The Mike Pence Rule: What Did You Expect?

mike-penceThe Huffington Post has a new article entitled Mike Pence’s Rule Is Not A Solution to Sexual Assault. People still aren’t understanding that rules like the Mike Pence Rule are not solutions to sexual assault, they are reactions to false allegations.

Treating women as a potential liability punishes us for the transgressions of men, putting a professional handicap on those impacted.

Treating all men as transgressors creates the potential for punishment of those who are not at fault.

The #MeToo movement has illuminated the scope of sexual harassment and assault, while touching on intersectional issues like the economics of power and consent, less-acknowledged patterns of male sexual abuse, and the racial blindness of white feminism (ahem, Lena Dunham).

And the fact that sexual assault is being conflated with “intersectional issues” is a huge problem with the #MeToo movement. The movement is being turned into a weapon by feminists and their allies, and this hurts its credibility, and in doing so, makes it less likely to make a difference for actual victims of assault.

In response to the #MeToo movement, some men have begun promoting the “Mike Pence Rule” as the answer. In short, the Pence rule is the refusal to walk, talk, sit or eat alone with female colleagues. This strategy is unfortunately not unique: a 2015 study suggests many men in positions of power avoid being alone with women, with some refusing to drive alone with females and others who won’t take one-on-one or closed-door meetings with a woman.

And this is a very sensible response to the risk of having one’s career destroyed by unfounded allegations.

Though the policy is potentially illegal on grounds of discrimination, men defend it as a practical strategy to avoid giving any “wrong impressions” of sexual interest.

Attacking men who try to protect themselves will merely promote a stronger defensive response.

Practical for those in positions of power, perhaps, but deeply damaging to women working in the same field. The premium on men renders junior male colleagues far less complicated mentees than their female counterparts, rewarded with infinitely more opportunities to get ahead.

Alternately, measures could be taken to insure that men aren’t put at risk of losing their career due to allegations unless there is evidence that the allegations are true.

Somehow, despite one in three women having been sexually harassed in the workplace, it is us who have been identified as the risk. Treating women as a potential liability punishes us for the transgressions of men, putting a professional handicap on those impacted rather than on those causing the problem.

Somehow, the fact that you are quoting a survey as evidence that one in three women has been sexually harassed makes me think you are a risk. If you don’t want to be treated as a risk, don’t make arguments from hearsay.

Of course, some men have truly good intentions in using the rule. Pence himself says it’s driven by faith and respect for his wife, while others argue the strategy is equally beneficial for the reputations and careers of women.

Those who are using the rule merely to mitigate risk to themselves are doing so with good intentions too: the protection of themselves and those they provide for. Everyone has the right to defend themselves from slander.

And indeed some women may welcome the Pence rule: one survey found that junior women often avoid senior men in order to prevent any damaging rumors or misconceptions. But this is arguably evidence of how women are forced to limit themselves in adapting to the workplace as it is, a practical defense mechanism to existing workplace cultures rather than an autonomous, value-based choice.

I agree. The Pence rule is a practical defense mechanism.

We should focus on normalizing professional male-female relationships, not perpetuating misogynistic norms.

Perhaps step one should be making sure to stop claiming that misogyny is the norm.

In fact, the defense of the Pence rule as an attempt to “avoid rumors” is part of the problem. Casey Quinlan, writing in ThinkProgress, states, “What starts tongues wagging is not the actual fact of a man and a woman sitting alone together. It is the perpetuation of heterosexist assumptions about how men and women must interact.”

Bullshit. Unfounded allegations are not rumors, and they are potentially career destroying.

It would make far more sense for men to sanction other men, especially those like Weinstein, who Hollywood continued to work with despite widespread knowledge of his behaviour. Perpetrators in various industries have been enabled by those who make no issue of allegations. Having a reputation for violence against women apparently hasn’t been much of a professional hindrance, but it should be.

What a man does to protect himself has no relation to what a man does to other men. Conflating the two is nonsensical.

Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro recently called for a return to traditional gender roles and strict norms governing male-female interaction, arguing that men “left unchecked” will naturally treat women as sex objects.

Having watched Ben Shapiro’s videos on this subject, I can tell you that the claim that he said that “men left unchecked will naturally treat women as sex objects” is complete horse shit. Take a look at the linked article: while he points out that the checks and balances of Christian morality were useful because not all men could avoid sinful behavior, he does not generalize this, as claimed. He talks about the great respect women who work for The Daily Wire receive. As to the claim that he wants a wholesale return to traditional gender roles, he is very proud of the fact that his wife is a doctor.

Similarly, radio host Joe Walsh claimed Pence’s rule of “always having a witness” around women is simply an honest response to human nature.

