambit Patra is making old ladies feed him. The chulha (hearth) is a disgrace in this modern Indian state where BJP is doing great things for the poor women of India. Where is their free gas cylinder?”

@sahmed26 tweeted: “@sambitswaraj you should have provided the lady with a gas connection before forcing her to cook food on wooden chulha. And then you are pressing her shoulder against her consent.”

Indian journalist Swati Chaturvedi (@bainjal) posted another picture of Patra during the visit, in which he has his arms around two seemingly uncomfortable villagers. She wrote: “The voters seem rather upset with Patra’s closeness.”

Tweep @ashoswai added: “Patra seems to be visiting a village for the first time. He is behaving more like a tourist looking for poverty in Odisha villages.”

The psychology of touch: When is it wrong?

Please stay 18 inches away from me!

Is someone getting too close to you when they are talking to you? Are they standing so close to you that you begin to feel suffocated? It’s a perfectly normal reaction because every one of us has a body buffer zone, a space around us that when invaded can really stress us out.

Sexual harrasment at work
Is someone getting too close to you when they are talking to you Image Credit: Stock image

Though personal space boundaries can differ from culture to culture, they are very powerful indicators of our comfort levels with people around us.

When former US vice president Joe Biden got too close to former Nevada state legislator Lucy Flores, it was in a literal sense. He put his hands on her shoulders, sniffed her hair and kissed her on the back of the head.

The late American anthropologist Edward Hall in 1963 coined the term “proxemics” to explain the concept of necessary physical distance between people.

According to Hall, the “intimate distance” spans approximately 18 inches (46 centimeters) out from a person’s body, which is followed by a personal distance for interactions with other close friends and family, social distance for acquaintances and a public distance for speaking events.

18inches

The span of “intimate distance” from a person’s body, according to American anthropologist Edward Hall

According to Princeton researcher Michael Graziano, the zone is “more robust” around the head - on a crowded subway car, for example, “we’ll tolerate people pressed up against our shoulders, but not against our faces.”

“Joe Biden - he was absolutely in the taboo zone,” said Audrey Nelson, a Colorado-based communications and gender expert, referring to his interaction with Flores. “To get that close and then touch anything - your hair, massaging the shoulder - good God. It’s very inappropriate.”

“This behaviour is reserved for intimates,” she continued. “I don’t care if he is vice president, it’s inappropriate.”

Touch and go: Take it from an etiquette expert

Reema Jumani from Etiquette Talk Dubai says the etiquette of touch is stringent in all countries and cultures and any physical contact that makes any person uncomfortable regardless of the gender is inappropriate.

Bad touch 1
Any physical contact that makes any person uncomfortable regardless of the gender is inappropriate. Image Credit: Stock image

What is a right touch? Anything beyond a handshake is a wrong touch, according to Reema. On the other hand, a right touch is defined by a firm handshake with two pumps in a professional setting and up to three pumps in a social setting.

“The universal acceptable rule to touching someone in a social setting is no more than a handshake. Different forms of handshakes and kissing form a part of greeting and that depends on the dynamics of the group, relationship and authority.

The real breach of conduct is when a man goes beyond the 3-feet apart rule and ends up with a lot of ‘accidental’ touches on a woman’s body. He is wrong.

- Reema Jumani, Etiquette Talk Dubai

“People in a social setting can greet each other with a hug and a kiss if they have known each other long enough and are comfortable with this form of greeting.”

“The real breach of conduct is when a man goes beyond the 3-feet apart rule and ends up with a lot of ‘accidental’ touches on a woman’s body. He is wrong.”

Good touch vs bad touch

According to the etiquette expert, here are some things to remember

Dos:

  • Offer a handshake. The first form of contact with people that helps break the ice. However, in certain countries where the culture is slightly conservative, a man should wait for a lady to extend her hand before offering his.

Don’ts:

  • Don't stand closer than 3 feet from the other person
  • Try not to use a lot of hand gestures when speaking to other people as it can result in accidental touching
  • Do not offer other styles of handshakes such as back slapping, high-five, fist bump or a long and strong hand clasp.

Even handshakes can go wrong

There can be a number of awkard situations when exchanging pleasantries. These situations arise when :

  • A handshake is a hard press.
  • The person refuses to let go of the hand after the initial 2 or 3 bumps.
  • Uses his left hand to touch the hand, wrist or the forearm of the other person which may be mistaken as being insincere.

What is the best way to respond to a wrong touch?

Take a step back with a startling expression: that conveys the message of a wrong touch.

How to prevent a wrong touch?

According to Reema, a few steps to can be followed that can prevent this:

  • Follow the 3-foot rule when conversing with people.
  • Use hand gestures to alert the perpetrator and prevent them from coming too close.
  • In a very tight space, a woman can even hold documents or her handbag in front of her which will prevent the other person from getting too close to her.