Inappropriate touching now but wasn’t it always inappropriate?

Oh how the times have changed. Was it always ok for someone to touch you intimately when you didn’t know them? Give you a hug for a little longer than need be? Kiss you instead of shake your hand for the first time you meet (although note that is acceptable in Europe)? Pat your leg randomly?

These intimate interactions often unseen except for the two people who are engaged in it have been going on forever. What has changed is that the person on the receiving end, who the majority of the time happens to be a woman, is saying enough is enough.

Culture has changed but the reality is this type of behavior was never appropriate, it just was never called out for what it was. Bad behavior. Perhaps, just perhaps, the person (mostly men) diving in for the kiss, the squeeze, the touch, did that as a way to connect intimately to show that they care….particularly politicians.

When Hillary Clinton was running for the NY Senate many years ago, we went to a small event downtown. There were about 10 Senators and 15 people from the tech community who were interested and quasi-involved in politics. It was extremely memorable for a few reasons. First, the tech people were honest and forthright and did not hold back one iota. Second, I got to sit next to Hillary. No matter what you think about her, she is smart, funny, poised and a tough cookie. Third, after the event ended, the Clinton’s made their way back to the kitchen where they hung out for a long time talking with the staff as long if not longer than the people who were at the table.

Fourth and perhaps most memorable, is the hug that I received from Bill Clinton. He put his arm around me and squeezed me insanely tight. He told me he loved what I had done at Mouse. I had never met him before. Of course, he was prepped about everyone in the room. Also, it was at the end of the meal and he is laser sharp so he certainly recalled the conversations at the table. But, that hug, that squeeze, that delay was a bit over the top. I remember thinking well this guy is the President of the United States but I don’t know you so not sure that hug was ok, a handshake would have been fine.

Now we all know the history of Bill Clinton but perhaps if this happened today, he would be more cautious, and more self-aware or I would have been more aggressive about outmaneuvering him and making sure it was a handshake, not a body squish. Remember that segregation was never ok either but it went on for years until people finally said enough is enough.

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    Wow. What a story. But you know, we often talk about mens questionable behaviours, but the opposite takes place too.

    1. kbb

      It does. At a recent professional event I caught a female acquaintance rub the thigh of the very powerful guy (with well-known wife) seated next to her, who she just met at the table. It was an invitation for sure. He nudged his chair ever-so-slightly away – so clearly he knew what she was up to. I cringed.But the situations that are reversed – where the aggressor is the more powerful one – are much more troubling.

      1. LE

        At a recent professional event I caught a female acquaintance rub the thigh of the very powerful guyWhat’s never talked about is how the behavior of certain people (like your acquaintance) adds to the problem. Point is there are women that are willing to behave like this for some kind of gain that makes it hard for the vast majority who would never act that way.

    2. jason wright

      It’s just ‘questionable behaviour’. It’s not gender specific. It’s ubiquitous. Women can be ‘predators’, targeting the ‘alpha male’ of her choice, regardless of his existing commitments. Women should be a little more honest about this when they critique men.

  2. awaldstein

    Terrific share. Some story.Think what you may of Michelle Goldberg from the Times, but I liked her bit on The Argument (podcast) yesterday on Biden.She grew up liking him, through different times, doesn’t want to dig into and purge his past, simply believes he is the wrong person for the time.I agree.

    1. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Agreed. (And I love Michelle. What’s not to love? 😉 ) We can call him out on his stuff, still love him, and still not want him to run for president.

      1. awaldstein

        Not everyone does.I sure do.And a huge fan of that podcast as well. Quite brilliant and well executed.

  3. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Great minds… ;-)…This isn’t just about men taking liberties with women. This is about any person who is simply not comfortable with (and sometimes deeply shaken by) unexpected physical contact. Those of us who give hugs might be surprised by how many people we know who wish we wouldn’t.If you think about it, touching someone you don’t know quite well (by people such as politicians) is a short cut to creating a feeling of caring and understanding. It’s a cheat. So if you’re a hugger, think about why you do it. Sure it’s not the worst thing a person can do, but it’s worth the self-examination.

  4. JLM

    .The entire Biden saga is a hit job from the other uber-progressive Dems running for President and the new DEMe — the progressive establishment lefties who cannot embrace a moderate Dem like Biden who is not wiling to swallow the green koolaide. Right now, the progressives are united against Biden.”Your Honor, I rise to defend Joe Biden” — never saw that coming.Joe Biden is an Irish raconteur with all the charm of such men. I am a Brennan on my mother’s side and have known many such men.They are smilers, glad handers, back slappers, kissers, huggers, and, apparently, sniffers.These actions are not sexual, erotic, lustful; they are joyous and happy.In the USA, this behavior is wildly different depending upon where you live. If you live in the South — discussion over, Southerners are huggers and kissers from way back. It would be culturally significant if you were not.The half hug, arm squeeze, cheek peck is de rigeur in the South amongst persons of a certain age and status.Europeans — particularly the French and Italians — are inveterate kissers including the infamous double/triple kiss. European women present themselves to be kissed and hugged and would be offended if they were rebuffed (OK, that may be a little out of my lane to say.)Interestingly, Joe Biden is the candidate amongst the Dem scrum who would be electable and would be able to govern. The rest of them are so far left as to be unelectable and none of them have any real executive experience.While I would not vote for Joe Biden, I could see him governing in a manner that would be successful for the country.The whole thing with Joe Biden gets down to a single issue — will Barack Obama endorse him? As his VP, he has earned that endorsement, so if it is not forthcoming, it is extremely damaging. Obama owes him that.It was, of course, Joe Biden who came out publicly in favor of gay marriage in 2012 thereby forcing Barack Obama to do the same after BHO’s 2008 denunciation of gay marriage.Biden, who is a tough cookie — he has lived through several lifetimes of personal tragedy — though never really publicly tested, will weather this storm and it will be fine.He will weather it because he has a sense of humor, something also very Irish.…I hate that his natural affectionate Irish instincts will be shorn. If a woman doesn’t like that sort of thing — perfectly understandable — extend your hand and shake.I cannot believe I just defended Joe Biden. But, it is the truth.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  5. Semil Shah

