Hopefully I can get this done without political tribalism rearing its ugly head.
For those unfamiliar with the situation, here’s the rundown:
Current Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, gave an interview to the Hill in 2002 in which he stated that he does not dine alone with any woman other than his wife and he doesn’t attend parties where alcohol is served without his wife present. The interview was resurrected last week when the Washington Post did a profile of his wife, Karen Pence. His reasoning was:
It’s about building a zone around your marriage.
“I don’t think it’s a predatory town (Washington D.C.), but I think you can inadvertently send the wrong message by being in [certain] situations.
”I’ve seen friends lose their families. I’d rather lose an election.”
What outdated, Patriarchal thinking, respecting one’s spouse and protecting one’s own reputation from the poisoned tongues of gossips and scandalmongers. What a jerk this guy is.
And my God, the deafening sound of cracking as Feminists collectively shit a brick into the toilet across America.
But, especially in boozy, late-working Washington, the eating thing rankled. Sure, during the day, you can grab coffee instead of a sandwich. But no dinner? Doesn’t that cut an entire gender off from a very powerful person at roughly 8 p.m? To career-obsessed Washingtonians, that’s practically happy hour—which, apparently, is off-limits too.
And that’s too bad, because according to the Harvard study and some others, women prefer male sponsors, perceiving them to be better-connected and more powerful. And they’re right: According to some analyses, men hold more than 85 percent of top management positions in big companies.
At its core, Pence’s self-imposed ban is rape culture.
Nor is that a label I assign lightly. “Rape culture” is a phrase so overused it’s become almost meaningless, like calling someone a Nazi on the internet. But it has a very clear meaning: the notion, whether conscious or unconscious, that men can’t control themselves around women because “boys will be boys.”
The explicit reasons for Pence’s restriction are religion and family, but the implicit reason is that he must avoid alone-time with women lest his stringent religious moral code fall apart in the presence of a little lipstick and décolletage.
That is rape culture.
I’m sure Pence would say that he’s just being careful. But I wonder if he realizes the discriminatory consequences of his rule. Over his career, he has had many colleagues and employees. With the men, he can have complex relationships that traverse work and social contexts, build trust, and eventually help their careers. A woman who hoped Pence would be a mentor to her, on the other hand, wouldn’t be able to avail herself of those opportunities, since he can’t even have lunch with her.
When co-workers meet with each other alone in any professional context, whether they are eating a meal or not, they have a chance to forge a professional bond that could stay with them for their rest of their careers. It is particularly important that people have the opportunity to meet with their supervisors and foster a relationship of open communication and mutual respect. Some industries have cultures where dining out during or after work with colleagues is very common. Women are at a disadvantage if they are shut out from that culture, whether they aren’t invited to one-on-one dinners as their male colleagues are, or aren’t welcome at group events because men think a woman’s presence would dampen the festivities.
While Republicans swoon over Pence’s supposed old-school propriety, the rest of us were simply reminded that you don’t need to brag about “grabbing pussies” to be a misogynist.
Never mind what it means for the (very few) women who work in the White House, who apparently can’t count on business dinners or mentorship over a meal. The underlying message of a rule like Pence’s is the same one that’s taught to teens in abstinence-only education classes: men can’t control themselves when alone with women.
It’s an insulting view of men, a limiting role for women—we’re there to either entice or domesticate—and an archaic take on gender roles more generally.
The universal objection that cuts across all of these complaints is that a man (Mike Pence) has a resource (power/status/connections) that he is not freely making available to women in general. Accordingly, he has no right to give or withhold his time from women; he has no right to associate or dissociate from anyone he chooses. He is not acting as a resource for women, he is not putting himself or his career at hazard for women, so to Feminists, he must be shamed and scolded into compliance.
The same people criticizing Pence vigorously handwave concerns about false accusations, declaring the number to be so small as to be unworthy of concern (in the absence of evidence). They ignore that for any number to exist, someone, some man, has to have been the victim of a false accusation. Like the game of Russian Roulette, eventually, someone has to be that 16 2/3%. For the loser, there is no comfort that he lost, no matter how statistically insignificant the odds.
And for those men who actually do dip their pens in the company ink, for those who actually do engage in impropriety, never expect a woman to hold water. This goes to the related question of why these powerful, connected, high-status men, are reluctant to take these power-hungry, career-minded women into their confidences: No matter how personally or professionally close a man is with a woman, she will, under the right circumstances, betray a man’s secrets. Bill Clinton was torpedoed by gossiping by Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp. Anthony Weiner had his business put out by Sydney Leathers. John Edwards political career was ended by Rielle Hunter. Eliot Spitzer was brought down by Ashley Dupre.
And all of these women, once the scandal train started, feverishly shoveled coal into the engine’s fire. Interviews were given. Tell-all books written. Once their 15 minutes of fame were upon them, they embraced it as eagerly as the men whose ruin they facilitated.
Notice that Mike Pence has not refused to “mentor” women. He has not refused to associate women. He has not refused to promote women. He has done what any reasonable man ought to do: he made sure that his interests were protected first before he advanced anyone else’s. To his Feminist critics, a man protecting his principles, the sanctity of his marriage, and his professional reputation before advancing the cause of WOMEN IN THE BOARDROOM is not only unacceptable…IT’S RAPE CULTURE.