I have never felt like a more insignificant member of society than in the 2016 elections when a man with an open disdain for women was placed in the highest position of authority in the U.S.
In a moment, I felt like I had become a blip on the radar of a society in whose eyes I was barely a person. I cannot even fathom the devastation felt by the women who fell victim to his predatory nature.
With the help of the #MeToo movement, women have finally broken their silence over the abuses of men in power. Countless high-profile men have been exposed as, at worst, predatory and, at best, unforgivably ignorant of inappropriate behavior.
The most recent and most devastating of these men is former Vice President and potential presidential candidate Joe Biden. This situation is unprecedented because Biden has long been outspoken on feminist issues. He is outspoken on equal pay for equal work and has worked to raise awareness for gender-based violence.
However, the nature of the allegations against Biden calls his ability to advocate for women into question, and these accusations cannot be dismissed lightly. With President Donald Trump, voters at least knew what they were getting into.
Trump made no bones about how he believes women can or should be treated. He was never anyone’s hero on that front. Unfortunately, many women, myself included, truly believed in Biden and are now facing the reality that perhaps he was not the ally they thought him to be.
A total of eight women have alleged that Biden touched them in a way that was uncomfortable or disrespectful of personal space. While Biden maintains that he did not knowingly violate any boundaries, he has also issued a statement promising to be “much more mindful” of shifts in what is and is not considered appropriate behavior.
Ultimately, this is a very nuanced situation. It cannot be overlooked that Biden’s response is unique in that he accepts blame and has pledged to do better. This does not render his actions excusable, but it does make him marginally more sympathetic light compared to similar cases when the offenders are entirely dismissive of the accusations against them.
In addition to committing to doing better, Biden also validated the experiences of the women who have accused him and acknowledges that he was acting in ignorance. Responses like this could be a step toward a better future when it comes to addressing the behavior of those in power.
Accepting blame and committing to improvement are much more productive solutions than infuriated insistences of innocence. In a less fraught time, this approach to addressing inappropriate behavior could perhaps be the new normal when it comes to tackling similar situations.
On the other hand, it should not be ignored that Biden’s commitment does not exist in a vacuum. Biden’s brand is defined by his progressive stances on issues such as feminism and the #MeToo movement. Given that 33% of Democratic women support Biden, a significant fraction of his base is reliant on the approval of women. These women have put their faith in him to further their cause. These allegations could easily be the death knell of his presidential campaign before it even begins.
Moreover, given the current political climate, now is not the time to put individuals in power who make minority communities, which are already vulnerable, feel even more unsafe. Trump’s presidency is causing more women, and minority groups in general, to be increasingly wary of their places in society, so going forward Americans will need a candidate whose understanding of what is and is not appropriate cannot be called into question.
Biden has not yet formalized his candidacy, and with the election just over a year away, he has time to gain back this lost ground in a political sense. However, he will have to do a great deal of legwork in order to win back the trust of American women.