    Given the times, should everyone just do handshakes & leave it there? Seems safest.

    1. Kirsten Lambertsen

      It was always the more respectful and courteous thing to do. People of all kinds have different boundaries for their personal space and physical being — it’s always been so. It’s just that society is finally starting to expect respect for those boundaries (instead of assuming that people who don’t want hugs are rare or weird or … whatever).Never assuming a right to someone else’s space or body will always be a winning approach.

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        BTW, I’m a hugger and a toucher, and I’ve been working on curbing that for a few years now!

      2. awaldstein

        I assume that and behave and have behaved like that forever.It breaks all the time as invariably people like to hug and do, and when they do, it is just fine as long as I don’t initiate it.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          I learned to be better about this when I worked at Automattic. At their big yearly meetup, everyone wears a name badge that includes their preferred pronouns and whether they prefer hugs, handshakes or no touching at all. It was enlightening for me.

          1. awaldstein

            wow–never been in that situation but i like the approach.give people set boundaries to create comfort and they will break them.which is as it should be.

    2. Steve Nordquist

      Actual 2-dagger sparring would be safer if other people are up to sleight of o’erwaning ambition. The underwear removal and recasting guild are benign this season, but if they want to move their match-4 carbon market battle royale scrip, share company and have named hugs at call.

  6. kbb

    This needed to be said, thank you. I can say from personal experience that I was always extremely uncomfortable – and outright anxious when younger – when an older, more powerful and influential male went in for the unnecessarily and overly intimate hug, touch, kiss. It was never appropriate, and he did it bc there was no downside for him. He knew he could get away with it.But now, a person -an aggressor like that of any gender identifier – might get called out on it. And believed. That’s a powerful deterrent.

  7. LE

    I think your Bill Clinton example and the Joe Biden situation is really the gold standard of people in power using that power and not being called out on it. And to be clear this also happens men on men (although I am sure not anywhere near as with women…obviously). And it’s totally understandable why they do it. Because nobody (me included see below) ever says something. To much to lose zero to gain. So you suck it up.In my first business out of college I dealt with an important person at a big account of mine who was also studying to be a priest at the local seminary. He use to put his hand on my leg and rub it. I didn’t say anything because this account gave me a great deal of business (and I was just starting out) so I wasn’t going to do anything. But we used to call him (back at the office) ‘the gay priest’. Young guy btw. Was innocent but definitely not something I enjoyed. I was grossed out actually. My wife at the time (now ex wife) got a ton of sexual advances since she was in advertising sales. One guy even said ‘your tits look good in purple’ (she wore a purpose shirt that day).What Biden does (and what Clinton did) to you makes my skin crawl. I hate people invading my personal space. I hate to be touched (like I don’t even like the girl who washes my hair at the salon messaging my head I say ‘just wash no massage’. But my guess is that they get some kind of thrill out of it obviously and since they have something someone else wants (power) nobody is going to say anything. How could Biden’s wife not be bothered by what he did? Clearly a perverse thing. No excuse for it. It’s a cheap thrill.

  8. LE

    He put his arm around me and squeezed me insanely tight. He told me he loved what I had done at mouseHe is full of shit. He very well may have liked what you did at mouse but more than likely he is a well oiled machine of figuring out a way (as a skilled politician or salesman would) to manipulate people. Funny thing is he killed the compliment with that hug (with you). But my guess (and this is important) is that percentage wise there are more people that would love that strong hug than those would would not. They would have felt that Clinton really cared about them. They don’t know that he just acts that way.I think as a very very broad general rule if you take a person who is either very rich or in a position of power and they do that to a person that for lack of a better way to put it is ‘well beneath them’ the person who is being hugged is going to think they are special by that act. Just a guess from what I know about human behavior.Let’s take an example. Say your daughter brings home a new boyfriend for you to meet for the very first time. Think about what they will feel from you if you give them a ‘Clinton Hug’ vs. just a handshake. The ‘Clinton Hug’ will make them feel that you truly like and accept them. The handshake will not have the same impact. You have power over them (they want to be accepted by mom)..

  9. SFG

    Well, if his hug was creepy to you, just imagine how his real victims felt — and just how far he crushed boundaries in search of manipulation and/or sexual gratification. Bill took no prisoners. And he only paid them off after lawsuits.Not a great guy to run for president with.He would only change his MO today if he could not get away with the status quo any longer.But Bill is in a league of his own. He is amazing.