Molly G. Fields is a grant writer, sometimes-cartoonist, activist and survivor.
She is also the founder of SANSA (Survivors Against Normalizing Sexual Assault), a private forum on social media where survivors of sexual assault can share experiences, find support and strategize for social change. She started the group in 2016 after the election of Trump, and it has subsequently grown from just a handful of members to hundreds of members.
The Hidden Tears Project recently asked Fields for her thoughts about Joe Biden:
Q & A
1) Why do you think women are so divided over the Joe Biden issue?
The short answer? We’re scared. I think those of us who are horrified by what we are seeing happening under the Trump administration are simply terrified that any wrong move in the primaries could lead to the re-election of Trump. So, those who felt Biden was the best hope of defeating the GOP in 2020, are panicking that we are “cutting off our nose to spite our face” by calling Biden out for touching women inappropriately. Plus, “Uncle Joe” Biden is a hugely popular politician. I don’t think many Democrats think Biden is predatory, so people who might otherwise not be OK with men touching women and children like this are willing to look away and give him a pass if he can beat Trump. I also think there is a level of confusion, because most people clearly understand that what Biden did was NOT sexual harassment, and so they worry that women speaking out about being uncomfortable by his behavior are somehow undermining the #metoo movement, conflating something as serious as rape with less harmful expressions of affection. Every last one of us has, without meaning to, accidentally caused harm to someone at one time or another, and felt terrible about it. We are all very familiar with that feeling, and so we naturally want to forgive and say “it’s ok, he didn’t mean to offend.” On the other hand, there are millions of women and children who have histories of abuse, both sexual and non-sexual abuse, and since survivors have been trained to be quiet about those experiences, we often judge situations as if it is somehow objective to ignore those experiences. Those 1 in 5 stats carry a lot of weight, and so those who have trauma in their history tend to react differently to unwanted touch. It is past time that we consider how much trauma so many people are carrying around with them with respect to how public figures interact with strangers and acquaintances.
2) What are your thoughts about Biden’s apology video?
I thought it was a good start. I didn’t hear an actual apology to anyone he’s made uncomfortable, and I bristled from his (possibly inadvertent) suggestion that women who don’t like to be touched in such a familiar way by him are cold or antiseptic or any less engaged/enthusiastic than those who enjoy his affection. But we all feel like we know Biden so well with him being in the spotlight all these years, and I do feel he was not aware that his behavior was infantilizing and inappropriate. And his lack of knowledge about that really makes me concerned he has been living in a bubble, particularly as someone who really wants to be seen as a feminist fighting for girls and women. I think Biden was truly surprised that anyone could experience his affection as anything but a positive interaction. On a personal level, as I have seen with so many other men attempting to publicly apologize and self-reflect in this #metoo era, I was waiting to see if his words were going to be backed up by a shift in his actions. I do not think Joe Biden wants to hurt anyone, but I also think these habits will be extremely difficult for him to break. In my opinion, these accusations give Biden a chance to show he can actually listen and learn, which could bolster his run for president. Unfortunately, after hearing him joke about inappropriate touching to a room full of supporters, I struggle to feel that Biden would stand up for women in a room full of men making policy. His joking about it was the worst thing he could have done if he wanted to demonstrate that he has been listening.
3) Do you think the Biden issue is politically motivated in any way? If so, what effect might that have on survivors when they see survivor stories being used in this way?
“Ultimately, I think we all need to be a lot less worried about political motivations when it comes to women speaking out about inappropriate touch. It is a gendered reaction, frankly. We are used to believing this notion that women are motivated to hurt the men they accuse; this is rape culture.”
