The Billy Graham Rule and Self-Preservation

This puff-piece appeared on the Harvard Business Review website by Drs. W. Brad Johnson and David G. Smith, professors of psychology (mind-fucking) and sociology (Socialism) respectively. The article’s primary purpose to shill their new book, “Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women” (HA!), by excoriating who have enough wisdom to avoid putting themselves in compromising positions.

When U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said that he would never have a meal alone with a woman who was not his wife, he was invoking the well-worn “Billy Graham rule”; the evangelical leader has famously urged male leaders to “avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion.” Translation: Men should avoid spending time alone with women to whom they are not married. Graham has been known to avoid not only meals but also car and even elevator rides alone with a woman. The reason? To avoid tarnishing his reputation by either falling prey to sexual temptation or inviting gossip about impropriety.

Billy Graham also avoided handling the money of his ministry for the same reason. And guess what?

IT WORKED.

Have you heard of any scandals involving Billy Graham? Have you heard of Billy Graham doing meth or banging hookers? Have you heard of Billy Graham appropriating any unseemly amounts money from the ministry a la Creflo Dollar?

No, you have not because Billy Graham’s rule is successful.

Think Pence’s quarantine of women is unique? Consider a recent survey by National Journal in which multiple women employed as congressional staffers reported (and male colleagues confirmed) the existence of an implicit policy that only male staffers could spend time one-on-one or at after-hours events with their (male) congressmen. Cut out of key conversations, networking opportunities, professional exposure, and face time with career influencers, female staffers naturally are underrepresented in leadership positions and — not surprisingly — earn about $6,000 less annually than their male peers.

The Billy Graham — and now Mike Pence — rule is wrong on nearly every level. Lauded by some as an act of male chivalry, it is merely a 20th-century American iteration of sex segregation. When women are, in effect, quarantined, banned from solitary meetings with male leaders, including prospective sponsors and career champions, their options for advancement, let alone professional flourishing, shrink. The more that men quarantine women, excluding them from key meetings, after-hours networking events, and one-on-one coaching and mentoring, the more that men alone will be the ones securing C-suite jobs. The preservation of men and the exclusion of women from leadership roles will be perpetuated everywhere that the Billy Graham rule is practiced. Score another one for the old boys’ club.

Chivalry is not the issue. The issue is self-preservation, for your career and your mission. Billy Graham and his associates imposed the rule on themselves to protect the ministry they were building because they understood that they could not build a Christian ministry without the confidence of their parishoners that they were morally upright. And why? Because once a woman puts the mouth on a man, “He touched me/spoke to me/looked at me/paid me/etc.” that shadow hangs over him forever. See Casey Affleck, who can win an Oscar, but the rumor mill still churns up an eight-year old unproven accusation against him.

Let me put it even more plainly: If men do not choose to associate with women professionally, it is because women have become a professional hazard to men.

Whether codified or informal, sex quarantines are rooted in fear. At the heart of it, policies curbing contact between men and women at work serve to perpetuate the notions that women are toxic temptresses, who want to either seduce powerful men or falsely accuse them of sexual harassment. This framing allows men to justify their anxiety about feeling attracted to women at work, and, sometimes, their own sexual boundary violations. It also undermines the perceived validity of claims by women who have been harassed or assaulted. Although thoughtful professional boundaries create the bedrock for trust, collegiality, and the kind of nonsexual intimacy that undergirds the best mentoring relationships, fear-based boundaries are different. By reducing or even eliminating cross-sex social contact, sex segregation prevents the very exposure that reduces anxiety and builds trust.

A claim is not valid that is not supported by evidence or reason. But one has to love how the authors snuck that little attempt at creating an unjustifiable obligation. “A woman you don’t know what done wrong by a man who isn’t you; therefore you are obligated to give women you don’t know access to what you have, despite it being against your interests to do so.”

To build closer, anxiety-free working relationships with members of the opposite sex, thoughtful men will be well-served by having more, not less, interaction with women at work. In a classic series of studies, psychologist Robert Zajonc discovered that repeated exposure to a stimulus (such as a gender group) that previously elicited discomfort and anxiety helped reduce anxiety, and actually increased the probability of fondness and positive interaction. Termed the mere exposure effect in social psychology, the principle has been particularly useful in changing negative attitudes about previously stigmatized groups. Excellent leaders initiate positive developmental and collegial interactions with as many types of people as they can — deliberately, frequently, and transparently.

Can the “mere exposure effect” be applied to “rape” porn or even porn in general? Seems to being working in Japan.

