Using Our Power and Privilege for Good: An Open Letter to Joe Biden
Dear Vice-President Biden,
You and I are about the same age, and as I know you know, being our age involves a lot of adjusting to a world that has changed radically from the world in which we grew up.
That world was one of which we said: “men were men and women were grateful.”
In that world, men, at least straight white men, did pretty much what they wanted. If you met a woman for the first time and kissed her hand or even kissed her on the cheek, you were “suave” or “continental.” No one asked how the women felt about it – after all, it was “harmless” and showed regard for their femininity, so why would they mind? Women, on the other hand, submitted and were “good sports” about it.
Well, Joe, those days are gone forever. Women have let us know that for most if not all of them, that kind of behavior constitutes taking liberties and unwelcome intrusion on their space, their privacy, and their sensibilities.
Now I know that isn’t the intent behind those behaviors, but it is the impact we have, however unintended.
So I was surprised and dismayed to see you defend your intention and minimize your impact, to the extent that you were explicitly unapologetic about the impact of your behavior. When you say you’re sorry that you “made someone feel bad” but you aren’t going to apologize for your intentions, you are, by implication, blaming the victim – you did something harmless, but they felt bad – and when you go on to say “I’ve never done anything disrespectful,” you totally invalidate the impact of your actions.
Joe, we all make mistakes. What I’ve learned from my mistakes is that when I defend my intention and minimize or invalidate my impact, I compound the problem. So I’ve learned to apologize, take responsibility for my impact not matching the man I’m committed to being, and altering my behavior. We men, particularly men of our generation, need to recognize that the world hasn’t really changed, except that now women, people of color, LGBTQA people are speaking up and confronting us with what has been there all along – privilege and insensitivity to our impact.
The world will change, Joe, when old, straight, white guys like you and me change and use our power and privilege for good by modeling healthy responsible masculinity for those around us.
You missed the boat, Joe, and I’m sad about that, but you can still own it and state your commitment to change. Do it.