It’s Time To Ban The Kiss Hello
About a year ago, I made a decision to stop kissing women I don’t know in public and professional settings.
It doesn’t even sound like something one should contemplate in civilised society at all, when you think about it… but it’s time to think about it.
Over more decades in media and marketing than I care to count, I must have kissed literally hundreds of women I didn’t know, when I first met them.
It was always “Hello, lovely to meet you, mwah, mwah!” I would do a hand grab with kind of a shake, then gently pull her in, in case there was the agonising moment of confusion, when you don’t know if the hello kiss is happening or not.
This didn’t really allow the victims of my greetings much choice about whether they would like me to loom in and kiss them.
It’s not like everyone was kissing everyone back in the day. Never, ever, have I met someone, gone in for a double-cheek smacker, then thought, “That Old Spice smells good, but he should do something about that stubble. Scratchy!” The hello kiss is reserved specifically for women, so there’s no argument there’s nothing sexual in it.
Sure, it’s not necessarily massively arousing to kiss a woman on the cheek in the office on a Tuesday morning. But, if we’re honest, there is a frisson, an undercurrent to it. It’s close, intimate, there’s an actual (erk!) moment of skin-on-skin, of warmth, of scent. It says to the woman that, while she’s in a professional setting she’s still considered a sexual being… the kiss reinforces that potential and reduces the authority of a women’s individuality and professionalism.
The opposite, a handshake, especially from an older man to a younger woman, where the power imbalance is at its greatest, also carries great weight. It says, “I see you as a human being, a professional person, I respect.”
I must have loomed in so many times in my life, all beard and middle age, for the hello kiss. I just don’t know how many times the kiss-ee has steeled herself (“Oh, good grief, here we go”) until the difficult moment is over.
As an advocate for positive masculinity, I’m very aware I’m in a bubble where it’s my job to think and talk about these things. But this is a discussion happening in every workplace now.
I made my decision when a film crew came to my home to film a piece for a documentary on the #MeToo movement and sexual politics. The producer and director were both women. It suddenly occurred to me that, in this circumstance, going around kissing everyone was not appropriate.
Then it occurred to me that there wasn’t a moment to do it at all, ever.
I told the women from the ABC, who were both seasoned kiss-receivers. They were bemused. One said she hadn’t really thought about it. But this was before senior journalist, Leigh Sales, was kissed on the mouth at a charity event she was hosting last weekend, in front of 200 people. It was a “joke”, a social hello-kiss misused, but it suddenly threw the hello kiss to the top of the national debate.
“The only reason I am commenting publicly is that I feel, given how many people witnessed the incident, it would be gutless not to stand up and say that kind of behaviour is intolerable and the time for women being subject to it or having to tolerate it is long gone,” Sales said.
By the time we’d done a few shoots together, “Phil’s kiss ban” as it had become known, was lifted. We all shared a hug goodbye, but I hugged the camera guy too. We had all become quick mates in a short, intense period and it was a fond goodbye. A hug was fine then.
READ MORE: Has #MeToo Killed The Office Romance?
In the past year, I have shaken the hand of every woman I’ve met professionally and left them mercifully un-kissed. There’s been a lot of conversations about it, as I’ve met new people. I am yet to hear a woman tell me she misses the office-kissing. But a lot have said they’re glad “that crap” is coming to an end.
You might roll your eyes and say, “Really, this is all too much! It’s harmless, a little fun, like jokes are. Everyone loves a little flirting to lift the mood, right?”
No. We’re at the start of a revolution in how we think about gender, because we’re coming to understand it’s at the heart of a whole raft of problems, including sexual harassment, domestic violence and even suicide. It’s a life and death thing.
READ MORE: Would You Report Sexual Harassment At Work?
Many men are starting to re-evaluate what it means to be a man, as the fire started by #MeToo licks at the heels of the patriarchy. The noise of women asking men to be better people is deafening. It’s an opportunity for men to take part in making a better world. The men who won’t join in, doggedly holding on to the last of their special manly power, are going to be left behind.
It’s just a small thing, and part of a world changing for the better. Perhaps it’s time to put a kiss ban on yourself.