This is tricky territory, isn’t it? It is very familiar to the deep split we saw on the left in terms of support for or against Franken in 2017. On the one hand, we know that these kinds of uncomfortable incidents happen to ALL women, regardless of political affiliation. If only one’s politics kept us safe from harassment and assault, right? And so, if we are to believe survivors when they take the major risk to come forward, it feels extremely disingenuous to say that you don’t believe someone who makes accusations against men we like, especially men who we consider to be “on our team.” And with today’s cynicism over endless corruption in politics, it is no wonder some are skeptical. There tends to be a knee-jerk reaction by a lot of people when a male ally has been accused of being inappropriate – many of us revert to “if it wouldn’t bother ME, then no one should be bothered” thinking, which tends to be wrapped in privilege. Or “I have experienced so much worse, this is nothing in comparison” minimizing. And of course the desire to prioritize intent over impact, “he didn’t MEAN to offend anyone!” Ultimately, I think we all need to be a lot less worried about political motivations when it comes to women speaking out about inappropriate touch. It is a gendered reaction, frankly. We are used to believing this notion that women are motivated to hurt the men they accuse; this is rape culture. We are used to assuming ulterior motives both when women speak out about misconduct and when women are involved in politics. We are used to women’s ambitions in politics being suspicious. We are used to women keeping quiet about things unless they rise to the level of misconduct as well – after all, it is new that women are being listened to whatsoever about things like “he hugged me a little too long.” Second wave feminism was almost defined by the phrase, “the personal is political” so naturally, our politics do inform our personal reactions to these kind of allegations. Someone may hold the Anita Hill hearings against Biden and be “looking for a reason” to not support him, and feel justified when these kind of accusations come out. Someone could see Biden as a threat to other preferred candidates running in the primaries, and also find his touching unnerving. Someone could hope these allegations bring down his intent to run for POTUS, or hope these accusations pass quickly so his campaign isn’t permanently scarred by it. So yes, someone can be motivated politically, but that doesn’t negate that the offending behavior was harmful. Both can be true, and we really need to check our assumptions because there is no data whatsoever that suggests that accusing powerful men of inappropriate touching leads to professional advancement (in fact, we see the opposite), and it plays right into the dangerous myth that false accusations happen “as often” as true allegations when the data shows us that false accusations happen very, very rarely. I believe that Kelly Anne Conway is a sexual assault survivor just as much as I believe Lucy Flores felt embarrassed and disrespected by Biden hugging her from behind, kissing her head and smelling her hair. What I worry most about are those defending his unwanted touching as a reason to support him.
“It is no wonder that rape and abuse happens so often, when even the smallest, most mild request for men to acquiesce and change their behavior to make survivors more comfortable is scoffed at by so many.”
“Has no one been listening? Do we really want sexual assault to be the line someone has to cross before men can be asked to respect boundaries?”
4) What do you think about men saying that because of #metoo they are afraid to compliment a woman on her dress or ask her out on a date?
I find it ridiculous. To quote a meme going around, “Men who are asking ‘can I even talk to a woman now?’ are in fact, not allowed to talk to women.” This is a non-issue. Plenty of men know how to interact with women without being creepy or offensive. When people ask questions like that, they are looking to shut down conversation and avoid accountability for their own behavior.
5) When we conflate hugs with sexual harassment, are we doing a disservice to assault survivors? (Is this just another way to dismiss women’s concerns as exaggerated or insignificant by making them look “silly”?)
“If Nancy Pelosi came up behind a man and nuzzled him and smelled his hair or pulled him in close to… rub noses… I mean, it’s hard to even fathom that scenario happening, frankly. It’s absurd. But it doesn’t seem so absurd when men do it, and that is where the problem lies.”
People who are literally conflating consensual hugs with sexual harassment are missing the point. Perhaps willfully so, but it could also be coming from a legitimate place of concern. No one, not even his accusers, are saying that Biden sexually harassed them or assaulted them. What these women are saying is that he infantalized them, he creeped them out, he didn’t treat them the way he would have treated them if they were men, he crossed personal boundaries, his behavior left them feeling gross, his behavior made them see him in a different light, and yes, sometimes that his behavior scared them because they weren’t sure what his motivations were. No survivor should have to explain that they have been a victim of rape or domestic violence in order for them not to be touched without consent. If Nancy Pelosi came up behind a man and nuzzled him and smelled his hair or pulled him in close to… rub noses… I mean, it’s hard to even fathom that scenario happening, frankly. It’s absurd. But it doesn’t seem so absurd when men do it, and that is where the problem lies. And it is because most women have experienced uncomfortable comments by men in the workplace like, “you remind me of my daughter” or had a boss pat them on the head in a too-familiar way, even if these weren’t sexually charged experiences. It reminds us that they don’t perceive us to be their equals, and it explains a lot about why there is a gender-based income gap, why we have so few women leading companies, and why women still have so little representation in so many arenas of life, including politics.
“Now if Biden came up behind me and said, “you look nervous, would a hug help?” I might say, “oh thank you, it would help very much” or I might say, “no thanks, but I appreciate the offer.” I would get to make that decision, not the powerful man in the room. That’s all women want – agency over our bodies. To be seen as equals. Blaming women for not reacting right is an age-old approach to de-legitimize the harm done to them..”
7) There has been a lot of talk about the need to “reset boundaries” in the wake of the #metoo movement. What are some ways to go about this?
We can keep it simple. Don’t touch people without their consent. Don’t assume that affection is wanted unless the person says so. It’s ok to ask! But don’t be upset if you get an answer you don’t like. Most of all, our entire society needs to really take in just how common sexual assault is, and how many people we interact with professionally are survivors. Believe people when they come forward. I have yet to find any woman in the history of the world who benefited professionally from speaking up about being sexually harassed or assaulted in a work setting. It doesn’t happen, not even in 2019, not even after #metoo.
If you are a survivor and wish to join SANSA, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about SANSA, click here