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Why men touch women's bodies without asking — men like Joe Biden and John Travolta.

A look into the psychology behind what makes men think this certain behavior is OK.

Why men touch women's bodies without asking — men like Joe Biden and John Travolta.

John Travolta, Joe Biden, and why men touch women's bodies without asking

by Nico Lang

When I started college, one of my first jobs was working the front desk at my university's admissions office. I shared a desk with my boss, a voluptuous chatterbox who was bright, perky, and personable. She was the kind of woman whose cheeks you'd always want to pinch.


Unfortunately, our department director, a squirrelly little man with comically large glasses, often did just that. When she did something he liked, he would grab her face to show his approval, as if she were a child or a beloved pet.

The first time he did it, she was in front of students. The second time, she was in front of colleagues. When I recently asked her about it, she told me, "I can remember who was there. I can remember exactly how uncomfortable it made me. It didn't actually hurt or anything. It was this moment where I simultaneously felt like an object and also like there was nothing I could do about it, so I should just let it happen."

Other friends recalled similar stories from work colleagues, acquaintances, family members, and strangers, in which men touched them without prior consent or approval. One example came from a former coworker who remembered "walking in a grocery store parking lot, wearing a skirt, and a man walked up to me, put his hand up my skirt, grabbed my ass, and then walked off." A writer I know reported a bizarre incident in which she was "standing at a bus stop [when] a guy rushed [her] and proceeded to kiss [her] foot before hopping on his bus and escaping."

While these encounters happened between strangers, most women who told me they had experienced unwanted touching from a man said it had happened in a public place, such as a bar or the workplace. The perpetrator was usually someone they knew.

In an office environment, such unwanted touching constitutes sexual harassment (although a great number of women decline to report it, due to factors like social pressure or fear of workplace retaliation.) However, if you're a woman at a bus stop, or if you're picking up hummus at a grocery store, there aren't the same protections in place. If you're on stage presenting at the Oscars and a well-known celebrity starts petting your face, there's no obvious chain of command or boss to report it to.

For the audience, such moments could appear to be humorous. This man is harmless, they all laugh, and the Internet laughs right along with them. It's a shared inside joke that everyone is in on. He's just a "creepy uncle." He's not hurting anyone.

Of course, the celebrity in question is John Travolta, who doubled down on becoming an Internet meme this week after he felt up Idina Menzel's face onstage at the Academy Awards. Menzel and Travolta appeared together to bury the hatchet over an incident last year, in which Travolta infamously flubbed the "Let It Go" singer's name, calling her "Adele Dazeem."

The Internet immediately made a small moment into a viral sensation. Someone created a John Travolta Name Generator, in which the "Saturday Night Fever" star could mangle your name, too. Adele Dazeem even got her own Twitter account.

So when Travolta awkwardly touched Menzel's face at the Oscars this year, the Internet was bound to react as if the incident was intended to be comical. It was an indication that Travolta had become Hollywood's "creepy uncle." But no one saw the encounter for what it was: a moment of public sexual harassment.

In fact, the face-touching wasn't even Travolta's only transgression that evening. On the red carpet, the star also kissed the side of Scarlett Johansson's face while he placed his hand around her waist. Photos show that Johansson was clearly uncomfortable with the gesture, her eyes glossing over as she stares into the distance. (Johansson, for her part, has been a good sport and defended him.) The moment should have been shocking and deeply troubling, but instead it got turned into a meme. You can find photos of John Travolta embracing Kanye West, the Statue of Liberty, and his own "Hairspray" character. How droll!

The lack of outcry beyond the requisite "Wow, what happened to John Travolta?" shouldn't be surprising to anyone, especially in light of the recent coverage of Vice President Joe Biden embracing Stephanie Carter, the wife of Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, during his swearing-in ceremony.

As The Daily Dot's own Miles Klee reported, "Biden all but demanded that Carter's wife Stephanie stand near him so he could squeeze her shoulders, sniff her hair, and whisper in her ear." Klee further reminds us:

It's hardly the first time that Biden has breached a woman's personal space. There was that time he got handsy with a White House correspondent. There was the pit stop where he put the moves on a leather-clad lady biker. He's macked on Irish presidents, Olympic athletes, Hillary Clinton, and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. He got close with the daughter of Sen. Chris Coons, much to her annoyance.

Biden's behavior might be meme-worthy, but it's more than an opportunity for clickbait. It's actively predatory, repeatedly violating women's personal space and boundaries. At best, his behavior is completely inappropriate; at worst, it's a gross abuse of power. If the man rubbing your shoulders and creepily whispering into your ear is Vice President and former Parks and Rec guest star Joe Biden, would you speak up?

When you look at Stephanie Carter's face, the look should be familiar to you. It's the same one Scarlett Johansson had. It's the look of a woman who knows what it's like to put up with toxic masculinity.