And he says, “A woman shouldn’t have to worry about being harassed. A man shouldn’t have to worry about being falsely accused.” He’s speaking about the minority of men who harass women and the minority of women who falsely accuse men. These actions are parts of human nature, though they are acted on by small minorities. To deny that fact is foolish.

Shapiro’s suggestion that traditional gender roles prevent rape and sexual harassment is seriously misguided: on the contrary, in previous generations sexual assault was normalized both at home and at work in part by its lack of recognition under the law. For example, raping your own wife was not criminalized until the 1980s. (Shapiro also says that encouraging marriage prior to sexual activity provides “objective evidence for positive consent,” seeming to forget about marital rape.)

Yes, Shapiro is a traditional conservative. However, suggesting that sexual assault was normalized by previous generations is insane. Marital rape wasn’t criminalized because it was never thought of as a problem. It’s a sad fact that it now is.

As to “human nature,” men should wholeheartedly reject such a boys will be boys argument. It’s an insult to the majority of men to suggest they’re incapable of being alone with women without falling prey to “human nature” in the form of serious sexual assault. Let’s not portray the actions of men like Weinstein or Bill Cosby as somehow natural-but-misjudged bouts of attraction and desire, as if drugging and threatening women is a natural progression on the scale of flirtation and lust.

No one but you suggested that this applied to all men.

Sexual assault is not a product of human nature, but rather its perversion. Far beyond the parameters of normal sexual behaviors, sexual assault is a sick, exploitative and predatory abuse of power.

Sexual desire is part of human nature. It’s expression by force is immoral, as is the expression of greed in theft. (Some) people do things that are immoral.

In the United States, women currently make up only 6 per cent of CEOs, 22 per cent of legal partners, 6 per cent of partners in venture capital firms and 20 per cent of executives or senior-level management in tech industries.

How is this relevant to the issue being discussed? Bringing this fact up makes men suspicious that false accusations are being used by (some) women to take what they want by driving men out.

The responsibility to shift the status quo falls on men, our allies, to use their positions of power productively, and to challenge norms by treating male-female relationships in the workplace as commonplace and professional, not problematic. The Pence rule only reinforces the system. The #MeToo movement is an opportunity to change it.

I have no responsibility to shift the status quo. I am responsible for my own actions. Like most men, I have always treated male-female relationships professionally, and I find any claim to the contrary offensive. It is up to women to uphold men’s right to be safe from fear of false accusations. Until then, expect men to withdraw behind the Pence rule and other such measures. If women don’t respect men, why should they expect men to respect them? Sadly, this article shows exactly how the #MeToo opportunity is being wasted.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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6 Responses to The Mike Pence Rule: What Did You Expect?

  1. Lisa McConachie says:

    Are you suggesting marital rape is not a problem?

    • jimbelton says:

      Not at all. I would say that for millennia, it was considered acceptable. More recently, there was a brief period of time, the one which many traditional conservatives dream of returning to, where many people believed it wasn’t a real problem. Now, we have our rose tinted glasses off. I’m not saying we should put them back on. I don’t think we can go back to ignorance, barring the collapse of western civilization. My sadness that marital rape is a thing, not that it is now being recognized and was once being ignored.

  2. Lisa McConachie says:

    You’re not a king on a hilltop, nor a beast in a labyrinth. Isolation isn’t always best. Connection breeds empathy. Empathy allows growth.

    you’re just wrong Jim.

    • jimbelton says:

      I wouldn’t disagree with your first paragraph. For most of us, it’s these kinds of connections that will be (to some degree) constrained. There are those who will take isolation to a more extreme level. If you don’t think that some people will react to events, you don’t understand human nature. For example, as I mentioned in a previous post, my company cancelled its Christmas party years ago.

  3. David says:

    #metoo has created an environment where any woman who wants a man out of her way or who wants a payout from a company can get alone with that man behind closed doors and destroy him. The reply that “men should just not harass women” is bullshit. This is not about stopping sex assault or harassment, nor is it about being fair to women. It’s about protecting your own ass, and the Pence Rule is a good start. Not working in a business with women is another good choice- be an entrepreneur and record all interactions or keep women at the other end of a phone/public spaces.

    • jimbelton says:

      Personally, I think that false allegations are a small minority, just as assault is. The problem is, one bad apple spoils the barrel. Now we see that senior men are 3 times less likely to mentor more junior women, and 5 times less likely to travel with them. So far, the response has been to appeal to men to “man up” and mentor women. This is no response at all to the reason for these inequities. I’m not suggesting I have the answers, but I think these negative outcomes are natural, and are likely to continue unless something changes.

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