On Tuesday, New York Senator and former presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand was asked about the accusations of sexual assault made against Joe Biden by Tara Reade, a former Senate aide. Reade alleged in a recent interview with The New York Times that in 1993, Biden pinned her to a wall, reached underneath her clothes and penetrated her using his fingers. A Biden spokeswoman denied the claims.

When asked about the allegations during a conference call on Tuesday, Gillibrand defended Biden, stating, according to The Hill: “So when we say believe women, it’s for this explicit intention of making sure there’s space for all women to come forward to speak their truth, to be heard. And in this allegation, that is what Tara Reade has done ... Vice President Biden has vehemently denied these allegations, and I support Vice President Biden.”

Gillibrand isn’t the only woman to have publicly sided with Biden as of late. Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams told CNN’s Don Lemon: “I believe that women deserve to be heard and I believe they need to be listened to, but I also believe that those allegations have to be investigated by credible sources. The New York Times did a deep investigation and they found that the accusation was not credible. I believe Joe Biden.”

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First of all, let me note that I’m not a fan of holding women accountable for men’s behavior, especially when they have no direct involvement with said behavior. However, Biden has committed to picking a female VP if (and presumably when) he becomes the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, so it’s not absurd to bring up the Biden allegations with Gillibrand and Abrams.

The truth is, both women were put in a position to publicly answer a question many have been privately wrestling with for weeks. I’ve postponed unpacking my own feelings on the topic because… well, I suppose it’s always uncomfortable to confront your own contradictions, isn’t it?

Snapshots of the collective discourse around Biden have included the following takes: Biden is in all likelihood going to cinch the Democratic nomination and I can’t take four more years of Donald Trump. Vulnerable people will be harmed if he gets re-elected. Besides, Trump has been accused of sexual assault too, so if the next president is doomed to be an alleged abuser, aren’t we better off if this person can at least tick the “not Trump” box? And looking back on the grievances that contributed to tanking Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016, don’t some of them seem petty? I mean, do her emails really matter now that we’re stuck with a president who has recommended injecting disinfectant to combat a deadly virus and doesn’t appear to know what sarcasm is?

These points of view are all understandable. They’re a sad reflection of how much our standards have been lowered when it comes to picking our leaders, but I can see where they came from.

And yet, “believe women” is a motto I live by. I’ve touted it many times before when it applied to other men, and I can’t think of a single valid reason why it shouldn’t apply here. And no, no one should be put in a position to pick one of two alleged abusers as their next president. That is an infuriating situation – one that I hoped we would have moved past by 2020, but evidently the world isn’t ready for that just yet.

This is all complicated by the fact that we’ve reached the point where Democrats – including some who campaigned in favour of Biden’s adversaries or ran against him themselves – feel the need to align behind their presumed nominee, as it seems the only way to secure a victory come November.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even know if I have any answers. But I know this: I don’t believe that my right to a president who isn’t Donald Trump should take priority over a woman’s right to be heard. To quote Sarah Ann Masse, one of the Silence Breakers who came forward against Harvey Weinstein earlier this year: “Let me be clear. I despise Trump. I believe he’s a serial predator and rapist who is dangerous. I still believe Tara Reade. #BelieveSurvivors isn’t about politics or convenience. Sexual violence isn’t a partisan issue. I think Biden is the better choice and I still believe Tara Reade.”

At one point over the past few days, as I was trying to work out my stance on the Biden allegations, I happened to read this 2019 interview of author (and our Lady and Savior) Jia Tolentino in Elle. One of the life lessons she shared with the magazine was “People are looking for an apology”.

“We saw it with #MeToo, women don’t want their assaulters to never be happy or employed. They want an apology and an acknowledgement, and that’s it,” Tolentino added. “In my experience, the vast majority of women don’t want someone to go to jail for the rest of their life; they want an acknowledgement that what they did was wrong.”

Obviously, Tolentino wasn’t referring to Biden or anyone in particular when she made those comments. But I’ve found them especially helpful as I’ve tried to navigate the Biden allegations and my own feelings about it (including, but not limited to, intellectual discomfort, paranoid fear that I was secretly a raging hypocrite, and so on).

I can’t speak for Reade, of course. But I do feel like the need for a collective acknowledgement hasn’t been met in her case. Whenever someone is wronged, immense power can come from seeing others recognize that wrong for what it is. Reade deserves that experience at the very least.

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