The liberal media has been all a-twitter this week at the news that Vice President Mike Pence will not dine alone with a woman except for his wife. The same outlets that were happy to look the other way when President Clinton got up-close-and-personal with a young White House intern in the Oval Office are now screaming, “Unfair!” at the revelation that Mike Pence loves and respects his wife so much that he wants to safeguard his marriage, avoiding temptation and scandal by imposing a rule restricting his relationships with women. He employs what has come to be called the “Billy Graham Rule” — refusing to have lunch or dinner alone with a woman other than Karen Pence.
Jia Tolentino, writing in the New Yorker, worried that such conservative practices would keep women from power. She said,
“But it’s one thing to avoid a particular situation involving a particular woman who makes you feel a certain way; it’s another entirely to avoid all women as a group and as a rule because of the abstract possibility of sexual temptation.”
If women are framed as temptresses, Tolentino believes, their only power is sex.
Glennon Doyle Melton expresses the same viewpoint in Time magazine. Doyle Melton — who describes herself as “a Christian, a feminist, and a woman currently planning my wedding to another woman” — believes that Mike Pence’s marriage rule holds women back. “If it feels,” she writes,
“…like we are going back in time, perhaps it’s because rules like Pence’s invite us back to 18th century political ideology — and one of the oldest tricks in the patriarchal playbook — of separate spheres. Separate spheres based on purported natural makeup and the will of God, that a man’s place is in the public sphere (politics, commerce, the economy and law) while a woman’s God-ordained role is in the private sphere (housekeeping, child-rearing and domestic duties). This ideology historically justified women’s legal status as dependents until marriage, and stripped women of their legal existence — economic and property rights — after marriage.”
ARE THESE WRITERS CORRECT, that Pence’s protective attitude toward his marriage somehow impedes women’s ability to exert influence on and command respect in the world of business like their male counterparts?
That might be true, if the only way to get things done in the world was to engage in private tête-à-têtes. But there’s more than one way to accomplish a goal; and Mike Pence can work effectively employing a repertoire of formal business meetings, telephone conversations, office meetings with the door open, and private dinners for three or four persons.
My Personal Experience in a Culture of Adultery and Deceit
Amidst the flurry of commentary about male-female relationships in the workplace, I couldn’t help but remember my own experience years ago, as a young female employee at a Detroit-area nonprofit association. (The organization shall remain nameless because I don’t want to expose others to undue criticism, and because my former employer could be any of hundreds of similar nonprofit and for-profit organizations in Michigan, where I worked, or across the nation.)
I was hired as an executive secretary; but my boss believed I could bring my talent to bear in another role, and I was eventually promoted to a mid-range staff position. I now had my own office, and I was now included with five or six other staff members who traveled to an annual corporate conference.
My first business trip was to New York City, and as a young 20-something, I felt unprepared to take advantage of the opportunity I’d been given. I felt shy and inept; but besides my reticence at the dinner meeting, there was something else: To my shock and dismay, I learned that most of my co-workers, the “happily married” men and women with whom I’d shared coffee and donuts and laughter back in the office, whose family portraits smiled at me from their credenzas, had “girlfriends” or “boyfriends” out in the world. Traveling on business without their spouses, they slipped easily into sexual relationships with convenient partners from other states.
It seemed I was the last to know that this was part of the corporate culture. When I passed one department head I knew standing in the hotel hallway with a bottle of wine, knocking on the door of an attractive woman from Pennsylvania, he seemed unapologetic at having been caught on the threshold of adultery.
A Climate of Professional Excellence in Mike Pence’s Office
Mary Vought worked for Mike Pence when he served in Congress; and she insists that Pence’s personal decision to not dine alone with female staffers was never a hindrance to her ability to do her job well, and never kept her from reaping the rewards of her work. “In fact,” she wrote in the New York Post,
“…I excelled at my job because of the work environment created from the top down, and my personal determination to succeed.
I engaged in senior staff meetings and strategy sessions side by side with the congressman and my colleagues, and I never felt sidelined because of my gender. My proposals and suggestions were always valued as equal with those of my male counterparts.
As time went on, I was able to prove that I could handle increased responsibilities, and so more responsibilities were provided to me. My gender never factored into how my work was evaluated, or whether my responsibilities were expanded. In fact, the congressman would sometimes send me to GOP leadership communication meetings to represent his voice — and more often than not, I was the only woman in the room.
My work product determined my success — not private dinners with the congressman. When looking back on my time in the office of the man who is now vice president, I don’t consider it to be a period of missed opportunities.
The fact of the matter is, it’s not as though then-Congressman Pence was out having private dinners with male staffers and I was excluded. He wasn’t having private dinners much at all.”
Washington, according to Vought, will swallow your soul if you let it. It’s a place where many moral compasses go to die.
In the years since my experience at that New York conference, I’ve built my own career inside a protective Catholic bubble and have been blissfully unaware of the sexual proclivities of the secular world. Still, I have no reason to doubt that by now, infidelity has become even more common in the workplace.
That Mike Pence chooses to live by a higher standard — to protect his marriage and his reputation by conducting business in an open environment — is to be commended, not condemned.
Image: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons