Head Kissing: An Issue for Our Times

It strikes me as an unusual action, kissing the back of someone’s head. Sounds like a ritualistic early-Christian thing, like the baptismal kiss of the Apostolic Tradition, or the papal foot-washing and foot-kissing (such as Pope Francis does), more than sexual aggression.

I just wonder—idly, as I do—about the appeal of the act to the transgressor. Probably has to do with scent. Pheromones are most abundant on the face, forehead and scalp. Those plus the smell of shampoo and conditioner could affect someone close up.

The vice-president perhaps felt drawn to the back of the woman’s head, and breathing in the mix, planted a quick kiss with his lips on the crown just over the Occipital bone. Never a thought thereafter that this would be any sort of problem, it being quite public and perfunctory and after all, kind of weird.

Not like Brett Kavanaugh pulling his penis out in front of a woman’s face, which Congress forgave him for, as you recall. But unusual.

Lucy Flores says she felt violated. I don’t doubt she did. I probably would have. I don’t know; hard to envision.

You’re missing the point, you’ll say. It’s one thing for a man to be kissed unexpectedly, unwanted, on his head from behind (by a man or woman, presumably). It’s quite another for a woman to experience it, as an expression of unwanted advances in general, and to want to expose it at this particular time as Biden approaches the announcement date she has probably effectively quashed.

Surely it’s good that we are rapidly heading towards zero-tolerance for sexual harassment and “unwanted body contact” in general. It’s a question of how widely we conceptualize, define and challenge it.

My Japanese wife was uncomfortable when, while visiting Spain some years ago, our exchange-student son’s home mother embraced and kissed her, as is the routine automatic greeting in Madrid. Very different ideas about acceptable body contact pertain in different cultures. Italian-Americans hug more than Scandinavian-Americans. There are different degrees of reserve and respect for private space.

“Inappropriate behavior” includes everything from statements that make someone uncomfortable to rape. Unwanted kisses of the Trump variety, or even his pussy-grabbing, fall somewhere into this spectrum. But head-kissing?

If it were protracted, and wet… yes. That would be, among other things, gross. But I doubt Biden did that. He did something arguably strange and obviously unwelcome (thus inappropriate). And I’ll be happy if this causes him to drop out of the Democratic race, maybe noting woefully that these times (with their added demands for political correctness) have passed him by. I’d like to see Sanders get the nomination, which his current strength suggests he can do—if MSNBC and CNN don’t do him in, arguing (as they already do) that it’s impossible for a socialist to win in the U.S., and that a “socialist” candidate will hand the election to Trump.

I just hope that Sanders, a physically more reserved person than Biden, has no head-kisses hanging in his closet.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu