There is an unspoken code of conduct which often demands people to accept forced hugs from others. Be it children who have to give hugs to unknown adults they are meeting for the first time, or grown-ups expecting other grown-up relatives, peers etc to give in to a jhappi without resistance. The trend of passing forced hugs on others, as a normal act of greeting someone, is unacceptable in the era of awareness regarding another’s personal space. It seems like we need to analyse our definition of “normal” body contact thoroughly and be more accepting of people to resist or detest it, be it our colleagues or our very own children.

According to a report in The Guardian, more than 60 current or former staff members of fashion chain Ted Baker have come forward with complaints against founder Ray Kelvin’s allegedly inappropriate behaviour, including kissing the employees’ ears and giving them unwanted hugs and shoulder massages. More that 1,000 people have signed their petition on the employee campaigning platform Organise, which calls for an end to forced hugging at Ted Baker. The petition says, “It is part of a culture that leaves harassment unchallenged.”

We should draw the line at an individual’s discomfort

While a lot of support has poured in for the employees at Ted Baker, some people are criticising it, calling their demands an over-reaction.

But isn’t this blame of “over-reacting” something we all endure, whenever we resist body contact with anyone? Thus, what is normal for one person can be violation of personal space for others. Also, this argument of over-reacting becomes a shield to deflect allegations of sexual harassment. People, especially men, are complaining today that they no longer know the right conduct from wrong anymore. They ask that if something as innocuous as a hug can be offensive, should they stop touching people altogether?

SOME TAKEAWAYS-

  • The trend of passing forced hugs on others as a normal act of greeting is unacceptable in the era of awareness regarding another’s personal space.
  • The truth is that most of us have little or no understanding of personal space.
  • We all reserve the right to not entertain unwanted physical touching, children and adults alike.

All this furore around hugs and body contact is plainly indicative of how we have gradually overridden the right to personal space under the guise of acceptable conduct. The truth is that most of us have little or no understanding of personal space. Take little kids, for example. We take away their agency to say yes or no to any physical contact, by forcing them to accept hugs and kisses from overzealous relatives and family friends. It breaks their confidence in their own agency. How do we then expect them to resist unwanted physical advances, if we as parents override their “no” and force them to accept physical touch against their wishes?

Even in adults, it is unfair to override someone’s agency and force hugs and kisses on them unwillingly

All of us have varying understanding and desire for physical touch from people who are not our partners. We all reserve the right to not entertain unwanted physical touching, children and adults alike. Whether it is normal for the one hugging us isn’t the matter here. Which is what everyone needs to understand. We all reserve the right to not entertain unwanted physical touching, children and adults alike. Some don’t like shaking hands, some hate bear hugs and being slobbered with kisses. Learn to read the physical cues the person in front of you is laying down. If you think your “casual” or “normal” back rub or cheek pat is making them uncomfortable, back off.

But then we also need to be a little louder about such discomforts. Learn to give much clearer cues if you detest someone hugging or kissing you. As for children, parents and relatives need to value their voice. If a child says “no”, its value is as much as that of an adult’s “no”. Do not trivialise it, or override it, just because the act seems normal to you. One must always remember that normal doesn’t always mean correct behaviour.

Feature Image for representational purpose only

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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