Joe Biden, 47th Vice President of the United States
Serving as a U.S. Senator for 36 years and as the Vice President for eight, Joe Biden has always been a proponent of women’s rights. He shined a light on violence against women that took it out of the shadows and onto the Senate floor 28 years ahead of today’s movement.
47th Vice President of the United States
Joe Biden is a former Veep but always a forever feminist
Joe Biden, 47th Vice President of the United States
Feminist Foundations: Biden grew up in Scranton, Pa., the son of parents determined to raise good humans. “My dad used to say the cardinal sin of all sins was for a man to raise his hand to a woman. My mother’s expression was ‘Joey, look at me. Remember, you’re defined by your courage, and you’re redeemed by your loyalty.”
Single Dad: In 1972, just weeks after Biden was elected to the U.S. Senate, his wife and one-year-old daughter were killed in a car accident. Biden was left to raise his two sons alone. “I knew I had an obligation to them, but it turns out my boys ended up raising me.” They also won the heart of Jill, who Biden married in 1977.
Taking Action: In 1990, Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act. “When I started to write the legislation, I was convinced we had to get some brave women to come forward and take this out of the shadows. It allowed other women to say, ‘wait a minute, that happened to me.’” The Act became law in 1994.
#MenToo: In his role as Veep, Biden brought his fight to prevent sexual assault to college campuses. One theme emerged during his town halls with women students. “I said, ‘If we can do anything to make you safer, what would it be?’ The overwhelming response was, ‘Get men involved.’” That became the focus of Biden’s “It’s On Us” movement, which got young men to pledge to change their behavior.
Changing the Conversation: After serving as VP for eight years, Biden started the Biden Foundation to continue his public service just as many brave women began breaking the silence around workplace assault. His yardstick for progress: “We’ll succeed when we change the culture enough that no woman says, ‘what did I do?’ And no man says, ‘well I was entitled,’ or ‘she asked for it.’”
JOE BIDEN: Nothing justifies a man laying a hand on a woman without her consent. It's rape if you cannot give consent. It is assault. It is never, never, never, never justified.
Well, I was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and I won the gene pool. My mother was sweet and gentle, but a backbone like a ramrod. She looks at you, Joey, look at me. Remember, you're defined by your courage and you're redeemed by your loyalty.
And my dad was a man of enormous integrity. He used to say, it's the greatest sin that can be committed, is abuse of power. And the cardinal sin of all sins was for a man to raise his hand to a woman. I mean, for real, he taught us that if we saw something, speak up, speak out, do something.
I commuted every day from Delaware. And right after the accident I realized every time I'd leave, my two boys would worry about, is dad coming back? A decision I made was that whenever my children wanted me, I would stop whatever I was doing and do it, without exception.
And then Jill came along and saved our lives, basically. I mean, I had to ask her five times to marry me. After the fifth time she said OK. And my sister, who's a great friend of hers said, what made you change your mind? And she said, I fell in love with the boys. [LAUGHS]
So every important thing my sons, and later my daughter, ever, ever said to me has been spontaneous, you know? It's like riding down the street in my old Corvette, we stopped on a country road and little Hunter turns me and says, Daddy, I love you more than the whole sky.
I'm not sure what I would have done had my two boys not survived, because I knew I had an obligation to them. But it turns out, my boys ended up raising me.
When I started to write the legislation, I was convinced that we had to get some brave women to come forward and take this out of the shadows. It was the dirty little secret that no one wanted to talk about. There was a young woman at a small Catholic college and she agreed to come and testify. She was a freshman and a guy said, I'll walk you back to the dorm. Can we stop in my dorm? I want to get a coat. And he dragged her into the room and he raped her.
And I'll never forget what she said. She said, I ran home and I stripped down and took a scalding shower. She said, I was sitting on the end of my bed crying and the resident advisor-- the RA-- came in and I told her what happened. And she said, you've been raped. She said, no I wasn't. I knew him. I knew him. It allowed other women to say, wait a minute, why should anybody make me feel badly that I was abused?
