The other day I was watching the Ali Velshi & Stephanie Ruble show on MSNBC. As Ali was explaining some point he misspoke and mangled a few words. Ali, a seasoned journalist, was taken aback by his mistake and clearly embarrassed. Stephanie, quite spontaneously without consent, gave Ali a quick hug to let him know that his stumbling over a few words was no big deal. It was a natural gesture and to me exemplified a close working relationship between the two reporters. There was nothing remotely sexual about the encounter and it demonstrated a moment of intimacy that was generous and purely platonic.
However, what came to mind is what would the reaction have been if the situation were reversed. Let’s say Stephanie had misspoke and Ali was the one giving the hug without permission. I truly feel that it would have unleashed an unrelenting media backlash. I can easily imagine the image of the hug going viral coupled with a “Me-To” diatribe against another sexual predator – Ali Velshi. His actions would be labeled as a further example of men, especially in positions of power, dominating and patronizing women. MSNBC, a progressively slanted station, would be receiving countless emails and tweets demanding that Ali be fired from the network for his thoughtless and biased behavior.
What comes to mind is how much our increasingly myopic perceptions of male-female interaction has missed our common humanity. Men and women can comfort and relate to each other with a spontaneous touch that has nothing to do with gender inequality. Rational dialogue about gender issues requires understanding context, nuance and a rejection of instant over reaction. There are clearly instances of sexual misconduct that require immediate condemnation but let’s make sure that we don’t continually rush to judgment. Rather, we need to take a pause to be certain that we got it right and fully understand the circumstances of the alleged misbehavior.