Biden has long raised awareness about sexual violence, chairing the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. He has worked to break down our society’s problematic ideas that normalize sexual assault, such as victim-blaming and slut-shaming.
Biden’s work is aimed at ending rape culture, but this latest response could actually make it worse.
The Me Too movement has revealed how rampant sexual assault, domestic violence and sexual harassment are across the world and in every industry. It’s only natural for people to be angry about these injustices. But channeling that anger into violence against perpetrators, like Biden suggests, is based more in vengeance than feminism.
Who truly benefits from these aggressive actions? In truth, no one.
By suggesting that a sexual assault perpetrator, or even someone making chauvinist comments, should be “beaten up,” Biden is attempting to send a strong message that sexism is wrong. But the message that actually gets across is that physical dominance determines who is morally right.
This reinforces the same toxic masculinity that Biden means to condemn, insinuating that the only way for men to express themselves is to exert dominance through physical force.
And this was just one of the problematic statements in Biden’s address.
“I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms my whole life,” he said while speaking at a rally for It’s On Us, the anti-sexual violence campaign he founded with former President Barack Obama. “I’m a pretty damn good athlete. Any guy that talked that way was usually the fattest, ugliest SOB in the room.”
With this, Biden generalizes about the perpetrators of rape culture: He suggests that traditionally attractive men are less likely to commit violence against women. He should know better.
Victim-blaming aside, Biden shows that he hasn't informed himself about how rape culture really affects college students.
Biden also urged women to stand up for each other.
“It’s on you women, as well, on campus,” he said. “All the studies show that 95 percent of young women who are abused ― the first person they tell is their roommate, their friend, someone on campus. You’ve got to inform yourself as to what facilities are available, what help is available, not just empathize, hug and say, ‘I’m so sorry.’ You have an obligation to be informed.”
Victim-blaming aside, Biden shows that he hasn’t informed himself about how rape culture really affects college students. Most of Biden’s work to combat campus sexual violence has framed the issue as one of men abusing women, ignoring violence in LGBTQ communities and male victims of sexual assault and abuse. Calling out men as perpetrators ignores many victims and reinforces the gender stereotypes that contribute to rape culture.
Biden’s statements reflect an antiquated notion of what sexual violence is and how to solve it. It is one that assumes there is a single type of perpetrator ― a straight male ― and that we can detect him based on his appearance. It is one that assumes the only way to teach people that sexist remarks are wrong is by physically exerting power over them.
Instead of dismantling rape culture, Biden’s speech tells men, once again, that physical supremacy determines who is best, who is correct and who is powerful. In that regard, he and the president seem to agree.
Lacy Lew Nguyen Wright is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Art History and Urban Education Policy and a HuffPost campus editor-at-large. Follow her on Twitter at @lacylewwright and Instagram at @alwaysbewright.