When I became vice president, the president asked me is there anything I wanted. And I said, yes, I want to take the Violence Against Women Act and I want to bring it inside the vice president's office. And so we started investigating colleges and a startling number came back-- one in five women dropped off in a college campus are gonna be the victim of sexual violence.
I spoke with over 150 college presidents, which really made them uncomfortable. A lot of them didn't like it. I held a town meeting with tens of thousands of students and I said, if we could do anything to make you feel safer, what would it be? The overwhelming response was get men involved.
There was just an awakening and women are coming forward now who have been victimized, because they give hope and courage to other women. We'll succeed when we change the culture enough that no woman says, what did I do? And we'll have succeeded when no young man says, well, it was my right or I was entitled or she asked for it.
I asked young men to take the pledge that they will intervene if they see something going wrong. It's on everybody to change the culture. And so, as long as there's a breath in me, I'm gonna continue to be engaged in this.
JOE BIDEN: Nothing justifies a man laying a hand on a woman without her consent. Look, you need consent. If the woman is totally drunk and inebriated, she can't give consent, it's rape. It's rape if you cannot give consent. It is assault. A woman could get up and walk down the street here stark naked, no man has a right to lay a hand on her.
There is no justification. She can be arrested for indecent exposure, but no man has a right to lay their hand on. And until we get to the point where no person who has been victimized says, "What did I do? " We'll succeed when we change the culture enough that no woman says, "What did I do?"
And we'll have succeeded when no young man says, "Well it was my right," or "I was entitled" or "she asked for it." It is never, never, never, never justified.
JOE BIDEN: There's just an awakening, and women are coming forward now who've been victimized. Because they gave hope and courage to other women when they know there's somebody there. The most important thing is that a young woman reports what happens to her first and foremost to her friends.
You've got to be schooled in knowing what help to get her, how to get her there, not making her have to go public at first, if she doesn't want to. Being able to get the help. And so as long as there's a breath in me, I'm going to continue to be engaged in this.
JOE BIDEN: My mother's expression always was-- she looks at you-- Joey, look at me. Remember, you're defined by your courage and you're redeemed by your loyalty. And she meant it. I mean, it was drilled into us. And my father was, you know-- you're a man of a word. Without your word, you're no man. But my father abhorred the abuse of power, whether it was physical or political or financial. And so it was ingrained in us that we know we had an obligation to look out for each other and for other people.
JOE BIDEN: Jill came along and saved our lives, basically. I mean, when I asked her to marry me I had to ask her five times. And the fifth time, I said, look, you've got my Irish pride up now. I'm only going to ask you one more time.
If you say no, it's OK, but that's it. And if you say yes, you don't have to tell me when, just if. And I asked her, and she said, OK.
And my sister, who is a great friend of hers, said, what made you change your mind? She said, I fell in love with the boys. So everybody knows I love her more than she loves me.
JOE BIDEN: The vast majority of America is not homophobic. They just never knew they know anybody who was gay. And when people realize they're people they know. Their brothers, their sisters, their cousins. You know?
I remember my dad. My dad-- God love him. [LAUGHS] It was 1961, and I was applying for a job as a lifeguard in the city pool system because they paid better than the county job I had. And he dropped me off at the town square, Rodney Square.
There were two men in suits like I'm wearing standing in a corner. And the light was red. And and they kissed as I was getting out of the car. And I looked back at my dad like I hadn't seen that before. And he said, "It's simple, Joe. They love each other."
JOE BIDEN: Maybe the one where I'm putting on those Ray-Bans and saying, what are you thinking? And Barack's saying, Joe. Joe, we have other problems.
Well, it did capture-- I mean, we really had become close personal friends. I mean it's real. But it's-- we both laugh about it.
JOE BIDEN: No more cultural excuses. No culture, religion, justifies the abuse of an individual. None, zero, because how many times I'd hear, "Well that's not how our culture works." Well if that's not how your culture works, don't ask for my help. Don't ask for my help. It is a basic, basic, basic human right. That's all we're talking about.