Saturday, January 11, 2014

Keep Your Four-Hugs-A-Day To Yourself, Virginia

There are these things going around right now... quotes, mostly, encouraging physical contact and usually including a bunch of comments from people lamenting how non-physical our culture has gotten.
"We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need
8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12
hugs a day for growth." - Virginia Satir
You hear that, readers?  For survival.  Just to prevent yourself from keeling over dead you need four hugs.  Holy crap.  I should have died years ago.  I need to go to the Intensive-Hugging-Unit which must exist because you literally need four hugs a day to just not die.

I may be laying on the sarcasm a little thick here.  My point is that the idea that humans inherently need to hug people to be healthy is bullshit.  Not getting enough human contact is definitely deleterious to your health, but how much is necessary varies from person to person.  I mean, for crying out loud.

This is what I call "pseudo-guru crap."  These are people who come up with some optimistic or lovey-dovey thing that humans are supposedly "deficient" in--like laughter or smiling or hugging--and then make it seem like it's some totally dysfunctional thing when somebody would rather not try forcing themselves to laugh for ten minutes straight or force themselves to accept hugs from people they quite frankly don't want to touch.

Today I was reading an NPR article in which somebody proclaims that we should "hug sparingly" in the workplace.  The author is not a hugger, and the article mostly centers around other people who don't like hugs and are trying to navigate people who hug indiscriminately.  It's short and unfortunately puts the responsibility on people who don't want hugs rather than people giving them (I already wrote some about this here).  What I want to talk about is the comments.  I know, I know, I'm not supposed to read them, but sometimes the masochistic thrill is just too much to bear.

In practically all of these essays--whether they're by a pseudo-guru proclaiming you need 4 hugs a day or you'll die or they're from a person pleading to stop just hugging people without consent--you'll find a plethora of individuals lamenting how sad it is that people put up "unnecessary boundaries" and complaining about our "culture" being too "distant" now.  The basic premise is that at one point people were closer and friendlier and touched each other more, but now in the age of cell phones and iPods we're cold and distant.

Does it not occur to anybody else that maybe the reason people don't accept physical contact so much anymore is because we're actually allowed to refuse it?

Because you know, there are a lot of things people have done in the past to each other that were viewed as "innocent" or even "romantic" that we would now call "sexual assault."*  The only reason we didn't see them as such back then was because people who complained about them would either be disbelieved or suffer worse repercussions than the original action... or they weren't even aware of the option to say "no" because society had so fully normalized that people were just going to have to take it.  Just as children today are expected to accept hugs and kisses from relatives whether they want to or not**, women especially have been expected to grin and bear physical contact.

Yeah.  These people are looking fondly on that. That's why I call bullshit on this 4-hugs-a-day crap.

Basically, the pseudo-gurus and commenters alike aren't really looking back to a time when everybody was closer and loved getting hugged... they're looking back at a time when people gritted their teeth and dealt with it because having people claim ownership of their bodies was just what they were expected to do.

This is what's so infuriating about the subject to me.  Not that there are hippie-dippie folks out there who seriously believe less than 4 hugs a day and you're dead, but that people are so likely to look fondly on unwanted touching by failing to realize that without that consent it was unwanted.

* - I'd give that "Kissing Sailor" photo as the perfect evidence but after that blogger wrote about it droves of people came whining that it wasn't a sexual assault. It totally was, though.
** - It should be mentioned that, no, kids should not be treated this way either.