NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who raised concerns Tuesday about complaints from some of her female MPPs about “inappropriate touching” around the legislature, also refused to provide further details for privacy reasons.
The article itself is more about transparency and accountability - you can read it for Ferguson's take.
What I find myself most fascinated by is the culture, ethics and human economics around physical contact. When is it good, when is it bad? What are universal standards? What tips and tricks are there for quickly assessing individual contexts?
Good leaders do a lot of physical contact - the two-handed shake, the hand on the shoulder, and for good reason; that kind of contact, in most cases, produces oxytocin. The laying on of hands actually makes a person's chemistry change for the better. Many leaders, consciously or unconsciously, use physical contact as a way of creating a gravitational pull with their audience.
It's a powerful communication tool; I recently met and chatted with an internationally recognized young leader in millennial entrepreneurship - a petite Asian woman by appearance, but a strong presence in any room. The conversation involved a ton of contact - she literally put her hand on my chest when speaking about me and whatever impact I have, and held my hand when the person that introduced us talked about similarities between us and why we should have a follow-up chat (that never happened). All this could have been inappropriate, and certainly would have been had I been the instigator, but in this case it was part of her power.
Does this woman do the same thing when speaking with other women? If there is a gender-based difference on her approach, does that imply some form of inappropriateness, or is an altered approach an acceptable thing?
I have two friends with anxiety order; one also has ADHD, the other has depression. When the friend with ADHD has an anxiety attack, physical contact of any kind is a terrible idea; what is meant to be a gesture of affectionate assurance comes across as an assault, producing cortisol instead of oxytocin. With the other friend, a reassuring hug is exactly what she's looking for; the comfort reduces the discomfort and helps create the feeling that things will be okay.
Two different people, both women, completely different responses.
Then, there's introductions. If I'm introducing a friend to a group, contact is almost always involved - but do I do it differently for different genders? Do I put a hand on the shoulder for a guy, on the back for a gal? Maybe. Maybe it's instinctive, or maybe it's an underlying inappropriateness that I need to explore.
There can easily be a masking of intent, even internally; what we tell ourselves is our rationale and what our actual rationale are don't always align. This is different from clear and deliberate inappropriate touching as an assertion of authority or simply copping a feel.
And as I read more and more stories about what women suffer through on a daily basis, I am recognizing a whole layer of societal behaviour that is as offensive as carding and as problematic as wheelchair-unfriendly societal infrastructure.
Having and enforcing a clear code of conduct is key; in such circumstances, it's better to err on the side of caution, maybe establish comfort zones with intentionality so everyone is on the same page.
At the same time, there's an incredible opportunity in all this for individuals to take a look at themselves, their intent and perceptions and explore more of this social-emotional stuff that we humans tend to do poorly.
It's new ground, though long overdue.