The Old Lady Who Hated Halloween Put A Sign Up Letting Us Know
When I lived in Arkansas, there was a woman in our neighborhood who absolutely hated Halloween. I don’t know if it was that she was extremely Christian and found the themes of ghouls and monsters and magic to be offensive or if she simply didn’t like kids. Perhaps she had some sort of traumatic event on Halloween when she was younger. No matter. Every Halloween, she’d sit outside her house to scream at the kids as they would come up to her yard — every other home in the neighborhood was decked with fake spiderwebs and jack-o-lanterns and were reservoirs of candy. Chris (one of my roommates) and I would buy tons of the good stuff (aka full-sized Snickers, Twix, and Reese’s Cups) and had a blast with the kids. But not this lady.
At first I was annoyed by her curmudgeonly attitude toward a harmless kid’s holiday. I mean, these weren’t the asshole kids who fucked with your house if you didn’t provide them the sugar-rush they so craved. These were mostly littler kids and the old lady scared them by screaming from her porch.
One year, as October was at the halfway mark, Chris went over to talk to her. He said later that he had suggested she put up a simple sign on her lawn that declared to all walking by that she did not participate in Halloween and that the kids should just pass her place by. It did not go well, according to him. She felt that she shouldn’t have to be singled out, that the children shouldn’t be bothering people anyway and why not just do away with the practice on the block altogether instead of forcing her to put up some sign.
We didn’t push the issue as it wasn’t really our business. On the day of Halloween, however, sure enough, she put up a very nice sign that said “This House Does Not Celebrate Halloween. Please Come Back at Easter and Candy Will Be Given Out Then.” And, lo and behold, the kids left her house alone. I don’t know if she gave out candy at Easter but I thought it was a nice way of dealing with it. She managed to protect herself adequately without forcing everyone else to stifle the joy and enthusiasm of the night which, despite it being Chris’s idea, I thought was both responsible and kind.
Just lately, Vice President Joe Biden is under attack for touching women inappropriately. He’s not being accused of sexually harassing anyone because the man is ebullient and tactile with men, women, children with no regard for sex. The man is just enthusiastic about hugging and showing affection in a physical way. I can’t say why so many women have an issue with this, as if consent is required in every physical interaction but I respect their position. Maybe they don’t want to be touched because they had a traumatic experience earlier, maybe because they grew up in less tactile families, maybe they are using this issue as a way to sour voters on Biden so Bernie or Kamala are more viable options. The why isn’t really all that important.
What is important is that most people don’t mind him hugging them or the onslaught of complaint would be voluminous. I mean, over the forty or fifty years as a political figure, I’d guess the guy has hugged and enthusiastically greeted thousands upon thousands of people so the seven women complaining about his hugging them without explicit consent is a margin of a margin of a sliver of that number.
Most people don’t mind a big, friendly greeting. But a few do. They really do. They have prioritized their personal space in such a way that they feel requires everyone to forego the spontaneous joy encapsulated with a happy to meet you greeting. A backslapping, fun way of saying hello or showing affection. I think they are right to feel that no one should invade their person should they feel it is a violation but I hardly think their peace of mind is worth the stifling of joy that everyone else gets from a grand, high-minded hug.
My suggestion is simple. If you feel somehow that no unsolicited physical contact is appropriate, wear a sign or a t-shirt or a hat that declares that you do not want to be touched without expressed permission to do so. If you have kids who have suffered trauma and they need some sort of badge to indicate that grandpa shouldn’t tussle his hair, treat it no differently than a peanut allergy rather than expect everyone to stop eating peanuts.
It is completely your right to protect your personal space and for whatever reasons you may have. It is, however, unreasonable to expect those with no sexual or harmful intent to read your mind and somehow know that this will be interpreted as inappropriate. It is unreasonable to expect that no one ever engage in any spontaneous hugs because you don’t care for them. I’ll add that, unfortunately, this isn’t going to stop the assholes looking to cop a feel which is an entirely separate issue but it will let the Joe Biden’s of the world, the truly gregarious, genuinely affectionate humans out there understand where your boundaries are.
I suppose a better way of looking at it (and in an unusually funny piece of satire on behalf of SNL) is this (watch it to the end):
The saddest thing I can imagine is the looking out among all the people in the world and only seeing predators when so many simply are not. Some, like Joe Biden, are just really nice people who like to express their affection by getting up in there and touching you. I’d prefer to live in a world where those people are not shut down because there’s enough anger and suspicion in society as it is to paint us all as monsters.
I’ll quote a Faceborg post of a friend who sums this up so much better than I can:
As both a woman and a survivor, I actually have a problem with the idea that this whole thing is supposed to be about women reclaiming their voices and rejecting victimhood. Barring obvious and egregious assault, if you can't own your own boundaries and articulate them at the time they're being breached, that is the opposite of empowerment and the epitome of victimhood.
Maybe articulating those boundaries is uncomfortable for whatever reason. I get uncomfortable asking for a raise even when I know I deserve it. But I don't make my boss read my mind that I want a raise and then torch him two years later because he didn't give me one. Life is sometimes uncomfortable -- learning to recognize and enforce our boundaries respectfully (unless real danger is involved), and learning to operate outside of our comfort-zone sometimes, are fundamental adult skills. Sometimes we'll be better at it than others, but it's not reasonable to expect others to know my boundaries, nor is it reasonable to expect everyone else to adopt my boundaries just so I'll never, ever be uncomfortable.
When I was in my early 30s I moved to a new town where I knew no one. A friend of mine contacted a friend of his and before I even got there I had been invited to a party by someone I'd never met. This guy was part of a close-knit group of friends; the very next time I saw these people, the women hugged me and the guys all kissed me on the cheek to say hello, even though I had only met them once. It was clear that this was how they always greeted one another, and not only did I not take offense at near strangers touching or kissing me in what was obviously meant to be an affectionate gesture, but it actually meant a lot to me to be so quickly and obviously accepted as part of this group during a particularly lonely time in my life, and to know that they were happy to see me. FWIW, I eventually married one of them.
So why is it okay that someone who doesn't communicate her own boundaries gets to decide that her boundaries should be the default for the rest of us? If I had been a different person, perhaps I might have felt uncomfortable with physical affection from people whom I'd just met, but then it would have been my responsibility to say so. Maybe it would have been awkward. Maybe I might have been afraid that if I rejected their gestures they wouldn't like me. But on the flipside, if that's all it took for them to withdraw their friendship, I would have been better off without that friendship in the first place.
I certainly respect someone else's right to feel that discomfort. But I don't respect their right to impose it as the standard by which everyone else has to operate, especially when they don't speak up for themselves and give people the chance to respect said boundaries. (Again, I'm not talking about egregious words or acts like, say, talking about grabbing women by the pussy....)
The world owes none of us a life free of all discomfort, free of all awkwardness, free of all confrontation. And this kind of hysteria robs young women (and the rest of us) of real agency instead of teaching us to speak up when it really matters, to shake off that which really doesn't, and to understand that that line is different for everyone.
— Risa McDonnell