Impact vs Intention
At Vera House, we have been doing sexual harassment and anti-racism work deliberately for the last year and a half. One of the things we have been confronted with in examining our own privilege is the importance of impact over intention. Most things that people with power and privilege do that cause harm are not with malicious intentions, but the impact is painful nonetheless.
Much has been written recently about Joe Biden invading the personal space of women and his unsolicited contact. Some have condemned him. Others have said, “Uncle Joe didn’t mean it.” Maybe both are true.
Joe Biden has been a leader in addressing violence against women, and still his actions caused harm to some, regardless of his intentions. What Biden, and many others, are not acknowledging and willing to understand is the impact of his actions.
According to Biden’s video statement on Twitter, he has always strived to have a “human connection” in politics. Whether it is by hugs or handshakes, Biden states, “those actions show I care and listen.” Biden may have intended to create a caring moment with individuals. In reality, the impact was often different. His interactions left some feeling violated. Furthermore, his power and privilege as a white, heterosexual, male with social and political platform makes it difficult or nearly impossible for many to speak up or even name their experience. Biden then making jokes and minimizing his behavior deepens the impact of the original actions, and makes it clear that he is not truly remorseful for the hurt he caused. His limited apology and mockery of consent speak volumes as to where he stands on a woman’s right to maintain physical boundaries.
We each should take the time to examine our own behaviors and how we may impact others, often unintentionally. Our task is to understand how we have caused harm, take responsibility for it and act differently in the future. When we know better, we must do better.
April is national Sexual Assault Awareness Month and this year’s theme is consent. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRS) has assembled a variety of materials focused on consent that can be found here – https://www.nsvrc.org/saam. The NSVRC states, “asking for consent is a healthy, normal and necessary part of everyday interactions. Consent is about always choosing to respect the personal and emotional boundaries of others.” Now is a great time to recognize and understand the power of consent.