On Tuesday afternoon, a CUNY professor sent out a series of tweets recounting Joe Biden’s flagrantly horny interactions with women in the audience for his speech. As individual cringey lines began their echo chamber orbit through retweets and screenshots, one crucial piece of context was missing. The speech was from 1973.
The American people already know where Joe Biden is coming from with regards to women. We know how he treated Anita Hill. We know about the handsiness. And of course, we know about the recent almost-apology. (Well, the one for the handsiness, at least; Biden has pointedly never apologized to Anita Hill.) What the American people do not know yet is whether Biden has actually internalized any of the blowback he’s earned over the years for his treatment of women.
So far, it’s not looking good.
Those tweets from that CUNY professor were widely circulated (irresponsibly, I might add) because they were believable lines from a guy who keeps attempting to make a clumsy joke out of the idea that he must treat women like people. Making matters worse is a tweet that emerged late on Tuesday and in some respects could be more damaging than if those 1973 comments actually had been from June 2019.
Told Biden we need someone stronger on reproductive justice, and after his reversal on the Hyde Amendment, we asked him to protect assault survivors. He said “nobody has spoken about it, done more, or changed more than I have”. I told him we deserve better. pic.twitter.com/YDtS4Ehs2d
— K.C. (@thelocalmaniac8) June 11, 2019
“Told Biden we need someone stronger on reproductive justice, and after his reversal on the Hyde Amendment, we asked him to protect assault survivors,” reads the tweet by a Wisconsin-based activist who goes by K.C. “He said ‘nobody has spoken about it, done more, or changed more than I have’. I told him we deserve better.”
K.C.’s tweet references Biden’s recent flip-flop on his support for the Hyde amendment, which would bar federal funds for abortion services in many cases. The former vice president’s reversal came only after he faced intense backlash from progressives. He may have landed on the pro-choice side his supporters would want him on, but the wavering along the way—he had just reaffirmed his Hyde support only two days prior—seems more significant than the outcome. Biden’s decision on this issue smacks of twitchy political calculus, rather than a sense of moral obligation or empathy, and activists like K.C. are right to be suspicious of Biden’s commitment to reproductive health.
Biden’s response to her, as depicted in the photo above, articulates everything about where he stands on this and every other issue central to women. Let’s start with the face. It’s a hostage’s smile, cranked to 11. There’s a hint of playfulness in his eyes, a desperate need for it to be a light interaction he controls rather than a confrontation in which he’s the subject. Those eyes mask a deep need to reiterate, in all seriousness, that Biden knows what he’s doing and that what he’s doing is right, and if only they knew the degree to which he was right, they would get off his back about it and maybe thank him.
Then there’s the finger. He’s wagging it right in their face! A demonstration of dominance from the king of gesticulation. Nothing about his body language conveys any openness or curiosity. What could this non-powerful person possibly tell him, after all, that he doesn’t know? He spent eight years working in a little place called the White House—maybe you’ve heard of it? Biden’s energy here is the patriarchy itself as the one-sheet of a bad buddy cop movie; the crusty old vet standing back to back with his partner—women—crooking a thumb their way like “You mean I gotta work with this guy?”
The silver lining in this photo, though, is K.C.’s expression. They stare back, wide-eyed and undaunted, as though relishing the opportunity to puncture his self-image in the flesh. Seeing this photo through the lens of their tweet, on their terms, makes Biden look ridiculous in his own house, the way Katie Porter’s rebuke of Bill Maher did over the weekend. No modern emblem of the patriarchy should come without a corresponding portrait of someone brazenly holding his gaze, eyebrows raised in mockery, unwilling to take his shit anymore.
The image has already become fodder for memes, and is destined to live on in infamy when we look back on the early race for 2020.
Immediately after telling my Tinder date that I don’t care for Radiohead. pic.twitter.com/6VYwEkbZks
— crazy for (don) swayze (@maggieserota) June 12, 2019
When he says he’s a feminist pic.twitter.com/aKd0s3fSlj
— Maris Kreizman (@mariskreizman) June 12, 2019
— Arielle Cohen ???????? (@ariellecohen) June 12, 2019
As a followup tweet from K.C. makes clear, truly there is nothing funny about the moment this photo captures.
A clarifying point: this was absolutely and undeniably an intimidation tactic. He leaned forward, raised his voice, tried to grab my arm with his free hand. For a hot sec I thought he was going to hit me. Don’t make excuses for his actions in my comments anymore pls & thank https://t.co/OyXFJqIEAY
— K.C. (@thelocalmaniac8) June 12, 2019