I spoke with Gloria Steinem about the two women who have shared their stories about an uncomfortable encounter with Joe Biden. Here’s what she had to say:
Katie Couric: We’re trying to understand this whole Joe Biden story. What do you think of it? Do you think it disqualifies him for 2020?
Gloria Steinem: I think one important thing is, if people have looked at him or who know him or watched him, he hugs everything. He hugs a lamppost. So, it’s not that her story is not true. It is true. But in his shoes, I would’ve just said, I’m a hugger, and I should reexamine this, and I’m sorry.
Katie: What did you think about Joe Biden’s statement he issued that said I’ll listen to her respectfully, but I don’t think I acted inappropriately?
Gloria: I think that’s fine. He could equally say, I realize that female candidates don’t go around hugging men, so maybe I should rethink this. I mean the bottom line, of course, is that our bodies belong to us and no one can touch them without our permission. But it’s very gendered, of course. Women candidates don’t run around hugging male supporters, but men do it infinitely. That has to diminish. Even when I’m with a crowd of people and somebody comes up and seems like they want to be hugged, but I’m not sure, I say, Can I hug you? So, at a minimum, I think we have to learn to ask.
Katie: Do you think that people are less tolerant now when others invade their personal space, given everything that’s happened?
Gloria: Yeah, I hope so. In a true democracy, the one thing we own is our bodies … everybody should be asked before anybody touches or hugs them.
Katie: Do you think these kinds of allegations or admissions minimize what you deem as more serious cases of sexual harassment?
Gloria: Not unless we treat them as the same.
Katie: I do think people are taking these pretty seriously.
Gloria: Only the Republicans are taking it as the same.
Katie: Do you think it is something that has been inflamed by Republicans?
Gloria: The woman who wrote her experience is not a Republican, but I think [Republicans] are making it into something that is much bigger … So, I think it’s common sense. Women are more than smart enough to figure out that this does not rise to the level of most sexual harassment cases. However, it does not mean that he should continue to do it.
Katie: Do you think this level of scrutiny will make him think twice about running for president?
Gloria: No. He’s survived much more than this. He survived hair plug ridicule and many other things.
Katie: He’s also come forward about how he handled the Anita Hill hearings and said he regrets not giving her the “hearing she deserved.”
Gloria: Yeah. But for that, I have to say, I forgive him less. The truth of the matter is that he says he’s sorry that he couldn’t make the process work for her. That is utter bullshit. [Biden] was the chair of that committee and there were two other witnesses against Clarence Thomas who he refused to call.
Katie: So he had the ability to make the process more fair, he just chose not to.
Gloria: Yeah, and he didn’t do it. He got freaked out by Clarence Thomas saying this is a high tech lynching. I can understand what happened to him during the hearing, but I wish he would have at least apologized for it accurately now and he has not. He should say, I was the chairman, I could’ve called these other two women. Because then we wouldn’t have Clarence Thomas on the bench for God’s sake.
Katie: What about people who hear these accusations against Joe Biden and say, See? The #MeToo movement has simply gone too far.
Gloria: You know, Robin Morgan wrote a wonderful book maybe 30 years ago called Going Too Far. This is exactly what movements do and every inch of the way we’re told we’re going too far. It’s all the more reason we know we’re on the right track. And another part of it is that I think we need to respond honestly in the moment.
Katie: I try to teach my daughters, not that they should be in that position, but if they ever are in that position, I want them to have the agency to object.
Gloria: Right. Because you know, if I do something that’s completely stupid, I want the person to tell me. I don’t want the person to just hate me. The more we can say it in the moment, and I’m not blaming the victim if they feel they can’t, but I would say progress will be the more we can speak up. Also, it’s completely out of proportion. We have a crotch-grabber in the White House. Where is that in the discussion?