Picture this: you’re at a network gathering, leaning over the host’s kitchen counter, drinking a rum punch pouch poured into a more fancy-looking drinking glass when, suddenly, a known company partner introduces himself and proceeds to greet you with a hug, leaving his hand a little higher than your waist – which tends to be a usual spot for some odd reason – and pulls you by your rib cage; laughing, since he’s cracking jokes among other colleagues present. You try pulling away discreetly, but his grip doesn’t loosen at all. Guess you’ll have to shrink in your own body and put up with it for a few minutes as to not cause a stir between employees. Isn’t just reading that makes you uncomfortable? Because for most people out there, a situation like this is considered a violation of our personal space. And it is.
For ages, it has been instilled in our society that a friendly and social approach includes touching. Lots of it. Hugging, petting, caressing and the like are all considered affectionate. Actually, a lot of us enjoy these things. But there’s a slight difference when it comes from your mom, BFF or SO and when it comes from a stranger-not-so-stranger-anymore. Those who know how to read your body language (small bodily reactions that communicate a feeling, such as gestures or facial expressions) and respect your personal space know when you’re open to being touched. Opening your arms to your BFF is basically inviting them to hug you too. Putting your head on your SO’s lap while watching soap operas could indicate enough comfort in the relationship to have them pet your hair. Even after years of knowing each other, they might just say, “Aww! Do you need a hug?” before approaching. On the other hand, friends of friends, acquaintances, co-workers and the like can be overly confident and giddy when it comes to respecting personal space. They might just look right over it, often not seeing what’s so bad about invading such space.
According to the anthropologist Edward T. Hall, a researcher in proxemics (the study of the use of space), the ‘personal zone’ is about 1.5 to 4 feet which is defined by author and researcher Joe Navarro as “a comfortable distance for family and close friends”, he states on Psychology Today. If this is the comfortable distance for close-knit relationships, why is it so often that everyone else disregards it? Hall states the ‘social zone’ should be 4 to 12 feet. Meaning, all social interactions that start with touching you out of the blue are even scientifically a valid bother and a no-no. Not that personal preferences and comfort need to be backed up by Science anyway, but it helps explain.
Let’s take a recent, public case as an example; such as Ariana Grande’s encounter with Bishop Charles H. Ellis III’s after her tribute to Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, last Friday. After the ‘Sweetener’ singer sang “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the late singer’s funeral service (which was lovingly named ‘Aretha’s Homegoing’), Bishop Ellis III’s joins her on stage to say a few words: a dad joke pointing to how unfamiliar he was with her and her work. “When I saw Ariana Grande on the program, I thought that was a new something at Taco Bell”, he told the attendees. That bit of conversation is the news that’s being covered on all the tabloids, as always being too general and not speaking up about a clear issue: the bishop’s inappropriate touching in the video where the quoted moment comes from.
The video can be found nearly anywhere online, but it’s quite disturbing how every news outlet quotes it as a “funny moment” due to the bishop’s joke when the events in the video being shared are so clear. It was rather noticeable his hand is resting too high up her ribcage, touching Ariana Grande’s right breast. Add to that her uncomfortable body language trying to quietly pull away, putting her head down, avoiding eye-contact and awkwardly laughing. It is a moment many of us know all too well.
A day after the issue was brought to attention by, not the press, but users on social media, a large portion being women, Elli issued an apology during an interview with The Associated Press, stating it was never his intention to touch any woman’s breast. “Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar but again, I apologize.”, Ellis told The Associated Press. He then emphasized he greeted and hugged all the artists, not only the females because that’s what the church is all about love. He also apologized for the Taco Bell joke as it came off offensive to many. This comes to show that if we stop normalizing and accepting this behavior if we don’t let people get away with this, they won’t.
If so many users online could recognize what was going on and pointed it out, why is the situation overlooked in popular media? Issues like these need to be discussed and corrected. Turning a blind eye to them, staying “neutral”, is actually conforming and being okay with it. And that shouldn’t be the case, it should be common courtesy and respect by now: don’t touch anybody’s body without their consent. If you don’t know somebody, what makes it okay to pull them close to you by pressing on their ribcage? On top of that, what on Earth makes groping anybody – public television or not – okay as well?! To this day, boundaries are still a thing being broken and bodies are still being treated as a “lump of goods” for the male gaze. It’s time to denounce entitled behavior. Nobody should be getting away with harassing anybody, ever.