What Discussions on Joe Biden’s Unwanted Touching Need to Address

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you would know that likely candidate for President of the United States Joe Biden has been accused of unwanted touching, and has since then made jokes about consent and touching. As a result of these accusations, there has been conversation, but most of those conversations have surrounded the former Vice President of the United States himself: about whether accusations against him are true, whether his jokes about touching were in poor taste, and about whether these things should disqualify him from being a serious candidate for President of the United States.

While these are all valid and important conversations to have, I think we would be doing an injustice to ourselves, and to American society as a whole, if we do not have conversations that go beyond the purview of Biden himself—conversations like these:

  1. We need to have a conversation about the warped power dynamics of someone touching from behind. Yes, unwanted touching of any sort is a problem, and there should be a discussion about unwanted touching as a whole. However, with unwanted touching from the back, the nature of it is such that the victim does not have the opportunity to say “no” because the victim did not see the person moving toward them. That warped power dynamic, which comes with the inability to say no with a touch from behind, needs to be addressed.
  2. We need to have a discussion about the fact that “jokes” involving inappropriate behavior, of any kind, are not funny. Stalking “jokes” are not funny (which I wrote a whole post about). Rape “jokes” are not funny. Unwanted touching “jokes” are not funny. “Jokes” related to any form of wrongdoing need to be addressed, because while Biden’s jokes were inappropriate, there are many places where I’ve heard jokes about inappropriate behavior, and unless we address that fact, we will just see such jokes get told over and over and over again.
  3. We need to continue discussing consent. For the umpteenth time, if there is no confident “yes,” then the answer is “no”! How many of these stories is it going to take before that fact dawns on people who are most likely to be tempted to act badly and commit an act of unwanted touching, sexual harassment, or sexual assault? 

I am sure there are many other things that can and even should be discussed, given the recent stories on the former vice president (and if that is the case, please let me know in the comments below). That being said, we must at least start by expanding the discussion beyond Biden himself. After all, Biden may only be around for a couple more decades on this earth (if that), but issues regarding touching from behind, jokes about inappropriate behaviors, and issues about consent may last much longer than Biden himself.

Looking to Share Emotional Burdens with a Friend? Before Sharing, Let’s Seek Consent

Consent matters.

That two-word phrase is used often these days when sexual consent is discussed. Those two words are right: consent matters, when it comes to sexual consent.

However, when you are hoping to possibly vent about a bad day at work or share something emotional or burdensome with something else, it’s also important to seek consent for doing that with the person you’re hoping to discuss with/vent to. In other words, another form of consent, that I call emotional consent, is important.

Emotional consent is when you seek someone else’s permission to tell them something(s) involving deep emotions or burdens. Through exercising this form of consent, you can share emotional, burdensome things only when the listener is physically, mentally, and emotionally able to handle it.

At this point, some of you might be thinking this: “Okay, emotional consent sounds great, but how can I exercise this?” I have four answers to that question:

  1. Ask yourself whether your friend will need to invest something significant in order to help you (whether it be time, emotional labor, or something else). If the answer is “yes,” I recommend seeking consent before sharing your burdens. If the answer is no, then chat away with your friend!
  2. Ask your friends questions along the lines of: “Can I share something heavy?” or “Can I vent about something?” if it turns out your friend does need to invest in you in some way. By asking these types of questions before moving a conversation further along, you give your friend the opportunity to say “yes” or “no,” depending on how your friend is doing. If your friend is happy to let you share, then you can share. HOWEVER, if there is an absence of an enthusiastic “yes,” ranging from “ummm…okay,” to “I guess,” to no response at all, to the straight-up “no,” then please do not think that you have emotional consent to share your burdens with your friend.
  3. If you’re going to talk about a specific type of issue or event that may bring emotions with someone (examples include sexual assault, divorce, and mental illness), make sure you give the content warning that your sharing will involve something with that specific topic. It’s important to do that because, without a content warning, you might jump right into an issue or story that reminds your friend of a traumatic event or set of events in their lives (and friends, of course, don’t want to put other friends in that type of situation).
  4. Make it clear that it’s okay if your friend does not want you to share the burden. A friend might worry that it would negatively affect the friendship if the friend is unable or unwilling to give emotional consent. However, if you reassure your friend that there is no such thing as a bad answer, even if your friend says “no,” then your friend doesn’t feel the need to listen to burdens without being emotionally ready for them.

Hopefully, what I said above gives a pretty good overview of what emotional consent is and why it’s important. However, I think it’s also extremely important to discuss what happens without that emotional consent. In my experiences of being on both the giving and receiving end of a lack of emotional consent, one or more of the following things often happens without it, none of them good:

  1. You dump burdens on the friend, and the friend doesn’t respond back because the friend just can’t emotionally deal with or consider the message, let alone respond to it.
  2. Your friend does respond, but does not give a wholehearted response because your friend just can’t handle your burdens fully at that time.
  3. Your friend just says that “I can’t handle this right now.” Or worse—your friend tells you that what you said has brought back bad memories.
  4. Your friend ends up being hurt emotionally by what you shared (whether that’s said or not), even if you didn’t intend it.

Instead of experiencing one or more of these potential events, my advice is to just seek emotional consent for heavy topics. Seek emotional consent from someone if you need to talk about your bad day at work, or something much deeper than that. If your friend consents to your talking about something(s) burdening you, then great! If not, then you will want to find someone else to talk to, as finding someone else to talk to would be in the best interests of you and your friend.

Indeed, consent matters.

Note: As emotional consent is something I consider “blindly just,” this is a “blindly just” post.