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CONNECTIONS: A question of unintended intent

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By Tuesday, Apr 16, 2019 Viewpoints 1

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.

Accused of inappropriate touching, Joe Biden said, “It was never my intention to cause discomfort.”

A representative of #MeToo responded, “Your intention is unimportant, what is important is the woman’s experience.”

A man and woman discussed the subject.

He said: “Well, so here’s what I think. Biden is a longtime, friendly sort of a guy who expresses his affection or admiration to both men and women. What really is important is the intention.

Is the intention to have sexual contact or make a pass or to sexually victimize a woman? That’s one thing. A passing touch that means nothing, a friendly touch that is not at all sexual is another thing and should not be seen as a violation.

Sooner or later we’re going to get women who say, ‘Oh, gee whiz, he violated me by looking at me, by passing me on the street or flying over me in his airplane.’ That’s where this is going.

I suppose you disagree?”

She said, “Not entirely.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden at the White House in 2013. Photo: David Lienemann

He said: “To me, it’s a balance of what the woman says and what the man says. It’s not 100 percent of the woman and how she feels about it; the man’s intent is important also. There’s a big difference between Trump saying, ‘Grab them by the [deleted]’ and what Biden did, especially in the context—Biden was endorsing her for a political office—look at the context!

“So, in my opinion that whole thing is a crock, and politically motivated. Probably we disagree on this?”

She said: “Actually, I agree with much of what you said. I agree that there is an important difference between Biden and Trump, and I agree that intent matters. Also, I agree that context matters, as does the man’s character, his modus operandi and his relationship with the woman.”

He said, “So that’s good.”

She said: “Where I disagree is that, sadly, it sounds as if you believe ONLY the man’s intent matters. Equally, it matters how the woman experiences it. So if the man says ‘I intended no harm,’ that is half the discussion; that doesn’t end the discussion. As Biden himself said, he also has to listen respectfully to what she experienced and hopefully understand the impact his action had on her even when that impact was not intended.

“Where you and I disagree is this: If you did not intend it, you discount the impact it had. If you did not intend it, you do not believe the woman has a right to her impression of the event. If you did not intend it, that ends the conversation.”

He said, “I didn’t say that.”

She said: “It sounded like that, and so I agree with much of what you said, but what about what you did not say? You left out that the woman has a right to her feelings and right to express them.”

He said, “Okay. But men are losing control.”

She said, “Of women?”

He said: “Of themselves. How is a man supposed to know how to act in this new landscape? How do they know what’s right if all the power to decide is being transferred to the woman?

“As to Joe, it is just a generational bypass. It’s an ole touchy-feely politician versus the new attitude women have. How does the man know where the woman’s private personal line is? And the men have to know, because the consequence is serious. It’s scary if an accusation is enough to disqualify a presidential candidate. Just step back and ask how the hell does any man know where a woman’s personal line is??????”

She said: “If a woman wants her voice respected, she has to use her voice. I do not believe that woman acted solely for political reasons, but I do believe stating Biden made her uncomfortable two years after the incident occurred is suspect and improper. The woman has to say it out loud and make it clear at the moment.”

He said: “Okay, I agree with that. But … it should all be intent. If the man has no sexual intent, no ill intent and does not repeat the offense, then no harm, no foul.”

She asked, “What about him listening to how she perceives things and why?”

March 13, 2018. Photo courtesy Star Tribune

He said: “This sense of violation is blown way, way out of proportion. Next, some woman will be accusing a man of violating her by looking at her from across the room. OMG. Why does the woman’s feelings take precedence over what a man thinks is absolutely normal behavior? How can she make it into a violation or inappropriate behavior just by saying it?”

She said, “Why is listening so threatening?”

He said: “That’s okay. He should listen.”

She said, “Yes, and if the goal is that a woman’s voice is not discounted, then the woman has to use her voice.”

He said, “Agreed, and if he does not listen and take two steps back, then that is harassment.”

She said, “Agreed.”

He said: “Yes but … I don’t know what Biden is supposed to do. How can he apologize for something he never meant?”

She said, “I think you are worried that all the power is being transferred to women.”

He asked, “Well?”

She said: “Well, all I can say is women were victims and second-class citizens long before they were powerful bringers of complaints. To understand them you must understand how the downtrodden perceives. I don’t think women are asking for power; they just want equity.”

He said, “We’ll see.”


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  1. Stephen Cohen says:

    Carol Owens’ column, “Unintended Consequences” is a wonderfully complex and interesting discussion. I think I have a solution to the problem. You don’t touch anyone or intrude in their space without their consent. Times change, and we all must change to meet modern expectations.

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