When I was in the women’s movement in the 1960s and 1970s, one of the things that feminists were doing was learning how to compete in a public world that had rules set by men. One of the traditions that we focused on was handshaking: when do you do it, for how long, and how hard? Even today, not everyone is sure—as shown by this article from nurse consultant Donna Cardillo on the importance of nurses learning the etiquette around handshaking.
When I first read Cardillo’s piece, I wrote to her that—given the concern about emerging infections and pandemics that can be spread through touch—perhaps nurses simply shouldn’t shake hands. I wonder: has the time come to do as the Japanese do, and bow instead of shaking hands? When I have a cold, I refuse to shake hands and find that most people appreciate this caution. Swine flu can easily be spread through handshaking. While we can’t stop all other forms of transmission, we can mount a campaign to end handshaking now. I might not pass swine flu to you today with my handshake, but I’m sure I’ll pass something else to you—and maybe already have.