When is it appropriate to greet a business woman with a kiss instead of a handshake?
I’m tempted to say “always.”
Wednesday I set up a meeting with a potential business partner who I’d met once before at a networking venue. When he saw me, he got up, gave me an air-kiss on the cheek and sat down. It was a perfectly respectful, non-sexual, warm and appropriate greeting.
On Monday, I was at a wonderful women’s creative event, and a lovely woman I’d never met joyously greeted me with a hug and a kiss, saying she knew me from my blog. I was horrified for a moment, but only because I realized that I couldn’t recall who she was (and she’s a significantly more popular blogger than I am).
We are mature adults
If you are a mature adult, you know the difference between a sexual touch and a non-sexual one. If you are unsure, ask for feedback from a friend. Honestly, if you are unsure, get a spiritual guide, shrink or coach. Something is wrong, and it’s not your fault. Society has been giving us unhealthy messages for the last 2 decades, so if you are messed up, just get help.
But for the over 90% of us who are able to read human signals and have decent respect for other human beings, read their signals.
When in doubt, a handshake will always do, but make sure to give a warm one with eye contact and a smile.
Only in America
I started this blog with a fairly conservative list of the appropriate and inappropriate times for kissing as a public business greeting, because a few people said I need to careful about saying that this is an improvement over hand-shaking, as I did in my blog about What (Tech) Women Want.
But when I reviewed the list, I realized that just about everywhere in the non-bowing world except for the United States, air-peck is the most appropriate business greeting when one or both of the parties involved is female. In some of the world, a handshake is now acceptable in place of the more traditional bow or Namaste gesture if you are a foreigner. In these cultures, kissing has never been OK, and we can all understand that.
But what about American culture? What happened?
I grew up and went to college in the United States. I grew up in a multi-racial city. I thought I lived in an enlightened and egalitarian society, even though, truth be told, I’d been sexually harassed 3 times before I went to college.
I’ve been working in high-tech in Israel for 25 years now. I have not once been verbally or physically harassed in any of the companies I worked for. In one case, when a colleague put a hand on my shoulder, my boss called me in and asked me if I wanted to make a formal complaint. He said it was a serious issue and insisted on asking me 3 times and seeing that I really insisted it was OK before he let me go.
Things are not all peachy. Being a woman is definitely a disadvantage in the tech industry here, but I have never felt threatened. Almost all of the women I’ve spoken to have told me the same. While men don’t always take them seriously, they do not experience any harassment or inappropriate language in the office.
Women in Silicon Valley seem to have a totally different experience. We are hearing so many cases of women being harassed, bullied, belittled, and degraded. There seems to be an epidemic of men actually murdering women for seeing themselves as something other than chattel.
The US is supposedly an enlightened, modern country, and yet, over the last decade, the situation of women has deteriorated to a third-world level.
Why is this?
What’s going on? How did we get here?
It’s counterintuitive to say that I’m proud that my country has jailed one of its presidents for rape. In our country, consensual sex with an employee is considered statutory rape. (In the president’s case, it wasn’t consensual, either.) And we aren’t afraid to throw our presidents in jail for such things.
The tension is slightly uncomfortable. On the one hand, women want to say that they are independent. On the other hand, in cultures where men still feel they need to “protect” women, there’s bound to be more respect and less assault.
Is it OK to say that a woman secretary doesn’t really have the right to refuse a sexual relationship with her boss, or is that condescending? What is the right balance?
I’m not sure, but it does seem to me that one of the root causes of disrespect for women in the US has been an ongoing demand “not to be treated any differently” than men. I even believe that theoretically. But somehow, the outcome turned out badly.
It turned out so badly that now men can’t even greet women in a friendly and respectful way without seeming suspicious.
How can we get back to sanity?