There was a story that came out a few days ago about Vice President Mike Pence and that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife. Apparently the Twittersphere blew up on both sides over this (of course, there is an aspect of redundancy in that, as blowing up is apparently what Twitter is about these days). The Right extols the practice, while the Left ridicules it. And I end up with mixed emotions, but with a sense of unease that bothers me.
On one hand, I think there are times for this sort of approach to life. In particular Rev. Billy Graham has lived by this rule for his entire ministry. In his case, it makes sense. So many are willing to cast aspersions at even the smallest issue or sense of hypocrisy that avoiding even the opportunity for someone to create even the appearance of an issue seems appropriate. For the job he has, and the way ministry works, this seems right.
The article in the Post that has raised this whole issue is a bit odd. The sentence that started this is standalone, not part of a paragraph, and not directly related to either of the two sentences around it. Simply, “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.” The reasoning is that this builds a zone around the marriage.
It leaves a big question though: how does he interact at non-dinner events with a woman? If that answer is out there, I haven’t seen it. And it’s important because if it is dinner events only, it’s much ado about nothing. If it is all types of meetings, it becomes a concern. If he doesn’t meet with a woman or women without someone else around, what he has done is relegated them to a secondary status in the political machine. Much political work is done in private discussions with senior staffers,chiefs of staff, private staff, etc. If a woman in those roles can’t meet with the politician, then she effectively can’t be in those roles in his office or in anyone else’s office that needs to meet with him. And that seems unduly restrictive. And totally patriarchal.
I think what has caused my sense of disquiet has been the reaction of the (religious) right (of which I know many) saying that this situation is as it should be. It bothers me because it conveys a sense of impropriety/danger/problem inherent in individual male-female interactions. It has to be a pair reaction or it’s the appearance of something untoward. It makes it seem as though neither gender can be safe around the other. I ‘get’ that people do wander, stray, cheat, etc. But not everyone, not even most. I have married female friends at work that I talk to one-on-one regularly. At least one of them was a major reason I survived a nervous breakdown 7 years ago (thank you L1!). I value and seek female perspective, especially in a male-dominated work world.
If he wants to value his marriage, great and good. But don’t do so at the expense of others. Take a position where there isn’t the impact on women that comes from politics. Take a position where you don’t limit the role and value of women. Excluding half of the population because they have X not Y seems like bad solution.The world has enough problems; it would be nice if we could bring all our combined resources to deal with them.