When the news about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct and alleged outright assault and rape came out earlier this month it was only a matter of time before someone cried “assault” on something so innocuous it does a disservice to those who were actually harmed sexually.
And that’s exactly what’s happened this week, as Turn actor Heather Lind accused President George H.W. Bush of “sexually assaulting” her during a group photo op four years ago in a since-deleted Instagram post.
According to Lind, Bush touched her inappropriately, made a “dirty” joke and then touched her again. All the while, Lind alleges Barbara Bush stood there watching and rolling her eyes.
This accusation led Bush’s press office to issue an apology explaining,
“At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures. To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”
The joke in question goes, “Want to know who my favorite magician is? David Cop-a-feel.”
I suppose that joke could be considered “dirty” if one was in Victorian England. Today, that joke is, well, just bad.
If the now three women who have publicly recounted similar stories with Bush-41 want to claim sexual assault, that’s a sorry injustice to women who have experienced an actual assault.
Is Bush’s touching inappropriate? Sounds like it. But it also sounds like someone trying to infuse some levity into an awkward situation.
The desire to make others feel comfortable around disability by using humor also sounds distinctly familiar. I know because I often use the same tactic while in similar situations.
Being in a wheelchair means three main things: 1) For the most part, you’re always at a height disadvantage with people. 2) Sometimes to participate in activities, you have to touch people you may not know in very familiar ways, and 3) Unless you have no situational awareness, a good-natured human being’s instinct is to attempt to make something awkward less so. Often through humor.
As someone who is missing a left arm and right leg and spends my waking hours in a wheelchair, I cannot count how many times I have had to touch people I don’t know in very uncomfortable ways.
I now realize these were sexual assaults. And for that, I apologize to the unnamed dozens.
I’m telling you, you haven’t lived until you’ve been carried up two flights of stairs, front-to-front and ear-to-ear, by a man you’ve just met. Same with having to take an escalator in the subway because the elevator is broken.
To all of those men — yes, men, because I’m 5’9″ and I wouldn’t trust a typical woman to be able to catch me if I lost my balance — I made stupid “dirty” jokes to in an attempt to make a mortifyingly awkward situation humorous, I am sincerely sorry.
I can’t say I won’t do it again. It’s shameless, I know. But if you ever run into me or someone else in a wheelchair, — like, say, a 93-year-old ailing former president — do them a favor and don’t make the assumption that we’re trying to have a sexual experience when we have to touch you or make a joke to abate the awkwardness.