When it comes to the steps he takes to safeguard his marriage, Vice President Mike Pence can’t get a break. Not even after the recent flood of revelations about indecent behavior on the part of power players in Hollywood and Washington, D.C.
In March, the Washington Post ran a profile of Pence’s wife, Karen, which recalled how Pence in 2002 told The Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and won’t attend events with alcohol if she’s not with him. Both Pence and his wife are evangelical Christians. The Washington Post piece prompted a backlash, even among some evangelicals, who said Pence’s approach goes too far and insults women.
Many conservatives are saying news stories this fall about entertainment figures and politicians behaving badly proves the wisdom of Pence’s rule. But not Katelyn Beaty, a Christianity Today editor who took Pence to task in an op-ed for the New York Times last week titled “A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule.” Beaty wrote:
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.
Last year, a ministry leader in the Chicago suburbs asked if I would join his organization’s board. I agreed to meet him at a popular breakfast spot to learn more. Upon arriving, I scanned the crowd to find the man who matched the website photo – and another man was sitting next to him.
Immediately, I knew what was going on. Both men were warm and complimentary. We share the same faith and read the same Bible. But a decade into my career, I’ve rarely had a more alienating meeting. I was made acutely aware that my existence as a woman was a problem that needed to be managed in a public setting. I did not join the board.
National Review writer and Middle Tennessee resident David French took issue with Beaty’s critique, writing that guidelines like those Pence follows are a longtime practice among Christian leaders and appreciated by some women who don’t want to dine alone with male bosses. Moreover, some women in leadership positions follow similar guidelines when interacting with men, French said, characterizing such guidelines as being realistic about human nature. He wrote:
First, when men and women are alone — especially at night, especially with drinks — there is a far greater chance of mutual or one-sided attraction (not assault) than when they’re in groups or in professional settings. Even if they don’t intend the attraction. Even if they’re happily married. If you doubt this reality then, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Spend any time in professional settings, and you’ll understand that workplace attraction happens, and when it happens it tends to happen not in the midst of conference calls but rather in those settings that get far more personal and less professional.
Second, variations of the Pence rule protect both sides from reputational harm. It’s a simple fact that observing a married man alone at dinner with a woman other than his wife can start tongues wagging, and it’s also a fact that leaders of Christian ministries have often had to take extreme measures to protect against intentional sabotage of their reputations. I know leaders who never travel alone in part because of actual past hostile attempts to place them in compromising positions (with photographic evidence). If we should understand anything in 2017 it’s that our politics is vicious and poisonous. The more high-profile you become, the more careful you should be.
Third, surprise, surprise but there are actual predators out there, and women who operate under some version of the Pence rule gain an additional layer of protection. Moreover, corporate implementation of the rule is like a flashing sign that says, “This workplace aims to be safe and professional.”
Others have also continued to stand by Pence, including Brit Hume of Fox News, who last week tweeted, “Mike Pence’s policy of avoiding being alone with women other than his wife looking better every day, though widely mocked when it first became known.”
But progressives are digging in their heels in attacking Pence. A writer for the website ThinkProgress said the Pence rule furthers “heterosexist assumptions about how men and women must interact and the misogynistic idea that men cannot be interested in the friendship, intellect, or skills of women.”