Not long after Mike Pence was sworn in, the Washington Post did a profile of him and included this factoid:
“In 2002, Mike Pence told The Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”
I’m in complete agreement. I follow the same rule. I think any man, particularly any married man, who doesn’t follow that rule is an idiot that deserves whatever comes their way. At the time, there was an outcry about how this penalized women (not entirely unfair) and a lot of laughing at Pence. Today, not so much laughing but the outcry is still there. In fact, the New York Times claims Pence’s rule is un-Christian: A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule. I’ll give you the high points and then look at it critically.
In light of Mr. Weinstein and other members of the Hollywood elite now being exposed for sexual assault, some Christian leaders have advocated that we recover the Pence rule: Vice President Pence has said he doesn’t meet alone with a woman who isn’t his wife. People may accuse him of being prudish and misogynist, but at least he will never be accused of Mr. Weinstein’s sins.
Today, many ministry leaders follow Mr. Graham’s example to avoid “the appearance of evil,” as the New Testament puts it. Indeed, the Bible says a lot about humans’ proclivity to sin. Many Christian men believe it’s better to limit interacting with women altogether than open the door to temptation. As Mr. Graham’s own grandson and other pastors prey on women in Christian circles, there’s a comforting clarity about the rule.
I know many Christians who keep some version of the rule. These men have good motives. Their stated intent — marital fidelity — is noble, and one that I respect. But the Pence rule is inadequate to stop Weinstein-ian behavior. In fact, it might be its sanctified cousin. It’s time for men in power to believe their female peers when they say that the rule hurts more than helps.
The Pence rule arises from a broken view of the sexes: Men are lustful beasts that must be contained, while women are objects of desire that must be hidden away. Offering the Pence rule as a solution to male predation is like saying, “I can’t meet with you one on one, otherwise I might eventually assault you.” If that’s the case, we have far deeper problems around men and power than any personal conduct rule can solve.
Most female Christian leaders I know find the Pence rule frustrating. (All the people I know who keep the rule are men.) Imagine a male boss keeps some variation of the rule but is happy to meet with a male peer over lunch or travel with him for business. The informal and strategic conversations they can have is the stuff of workplace advancement. Unless there are women in senior leadership positions — and in many Christian organizations, there are not — women will never benefit from the kind of advancement available to men.
The answer is not to ask women to leave the room. It’s to hold all men in the room accountable, and kick out those who long ago lost their right to be there.
Up front, I’d like to get an agreement that women are people much like men. I’ve been in women-run organizations for several years and I’ve found women just as capable of lying, cheating, stealing, and backstabbing as any man. Maybe more so because while boys in elementary and middle school are settling their grievances with fists, girls learn to use rumors about other girls. If you think women, as a rule, are ignorant about sexual harassment rules or will hesitate for a nano-second to use the “that makes me feel uncomfortable” statement as a brush-back pitch, I think you need to get out more. The only point here is that if you say “believe women” you are an idiot because women are no more truthful than men.
I was an executive officer of a basic training company the very first year that the Army went to co-ed basic training. The rule we established for drill sergeants was that at no time was a male drill allowed to be in a closed room alone with a female trainee. We also required that all performance counseling of female trainees was required to have one of the female drill sergeants as a witness. The reason here was to protect vulnerable trainees from predators and to protect cadre from baseless allegations that could end a career. There is no doubt this destroyed the dynamic of basic training, where the drill is often father confessor to troubled trainees, and it probably increased the attrition rate among female trainees as they might tell a personal problem to one person but they were not going to tell it to two.
So I agree with the argument that if you, as a supervisor, have lunches, alone, with male subordinates then your female subordinates are at a disadvantage. I don’t think palling around with subordinates is ever a great strategy, but YMMV.
But the idea that this is built on the idea that males are rapists is ridiculous. The moron who wrote the NYT op-ed says that and you don’t have to look all that far to see that it is a common critique by progressives of common sense.
The policy is based upon respect for yourself and respect for your spouse. Your reputation is your most valuable possession
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
’twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.”
In public relations you learn, very early, that P = R, that is, Perception = Reality. What you actually do is less important that what you are perceived to be doing.
In this point, both Catholic theology and Federal ethics regulations come into sync. Catholics are told it isn’t sufficient to avoid sin, you must avoid the occasion, i.e. exposure to the possibility, of sin. So if you are an alcoholic it is not sufficient to avoid drink, you need to avoid places where alcohol is served. As “scandal,” that is behavior that could cause other to do evil, a person in a leadership position has the obligation to avoid situations that could lead to rumors being spread. Federal ethics regs say it isn’t enough to avoid impropriety, you must avoid the appearance of impropriety. Let me give you an example. I was leading a four-man IG investigation team. We arrive at our destination airport with a reservation for a mid-size car. All the mid-size cars are gone but Mister Nice-Clerk says we can get a free upgrade to a Lincoln Town Car. I am not making this story up. Nothing legally wrong with that. We had an approved car reservation and we were offered an upgrade at no cost to Uncle Sugar. But… What do you think would happen the moment we pulled up in front of the target of our investigation and piled out of a Town Car? Appearance of impropriety out the wazoo I’d spend more time defending my car choice than I would on the investigation–and get a letter of reprimand in the process. So we got a compact car.
By having dinner, alone, with a female, not your wife, who is also a subordinate–assuming arguendo that you are not a predator or inclined to an extra marital affair–you create a decision tree with a lot of poisonous branches:
–A jealous or spiteful person starts a rumor you are boffing your dinner partner and this damages your reputation and hers and creates the illusion that the woman is where she is based on merit in places other than the office and neither of you have a way to defend yourself.
–The woman is an amoral climber-over-dead-bodies (yes, they exist in surprising numbers) and says you are sleeping together for perceived advantage.
–The woman has romantic designs, is rebuffed, and complains of being the subject of sexual harassment and you have no way to defend yourself.
–The professional relationship sours and at some point the male is accused of having made sexual advances and you have no way of defending yourself.
–In all of these scenarios your marriage is jeopardized and could become collateral damage or roadkill.
The only benign branch–that is, “nothing bad happens”–is actually the least likely outcome.
Mike Pence’s decision is not un-Christian. It is a wise decision. It is a decision that he will never have reason to regret. His obligation to someone else’s career does not extend to potentially bring disrepute to himself and grief to his wife. To the women who feel their career depends upon one-on-one alone time with a male boss (think about that for second you SJW feminists), pick another strategy. Everyone will be better off in the long run.