Monday, April 15, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1661 - The Hugging Senator

  The Hugging Senator. I have been called The Hugging Senator over the years. The Hugging Senator title reflects an important part of how I interact. It reflects a key part of my being. My hugs say, “I care about you.” And that is very important. The Hugging Senator.

  I recently began to reassess The Hugging Senator. I talked with several women about it. I sought their advice about The Hugging Senator. I will share some of their responses later in this Sketches.

  I believe that hugs are very therapeutic. Hugs make us feel better. Hugs make us do better. Hugs make us be better. Hugs impact our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Hugs are really powerful and therefore important for all the population, men as well as women.

  The reason I am reassessing The Hugging Senator is because of the recent travails of Vice President Joe Biden. Biden is one of the most upstanding public servants I know. He has accumulated very little money or material things in his long history of public service. He is famous for taking the train home to Delaware every night after work to be with his family rather than participating in the Washington, D.C. nightlife. For many years, Biden has been outstanding in employing, supporting, and protecting women. He is the foremost supporter of the Violence Against Women Act. Yet, he now stands accused of violating women.

  One woman said he smelled her hair and kissed her on the back of her head. Another said he rubbed his nose on her nose. Another said Biden squeezed her shoulder and moved his hand down her back. Others also came forth. All were in public. All were careful to say that they were not making allegations of sexual assault or sexual harassment. They said Biden invaded their space; he made them feel uncomfortable. I accept this as important. However, I can’t help but think of the countless rapes of Black women and other women that happened and still happen and nothing is done about them. Nothing. I cannot help but think of the many Black men lynched for allegedly looking at White women. The Hugging Senator.

  I hug women. I hug men. I must admit that hugging men sometimes includes a handshake folded into the hug. I make judgments about who is open to a hug from body language. I only hug people whom I perceive are receptive to a hug. I take into consideration gender, age, race, the area of the country, and culture. Hugs appear to be much more acceptable in the South.

  I am out of elective politics now, but I still hug just as much. I still believe hugs are therapeutic. I still think hugs lift. I still feel that hugs say, “I care about you as a person.” I am still The Hugging Senator or The Hugging Hank.  But I am in reassessment.

  The women I talked to are people I work with in the community. They range in age, education, and status. None are in my employ. I asked them to address their perceptions of what other women may have perceived and/or expressed concerning my hugging. I understand that this approach is not a scientific assessment. The women’s responses included the following: “I have heard complaints that you given someone a hug but left another person out and didn’t give them one;” “I have heard complaints that you gave someone else a bigger hug than the hug they received;” “I have heard complaints about missing your hugs;” “I have never heard anyone say anything about you giving unwanted hugs.” The Hugging Senator.

  One woman said to me, “Is uncomfortable the standard? A person can look at a woman and make her feel uncomfortable. Are we going to publically complain about a look that makes people uncomfortable? I know a look is not in the category of touching.” Another woman said: “Women know how to let a man, even a powerful man, know if his handshake, hug or other touching is out of place. All the responsibility should not be placed on men. Women have a responsibility to say, ‘I don’t like this’ with their voice or actions and not years later. It’s different for sexual assault, rape, and sexual harassment.” There was much more, including the fear that “Democrats were going to mess around and reelect Trump who has been accused of many sexual assaults and has also bragged of them.”

  I understand that standards for relationships between men and women are changing and that is good, very good. Standards need to change a whole lot more. I hope that the much-needed changes concerning sexual assault, sexual harassment, and discrimination on the basis of gender remain central. I hope that national headlines about unwanted touching in public do not bear offspring we do not want. We need more hugs, not fewer hugs.

  In these times of changing relationships, violations will occur. Things that were not considered violations yesterday will be considered violations today and tomorrow. This will present special challenges to people in elective office and other high profile positions. We just have to remember what was said by Stacey Abrams, former candidate and Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia:  "The requirement for public office is not to be perfect but to be accountable. And accountability is not sacrificing persons. Accountability is acknowledging the violation and committing to do better and, in fact, doing better." Maybe I don’t have to cease being The Hugging Senator or The Hugging Hank after all.

EPILOGUE – Relationships between men and women are always complex. They are especially complex when the culture's standards are changing. This is such a time, and it will challenge and reward us.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represented District 23 in the Alabama Senate from 1983 to 2018.

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