Monday, 27 February 2017

Strong arm tactics

Picture: Global News 
When the 45th President of the United States grabbed Prime Minister Theresa May (by the hand)) on her visit to the White House in January, there was an outcry. There was consternation over the 19 seconds that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was locked into a Trump handshake – challenging for someone from a culture where physical contact is rarely displayed in public.  Then all eyes were on Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he skillfully survived the by now notorious POTUS drag and pull.

So in this new world of the handshake that can turn into a relentless clinch, I wonder if it is time to review my own meeting and greeting protocol, developed after years of being the only woman in business meetings and boardrooms in the UK and abroad.

Quite simply, before six pm I greet colleagues and clients by extending my arm for a handshake. This means that meetings start on a businesslike and equitable footing for all. My male colleagues know what to do, those whom I have only just met do not feel they have been excluded. We all know where we stand - and we can get on with the business of business. After six pm cheek kissing is an acceptable greeting with those whom I know well.

Picture: Daily Mail
I shared this Six O’Clock Rule in my blog Meeting and greeting back in 2008, when the growing number of top women in government created a surge of male politicians awkwardly planting kisses under the merciless eyes of the world’s media. It all seemed to start when President Bush congratulated Condoleeza Rice on her appointment as Secretary of State with a kiss on both cheeks. Two days later, he congratulated new education secretary Margaret Spelling with a kiss, but this time full on the lips. Even Gordon Brown succumbed, kissing Carla Bruni when she visited with her husband, French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Last year, Nigel Farage exuberantly tried to kiss a clearly horrified Diane James at the UKIP annual conference.

However it would seem that an outstretched arm to forestall lip contact is not sufficient to avoid invasion of personal space. Psychologists and body language specialists rushed to analyse the Trump handshake, and the way in which Justin Trudeau dealt with it. According to GQ magazine, he braced against the pull by firmly latching his left hand on the President’s right shoulder. An enthusiastic fist punch could also be effective, as it is well nigh impossible to turn it into a handshake. Both these options are offensive rather than defensive, and rather tricky to deliver with the right degree of firm yet feminine panache. Perhaps that classic remark ‘Unhand me, sir,’  delivered in clear ringing tones with a disarming smile might be worth a try.

Illustration: CS Reinhardt in Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens

But on a more serious note, whilst women in the west don pink knitted pussy hats to march and to speak openly on how to become more visible and audible in the world of politics and business, other women have greater challenges. Every week, a handful of young Hazari women gather in the rugged mountains near Kabul, regardless of the weather, to practise the ancient Chinese martial art of wushu. Despite the Afghan ban on female participation in sport, their 20 year old trainer Sima Azimi is determined that her team of nine students will eventually be able to represent their country in international tournaments. Just as importantly, she wants to help women to be able to defend themselves against the abuse and harassment that is part of life in war torn Afghanistan. These determined young women in pink silk combat trousers look more than capable of holding their own in an arm wrestle. 

Picture: AFP 

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