Ruth Bass | Fighting for women's rights is not about a kiss on the head


RICHMOND — A kiss on the top of the head is annoying and inappropriate unless your husband or partner plants it. That said, it's not a criminal act, nor something worthy of national debate and outcry, nor a reason not to run for president, nor something to be brought up five years after it occurred.

We've become almost ridiculous about the things we talk about. And the things we don't talk about — like having a president who has bragged about doing a whole lot more than kissing the top of someone's head and who apparently paid off an award-winning pornographic actress to ensure her silence about their relationship.

We are separating parents from their children, babies from their mothers, at our border with Mexico. We are cutting (admittedly, we put it back) budgets for special education, we are neglecting bridges and roads, we are waffling on outright banning of assault rifles, and we are allowing ourselves to take it for granted that the president will insult women, African-Americans, Hispanics and the FBI. And that lies will pour out of his pursed lips on an hourly basis.

Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe columnist, and two women writing letters to the editor in The Eagle put Joe Biden's touchy-feely tendencies in perspective. They all felt his actions might be inappropriate but would not put them in the same category as sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape, the issues the #MeToo movement addresses.

The letter writers were concerned that reporting the hugs-and-kisses kind of behavior, as Lucy Flores did, would undermine serious threats to women. Vennochi wisely comments that the differences of opinion on the Biden story might be generational. And one reason older women might have a lesser reaction would be because we went through all that unwanted arm around the shoulder, at parties and in the workplace, and it wasn't important enough to wrangle over — even if we didn't like it. Only a couple of decades ago, a woman who protested the attentions of the touchy-feely guys would have been looked at askance by other women for making a fuss and teased by the men.

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One question for Flores, the politician from Nevada, however: Given that it was 2014, not 1944 or 1994, why didn't you just jerk away and tell him "hands off"? Because he was the veep? Because you didn't want to make a scene? That would have saved us all a lot of sturm and drang in the midst of much more significant sturm and drang.

Still, Joe Biden has to stop assuming we all want to be hugged — and to refrain from even the slightest joking about it. Perhaps it's still OK for politicians to kiss babies, although I would never have allowed that — too worried about germs.

For anyone who's puzzled that it took so long for this incident to come into the light, the protesting politician from Nevada, as Vennochi points out, backed Bernie Sanders in 2016, which makes her timing a little suspect. "Uncomfortable," she said, of Biden's behavior. What makes me "uncomfortable" is the news that two white-haired old men are leading the pack of people who want to be president.

We already have an old man in the White House, and we don't need a new one.

Ruth Bass lives in Richmond. Her website is The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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