Perhaps the most disingenuous and deceptive quality of the Billy Graham rule and other forms of sex segregation at work may be their superficially honorable and chivalrous nature. This “benevolent sexism” includes evaluations of women that appear subjectively positive but are quite damaging to gender equity. In their pioneering research on the topic, psychologists Peter Glick and Susan Fiske discovered that women often endorse many benevolent forms of sexism (e.g., that women are delicate and require protection, or that sex quarantines at work help preserve women’s reputations), despite the fact that the sexism inhibits real gender equality. This may explain why many women applauded Pence’s stance as evidence of his character and commitment to his marriage. But sexism always diminishes and disadvantages women at work; even benevolent sexist policies, which lack transparent hostility and appear “nice” on the surface, lead to lower rates of pay and promotion, regardless of how many women support them.

As pointed out above, the Billy Graham rule has little to do with “chivalry” and more to do with “CYA” (Cover Your Ass).

Here is something most men fail to consider when invoking sex quarantines at work: What does their unwillingness to be seen alone with a woman say about them and males more generally? When a man refuses to be alone with a female colleague on a car trip or in a restaurant, owing to fear of something untoward happening, we must ask: Dude, do you, or do you not, have a functioning frontal lobe? Sex quarantines reinforce notions that men are barely evolved sex maniacs, scarcely capable of muting, let alone controlling, their evolved neurological radar for fertile mates of the opposite sex. Sex quarantines paint men as impulsive, sexually preoccupied, and unable to refrain from consummating romantic interest or sexual feelings if they occur in cross-sex relationships. The “sex-crazed” male stereotype is often reinforced in the process of male socialization, and there are plenty of men who, at least on some level, fear breaking rank and violating these expectations of male behavior. This is where moral courage comes in. The fact is, many men choose not to fulfill this stereotype; many men have close, mutual, collegial relationships with women and never once violate a relational boundary.

This whole paragraph is a stunning piece of academic shaming language, the trust of which is “we will call you names (sex maniacs, sex-crazed) if you do not give us what we want. But if you show ‘moral courage’ (give us what we want), we will not carry out the threat that we claim you should fear.” This is emotional blackmailing with excess verbiage.

The frontal lobe, as my “dudes” referred to it, is where problem solving takes place. Women accusing men of bad acts is a hazard. The most cost-effective solution to a hazard is to go around it. Some men have chosen to bypass the hazard of a false accusation by bypassing the typical false accuser (a woman).

Simple, logical, and practical.

Of course, the Billy Graham rule and other efforts at quarantining women suffer from a number of logical inconsistencies. For instance, there is the efficacy problem: Rigid efforts to eliminate cross-sex interaction in the workplace have not proven effective. Even in the most conservative religious denominations, nearly one-third of pastors have crossed sexual boundaries with parishioners. Then there is the uncomfortable truth that the Billy Graham rule denies the reality of LGBT people and that sexual and romantic feelings are not limited to cross-sex relationships. The logic of sex quarantine thinking would dictate that a bisexual leader could never meet alone with anyone! Finally, the truth is that sex-excluding policies are rooted in deeply erroneous dichotomous thinking: Either I engage with women at work and risk egregious, career-threatening boundary violations or I avoid all unchaperoned interaction with women.

Sirs, did these pastors accept the Billy Graham rule? Did they practice it? If the answer to one or both of those questions is “no” then they cannot be held as examples of its inefficacy.

Thanks.

So what’s an evolved male leader to do? In the simplest terms, become what we call a thoughtful caveman. Healthy, mature, self-aware men understand and accept their distinctly male neural architecture. If they happen to be heterosexual, this means they own the real potential for cross-sex attraction without catastrophizing this possibility or acting out feelings of attraction, to the detriment of female colleagues. Thoughtful cavemen employ their frontal cortex to ensure prudence and wise judgment in relationships with women and men.

Is “thoughtful caveman” the latest colloquiallism for New Soviet Man New Feminist Man?

Translation: Give females things, don’t ask females for things you want (sex), and don’t worry about females accusing you of things because…why would a woman ever lie about sex?

Here is a final reason why even devoutly Christian men like Mike Pence and Billy Graham should be dubious about isolating and excluding women at work: Jesus himself was known to meet alone with women (e.g., the Samaritan woman at the well). It seems that showing kind hospitality and elevating the dignity of women was more important than any threat of gossip.

That’s funny.

The Samaritan woman attempted to trickle-truth Jesus (lie by omission). It is only after Jesus calls her out on her bullshit (You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.) that she SUBMITS to his authority as a Rabbi and as the Messiah.

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