Will #MeToo mean the end of hugging fellow human beings? – Susan Dalgety

It seems the #MeToo generation will not put up with a politician like Joe Biden – seen as the Democrats best hope of defeating Donald Trump – who thinks that a hug is an acceptable way to greet a fellow human being, writes Susan Dalgety.

Saturday, 6th April 2019, 06:00 am
Newly commissioned officer Erin Talbot poses for a photograph with the then Vice President Joe Biden at the US Coast Guard Academy in 2013 (Picture: Jessica Hill/AP)

Poor Joe Biden. In a week when he should have been centre-stage, promoting an extension to America’s Violence Against Women Act, which he wrote in 1994, he has had to apologise for being too hands on with a new generation of women.

The former Vice-President, and the man tipped by many to be the Democrats’ best hope of beating Trump in 2020, has been accused of making women feel uncomfortable by being too physical.

One of his accusers, a former White House intern, recalls the moment when Biden met her as she was leaving the West Wing six years ago.

“He ... put his hand on the back of my head and pressed his forehead to my forehead while he talked to me. I was so shocked that it was hard to focus on what he was saying. I remember he told me I was a ‘pretty girl’,” Vail Kohnert-Yount told the Washington Post earlier this week.

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“I do not consider my experience to have been sexual assault or harassment,” she added. “But it was the kind of inappropriate behaviour that makes many women feel uncomfortable and unequal in the workplace.”

Kohnert-Yount’s experience echoes that of the other four women who have complained about Uncle Joe’s tactile approach to greeting strangers and friends, and the veteran politician has been forced to apologise.

In a humiliating video, posted a few days ago, he acknowledged that times had changed, and that his personal style was no longer the social norm.

But he added, “I will always believe that governing, and quite frankly life for that matter, is about connecting with people. That won’t change, but I will be more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space.”

It’s too early to say whether his heartfelt mea culpa will be enough to save him from a humiliating end to a glittering career, but he is damaged goods.

The #MeToo generation will simply not abide a presidential candidate who thinks that a hug is an acceptable way to greet a fellow human being, male or female, young or old.

Today’s opinion formers may believe that gender is fluid and hard-core porn is acceptable viewing, but woe betide any bloke over 40 who puts his arm round a young woman’s shoulder without asking permission.

I have a confession to make. I am over 40. And I am also a hugger. I empathise with people, too quickly sometimes, and like Biden I instinctively feel that touch is a way of showing support and friendship.

But I am not a powerful man, so my sometimes clumsy attempts at connecting with a stranger are seen as nothing more than the eccentricities of an older woman. I am no threat to anyone.

Neither is Joe Biden, as many of his supporters, including Barack Obama’s close friend Valerie Jarrett, have attested. Indeed, Biden may have done more for women’s rights during his political career than most woke young men can ever hope to achieve, but he represents the past.

A casual hug, a peck on the cheek or a surprise compliment are now regarded by many as tantamount to sexual harassment and have the power to ruin a career.

Just how America can tolerate a President who boasts of grabbing women “by the pussy”, while at the same time destroying Joe Biden for being “over friendly”, is beyond me, but human beings are nothing if not contradictory.

As Joe Biden’s career crumbled, and water gushed into the House of Commons Chamber in a metaphor of biblical proportions, a 150-year-old wrong was quietly set right this week.

A group of female medical students, known as the “Edinburgh Seven” will finally get their degrees, a century and a half after they earned them.

The women, led by Sophia Jex-Blake, were treated as second-class students when they enrolled at Edinburgh University in 1869. Their fees were higher than their male peers, their work graded differently, and they were pelted by mud during one exam. But they persevered, and in July their ground-breaking courage will be recognised by their alma mater.

Today, 60 per cent of Edinburgh’s medical students are women, as are more than half of Scotland’s GPs (58 per cent in 2017). Our primary care service would collapse without them, but ironically the feminisation of medicine brings with it a new challenge.

More and more GPs now work part-time, with only one third of women doctors on full-time contracts, according to the GMC. Women GPs – the backbone of our NHS – have been able to secure a work-family balance that is the envy of hard-pressed parents on the minimum wage, but it has come at a cost. Securing a non-urgent GP appointment is now a Herculean task that requires nerves of steel and the patience of Job, as I found out only last week.

My GP practice is one of the biggest in Scotland. The GPs are mostly female and, according to the friendly receptionist I finally got to speak to, they are all part time.

Patients can only make a non-urgent appointment between the magic hours of 3pm and 4.30pm on a Friday afternoon, and that appointment will be for four weeks ahead. My testing experience is not an isolated one, as I found out when I bored friends and family with my tale of woe.

Little wonder we increasingly turn to Dr Google to diagnose and treat our ailments. But important though digital medicine will be in the future, it cannot and should not replace the human touch.

The days of the family GP who knew all her patients by their first name are long gone. Scotland faces a GP shortage. The Royal College of General Practioners Scotland predicts we will be short of 856 full-time GPs by 2021, which suggests we will need considerably more than 1,000 new recruits if the majority want to work part-time.

What’s the answer? More courses to allow nurses and paramedics to develop their careers and become primary care medics is one route.

But perhaps we should also consider contracts that commit new GPs to working full-time for a proportion of their lucrative career in exchange for their training. A recent survey by the respected medical think-tank, the King’s Fund, showed that only one in 20 GP trainees intended to work full time ten years after finishing their training.

That is simply unsustainable. The Edinburgh Seven saw medicine as their life’s work. Is it too much to ask that today’s medics, men and women, show some of the same commitment?