You can call this behavior whatever you like. The Internet's preferred euphemism is "handsy," as if Joe Biden is manhandling a Christmas ham instead of a married female human. But I prefer the term "mantouching." It's a riff on the term "manspreading," which is defined by the Collins Dictionary as a "male passenger in a bus or train splaying his legs and denying space to the passenger sitting next to him."

In a post for Feministing, Mychal Denzel Smith explains that manspreading is a "performance of masculinity." Smith writes, "It all plays out like an assertion of male dominance, in which every one of them feels as if they have to claim their territory and their manhood in this public space, even at the discomfort of all the other passengers. Who gives a fuck if you can't sit, they are men."

Mantouching operates in a similar way. It's an assertion of one's masculinity, at the expense of the personal comfort of those around you. When a man touches a woman without asking, he's doing so because he feels entitled to access to her body. For him, it might feel like a meaningless or friendly gesture. After all, what's the matter with touching the small of a woman's back? It's not like you're sexually assaulting her.

But for women, it sends a different message. Nancy Qualls-Shehata of Patheos writes, "Your body is not your own, and any good ole boy can grab your butt and no one will stop him. Oh, and you have to pretend it's OK even if you are seething inside. You have to smile and give him a friendly wag of the finger and hug him."

While a recent Cosmo survey showed that an alarmingly high 1 in 3 women reported being sexually harassed in the workplace at some point in their lives, the prevalence of mantouching is likely much higher, simply because no one ever talks about it. Many of the women I talked to didn't speak up for fear of being told that they're overreacting or being hysterical. If they do speak up, the response is usually the same: Stop taking everything so seriously. It's just a compliment.

The Internet has given a great deal of attention to fighting acts of street harassment, such as women being catcalled in public or told by strangers to "smile." Campaigns like #StopTellingWomenToSmile have drawn particular attention to these daily micro-aggressions that women experience, the small-scale ways in which society reinforces female marginalization. Such micro-aggressions are consummate examples of everyday sexism.

While it's crucial that we address the issue of street harassment, we need to recognize that it's bigger than the street by discussing the ways in which performative masculinity creates a culture where behavior like that of Travolta and Biden is normalized. It might feel good to laugh off such demonstrative behavior as vestiges of a fading masculinity, but the problem with mantouching isn't that it's hilariously creepy or weird. The problem with mantouching is that it's so common that some of the women who experience it might not think it's a big deal. After all, it happens all the time.

You might not think a pinched cheek or a shoulder caress is something to lose sleep over. But the next time you see a man put his hand on the small of a woman's back, look at her eyes. Look at her smile. If you're looking closely enough, I bet you can see her faking it. I bet you can see how painful it really is.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Chris Evans is playing the lead role in the upcoming Pixar film "Lightyear."

Chris Evans was already skilled at squeezing hearts on social media, cavalierly sharing sweet pics of his adorable dog and piano-playing videos on Instagram, as if we could just casually watch him be a near-perfect man without swooning. And now he's being even more delightful with his gushing giddiness over getting to play his dream role.

The guy is already best known as the studly Marvel superhero Captain America, so what could possibly top that? Pixar, apparently. Evans' ultimate acting dream is being in a Pixar movie. And now that dream is coming true, the most eligible of the Chrises could not be cuter in his expressions of joy.

Sharing the new trailer for "Lightyear"—Pixar's origin story about the astronaut the Buzz Lightyear toy was based on in the "Toy Story" universe—Evans wrote on Twitter:

"I'm covered in goosebumps. And will be every time I watch this trailer. Or hear a Bowie song. Or have any thought whatsoever between now and July cause nothing has ever made me feel more joy and gratitude than knowing I'm a part of this and it's basically always on my mind."

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The Schmidt family's Halloween photoshoot has become an annual tradition.

Two of Patti Schmidt's three sons were already well into adulthood when her daughter Avery was born, and the third wasn't far behind them. Avery, now 5, has never had the pleasure of close-in-age sibling squabbles or gigglefests, since Larry, Patrick and Gavin are 28, 26 and 22, respectively—but that doesn't mean they don't bond as a family.

According to People.com, Patti calls her sons home to Point Pleasant, New Jersey, every fall for a special Halloween photoshoot with Avery. And the results are nothing short of epic.

The Schmidt family started the tradition in 2017 with the boys dressing as the tinman, the scarecrow and the cowardly lion from "The Wizard of Oz." Avery, just a toddler at the time, was dressed as Dorothy, complete with adorable little ruby slippers.

The following year, the boys were Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca, and Avery was (of course) Princess Leia.

In 2019, they did a "Game of Thrones" theme. ("My husband and I were binge-watching [Game of Thrones], and I thought the boys as dragons would be so funny," Schmidt told TODAY.)

In 2020, they went as Princess Buttercup, Westley, Inigo Montoya and Fezzik from "The Princess Bride."

Patti shared a video montage of each year's costume shoot—with accompanying soundtracks—on Instagram and TikTok. Watch:

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