When I run into a male acquaintance, I know exactly how to greet him: shake his hand. Doesn’t matter how long we’ve known each other. I even shake my dad’s hand.
But with females, I feel like I’m trapped between two walls of a deep-space garbage compactor. On the first meeting, we shake hands. Easy. But the next time we cross paths? Is a handshake now too formal (especially if we got along well in the first meeting)? Will a hug be awkward? What if the answer to both is “yes”?! Maybe I am taking too long to react to her “hello” and am starting to look like a robot. Maybe my mental hug-or-handshake calculation is manifesting in a frightening way on my face. Maybe I have something in my teeth. Maybe I should pull the fire alarm, so I can get out of here.
This has always been fascinating to me, and this piece above captures the awkwardness of the situation well.
Being a somewhat private person I find the act of hugging someone to be an intimate act. I hug my female friends who I’ve connected with in some kind of way–as a friend.
As such, the notion of hugging female work associates–just because they’re female–bothers me for a couple of reasons that I’ll try to capture.
It’s an affront to the intimacy it’s pretending to show. Pressing human bodies together–even for a short time–is no trivial thing. Or at least it shouldn’t be. To cheapen that by requiring it as part of a business setting cheapens both the business encounter and the friendship it’s mimicking.
Men don’t do this with other men. It’s a differentiator, and an extremely visible one at that. It’s more weight to the notion of men being cool and composed while women require special “more sensitive and gentle” treatment. We have enough trouble with gender equality as it is, and legitimizing this exact sentiment through a public ritual cannot be a good thing.
Question: Would you hug Hilary Clinton if you’ve met her on two or three different occasions? Of course not. And it’s the same for the female CEO of a major bank. So then, why would you hug a female work associate that you’ve only met twice?
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Answer: you don’t hug Mrs. Clinton or the female CEO because you respect them too much.
Now, notice that this is how men treat ALL males.
Seen in this light the hugging of a woman in a work setting suddenly becomes a bit suspect–as if it’s saying you really like them but they’re not in the same category as either men or women they really respect.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. But that’s what this medium is for, so fire away if you disagree.
As for me, I’ll continue to do what is most socially acceptable. Once something like this becomes standardized the reasons for it won’t matter: they’ll become opaque to all but this type of analysis (which will then seem negative).
At that point (and perhaps we’re already there?) not hugging a female work associate will seem strange, so I’ll definitely be doing it so as to not create awkwardness or offense.