In Biden’s announcement video, he stated that “We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” and that “If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen.” He framed these characterizations around hate, division and race with no specific mention of women and gender justice. We are being negligent as a country to ignore issues around reproductive health, sexual abuse and the current “gender war.” Time is up and this country needs a new class of leadership to not only beat Trump but also handle the cultural and political wreckage inherited from his administration.
Just two days before his announcement, the Trump administration shockingly forced the UN to limit care for war-crime survivors of sexual abuse, reflecting a frightening cultural narrative in this country. And yet, there was no mention of gender justice, sexual abuse or reproductive health in his video.
As a nation in the #metoo era, we can no longer ignore matters of gender justice both large and small. Biden needs to open the door to a nationwide discussion by addressing the recent allegations against him of inappropriately touching several women. Anita Hill has reported to the New York Times that she is not appeased by her conversation with him this week in which he expressed his “regret” for his oversight during her 1991 testimony. She adds that “I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.” This is exactly where his opportunity lies; he can model a new approach for white male politicians by bringing gender violence to the forefront of his campaign as a bipartisan issue.
Biden has two clear choices: wait until the recent allegations blow over like most high profile figures, or double down and become a shining example of the changing paradigm in which men are pro-actively volunteering to stand in solidarity with women. With only a day into his campaign and it is becoming clear he may have no choice if he wants to win this election.
As a Harvard Law graduate and the organizer of Grab Them By The Ballot, a campaign that went viral during the midterm elections, I am intimately familiar with politics, sexual trauma and gender dynamics. With no mention of women in Biden’s announcement nor a direct response to these recent accusations, we must urge him to bring women’s rights to the forefront of his presidential campaign. Our campaign encourages women to use their vote to bring about radical change in this country for women. Women gave birth to the soul of this country and will not be overlooked in 2020.
In 2016, Trump’s endorsement of grabbing women by the p — — shocked the nation and added fuel to the #metoo movement. Since then our nation has made great strides, but the conversation can not end here. We must address sexual abuse, trauma, consent and communication to promote gender justice.
Issues of gender justice are so important that women have been courageously posing nude for the Grab Them By The Ballot campaign to reclaim their bodies and to encourage female voter turnout. For our most recent campaign, Women of the World, women from over 23 countries submitted photos to show solidarity with American women and demonstrate that these issues are of global concern.
Voluntarily spearheading a national dialogue could give Biden a distinct advantage with female voters across party lines.
Biden has a critical choice here. Male politicians rarely address these sensitive topics. Here’s where his distinct advantage and opportunity to garner female votes lies. Never before have we seen a powerful man lead such a discussion or exemplify mindful behavior in response to allegations against them.
During my own campaign, it became evident that male politicians often shy away from these explosive and delicate topics. There’s a fear of being connected to anything deemed remotely sexual given the nation’s tinderbox of sexual dynamics and highly triggered state. Fear and avoidance begets the same.
On the eve of his announcement, The Washington Post’s Philip Bump analyzed polling data from Monmouth University of Democratic voters and found that Biden’s support is heavily male and that men choose him by seven points more than women do. It’s abundantly clear that gender is going to play a critical role in the upcoming elections. We’ve had a historic number of women elected during the midterms. Now, we are witnessing an unprecedented number of powerful women in the Presidential race. Promoting gender justice will be a game changer during the upcoming Presidential election.
Democratic voters are overwhelmingly focused on determining the best candidate to beat President Trump. Trump cannot approach issues of gender justice with any credibility. It would not be surprising if Biden could swing red states as Republican and Independent female voters witness a powerful man defending their rights as women in such a personal and direct way. Every woman, whether Republican or Democrat, is affected by sexual abuse, gender injustice and inappropriate touch, whether directly or not. Opening the door to these intimate discussions with a pro-woman stance could touch the hearts of all female voters.
Were Biden to go head to head with Trump in 2020, his leadership on gender justice and response to these accusations could be his winning ticket. In contrast to Trump, he has a documented history of well-intentioned non-sexual touch. High-profile female activists and even Hollywood icons have vocally spoken out in his support. He has brought vital issues into the spotlight, and as a powerful man who listens as well as champions women’s rights, it’s time for him to wield his political clout and take action in solidarity with women.
Why address Biden specifically?
Biden, as a man with political power who embodies the Democratic establishment and has shown a historical commitment to women’s rights, is well-positioned to heal a nation divided on gender relations. He launched the It’s On Us campaign confronting sexual assault and drafted the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. He can show the American public just how powerful men can own and harness their privilege to catalyze change. American men need this behavior modeled and American women deserve it.
What does this discussion look like?
Biden could start by addressing how to communicate boundaries effectively and how these boundaries can be received, especially when there are power dynamics at play. We must also put an end to the fear, shame and repression around sexuality and touch. Repression leads to obsession. Obsession begets perversity and abuse.
We must learn to distinguish between the various degree of male predatory behavior. Too much of the dialogue has revolved around whether certain actions were criminal. We also need to talk about what’s civil, what’s decent, what’s to be expected, and what’s human. For that discussion to take place, conduct that isn’t criminal must also play a part. We need a discussion about stopping all of this unacceptable behavior where it begins : with a serious lack of awareness and education in this country around abuse, sexuality, trauma and consent.
That said, Garrison Keillor is not Harvey Weinstein just as Biden is not Donald Trump, and neither should be treated as if they were. We risk losing the gift and pleasure of human contact while undermining the horrific stories shared by the courageous women during the #metoo movement. I suggest Biden invite #metoo advocates, who have awakened the world, to discuss such distinctions.
We must also acknowledge that touch is healthy and a human necessity. It’s vital to recognize that a framework for healthy consensual touch is necessary for human connection. Biden could begin with our nation’s youth by promoting consent and healthy relating into sex education curricula in schools.
Tarana Burke, founder of the #metoo movement, wants women to start “talking about [what they’ve] done to cope and how [they] have developed practices around healing.” Biden could discuss healing resources for sexual trauma, ways to establish forms of recourse when women have been violated, and ways in which women can feel empowered to use their voice.
Most of us are waiting to see how Biden proposes to unify and heal this nation. This conversation is gravely incomplete without prioritizing gender justice in Biden’s upcoming presidential campaign. Biden must take the discussion to the next level and keep it at the forefront of American consciousness. The American public is hungry for healing and education.