Vice President Pence’s “never dine alone with a woman” rule isn’t honorable. It’s probably illegal.

In a recently unearthed 2002 interview, Vice President Michael Pence says he doesn’t eat alone with a woman or attend an event where alcohol is being served unless his wife is present. “It’s not clear whether Pence still adheres to this practice, but there are men who do,” writes Johanna L. Grossman at Vox.

As the Atlantic observes, such arrangements_ _are especially common within marriages between religious conservatives of various stripes. (It need not be only men who follow such strictures, but the emphasis is often on male temptation.) On Capitol Hill, where long days and late nights away from the family are part of the job, some Congressmen will not travel alone in a car with a female staffer, the National Journal has reported. Some politicians set gender-neutral rules that have a side effect of keeping them from being alone with women — such as excluding any staff from the office before 7 am or after 7 pm — but others clearly apply special rules to women.

… the practice described by Pence in that 2002 interview is clearly illegal when practiced by a boss in an employment setting, and deeply damaging to women’s employment opportunities….

Pence’s defenders said he was merely acting prudently, and expressed amazement at the all the fuss. Yet we know that women pay a heavy price for behavior that either resembles his or falls on the same continuum. We know this from anecdotal reports and surveys of women who report exclusion from travel, events, or one-on-one meetings with male bosses; from cases in which men have fired female subordinates to assuage jealous wives; and from decades of employment-discrimination litigation in which we get a picture of the everyday ways in which workplaces remain unequal for women.

There was a case of an Iowa dentist who sexually harassed his dental hygienist and then when his wife complained that the hygienist was too attractive, the dentist fired the hygienist. “The hygienist didn’t reciprocate with sexual innuendo, did not engage in a romantic or sexual relationship with the dentist, and put on a lab coat whenever he complained her clothing was ‘distracting.'” Even worse, when the hygienist sued, the court ruled in favor of the dentist.

We have a president who brags about grabbing women by the pussy — and a vice president who won’t even have dinner with them. These are two sides of the same coin, both reflecting the fundamentally unequal sphere working women inhabit because of male behavior.

As for myself: I’m a frequent business traveler. When I’m on the road, I usually dine alone or in groups of more than two people, but I also have one-on-one dinners with colleagues, sometimes men and sometimes women. Sometimes I find the women attractive. Perhaps sometimes they reciprocate, because I am not completely ghastly, at least on good days. In those cases, we just deal, and don’t do anything about it. It’s part of being a grownup.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.