Her account was riveting.
Lucy Flores, a former Nevada Assemblywoman and Lt. Gov. nominee, wrote that during a 2014 campaign rally Joe Biden inappropriately touched her.
“As I was taking deep breaths and preparing myself to make my case to the crowd, I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze,” she said in a piece written for The Cut. “Why is the Vice-President of the United States touching me?”
She says she was stunned, confused. “I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head.”
Flores was the first woman to talk publicly about something that has been an open secret in Washington, D.C. political and media circles for years: Joe Biden is that creepy uncle who makes some women uncomfortable in his presence.
That Flores is a Democrat seemed to lend credence to her allegations. How could she be motivated by partisanship if she and Biden were in the same party?
Shortly thereafter, though, Biden-loyal Democrats came after her in ways that would have been widely condemned if they had been Republicans: Flores was a staunch supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign. Pictures also surfaced of her embracing other Democrats.
Critics insisted this was a conveniently timed political hit, but in the days that followed, more women stepped forward with similar accounts. Biden made a speech and tweeted a video in which he sort of addressed the allegations. In none of them did he apologize.
Some argue that because the allegations don’t rise to the level of sexual harassment or assault they shouldn’t be a part of the MeToo conversation. And because of the anecdotal experiences recounted by some high-profile Democratic and Republican women of what they describe as Biden’s kindness towards them in the past, some say we should dismiss the allegations as misunderstandings and move on.
There’s not a woman in America who hasn’t experienced what Flores and others say they went through. The handsy aspects. The invasion of personal space. Feeling a co-worker’s breath on your hair, neck, or cheek as they unexpectedly lean in closer.
I was born and raised in the south, and here we are molded almost from birth to be huggers, affectionate towards others. Even strangers. My mother describes me as a “serial hugger” (she trained me well).
But even in places where showing affection is the norm, the usual boundaries should still apply. The hug should be casual, very brief, and not too close if towards a stranger. If hugging a friend, the boundaries will vary depending on the relationship. If, in social situations a person makes you feel uncomfortable, keep a safe distance.
If you’re in the workplace, nix hugging colleagues altogether as a general rule (with exceptions, like in response to a death in the family) and instead shake their hand or give them and benign pat on the shoulder for encouragement.
People value their personal space, and generally don’t appreciate someone infringing on it, especially not in the disturbing manner described by Flores. “You don’t sniff a stranger unless you’re a dog,” Geraldo Rivera recently said. The Joe Bidens of the world should take this advice.
There is a big difference between a casual hug and shoulder-rubbing, hair-smelling, a lingering touch, and hovering too close.
Yes, these accusations should be part of the MeToo conversation. Because Biden’s is the type of inappropriate behavior that women most often deal with but rarely complain about because they don’t want to be seen as being combative or disruptive to the team.
This issue deserves the sunlight it has been given and should not be swept under the rug in the name of political expedience.
Stacey Matthews is a veteran blogger who has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to Red State and Legal Insurrection.