November 17, 2017

NY Times Op-Ed: ‘The Pence Rule’ Is a False Solution to ‘Male Predation’

On Wednesday, Katelyn Beaty, described as “an editor at large for Christianity Today and the author of ‘A Woman’s Place,’” tried to make “A Christian Case Against the ‘Pence Rule.’”  In the process, she smeared the rule, and the Vice President, as being in place primarily to avoid “male predation.”

Give Beaty points for nerve; given the news in recent weeks, “the Pence rule” is looking pretty smart these days.

The press ridiculed Vice President Mike Pence in late March when a Washington Post reporter found a 2002 story at The Hill where Pence said, in Post reporter Ashley Parker’s words, that “he never dines with women alone, nor does he attend functions without his wife if alcohol is being served.”

Though that discovery sparked a firestorm of criticism in the establishment press and on social media, a Morning Consult poll conducted three months later for the New York Times found that “Nearly two-thirds (of respondents) say people should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work,” and that “A majority of women, and nearly half of men, say it’s unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse.”

Imagine that. When the Times published its poll, Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist asked, “How out of touch are newsrooms that they thought this position was Sharia-like, as opposed to what it turns out to be: completely normal?”

So the Times apparently left it to Katelyn Beaty to go after Pence from a supposedly Christian perspective. In the process, she smeared the Vice President by effectively contending that the Pence rule is in place primarily to prevent him and others who follow it from assaulting women.

At least she noticed that Pence isn’t the rule’s originator:

A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule

The Pence rule or some variation of it is common, though not universal, among evangelicals, but it’s often known as the Billy Graham rule. Early in Mr. Graham’s ministry, he and his team signed the “Modesto Manifesto.” They agreed not to eat, travel or meet alone with any women who weren’t their wives. Mr. Graham ended his decades-long public ministry with nary a scandal …

Today, many ministry leaders follow Mr. Graham’s example to avoid “the appearance of evil,” as the New Testament puts it. Indeed, the Bible says a lot about humans’ proclivity to sin. Many Christian men believe it’s better to limit interacting with women altogether than open the door to temptation …

… 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.

The argument is that the Pence rule holds back female career advancement, which is apparently just as harmful as “Weinstein-ian behavior.” But to make that point, she assumed facts not in evidence:

The Pence rule arises from a broken view of the sexes: Men are lustful beasts that must be contained, while women are objects of desire that must be hidden away. Offering the Pence rule as a solution to male predation is like saying, “I can’t meet with you one on one, otherwise I might eventually assault you.” If that’s the case, we have far deeper problems around men and power than any personal conduct rule can solve.

Unfortunately for Beaty, despite the headlines and scandals exposed in recent weeks, the Pence rule is not primarily about “male predation,” but rather about avoiding the temptation to engage in marriage vow-breaking and/or career-threatening consensual sexual activity. Beaty is saying that Pence and others who follow the rule don’t trust themselves to be alone with another woman because they’re afraid they’ll commit assault — and yes, that’s a smear.

Beaty’s complaint about the Pence rule’s effect on women’s careers has some resonance, but she’s looking in the wrong place to assign blame:

… Imagine a male boss keeps some variation of the rule but is happy to meet with a male peer over lunch or travel with him for business. The informal and strategic conversations they can have is the stuff of workplace advancement. Unless there are women in senior leadership positions — and in many Christian organizations, there are not — women will never benefit from the kind of advancement available to men.

Beaty completely ignored one other key reason why men follow the Pence rule — and why women should consider doing the same in deciding whether or not to meet alone with men who are not their spouses.

While she mentioned the desire to avoid the appearance of impropriety, she failed to bring up the matter of career and personal self-defense.

For all the apparently true charges of sexual harassment we’ve seen make the news in the past several weeks, there are some which are likely false. As Erick Erickson noted in words Beaty quoted early in her op-ed, the press “will never run stories about Mike Pence sexually harassing women” — true or false — or anyone else who follows the Pence rule.

In today’s toxic legal and social environment, many men who know that they will never give in to temptation still follow the Pence rule. They have quite rationally decided that protecting themselves against career killers ranging from whisper campaigns by disgruntled coworkers to bogus sexual harassment lawsuits is more important than closing the office or conference room door when having a one-on-one meeting with a woman — especially a subordinate. They can hardly be blamed for adopting a self-defensive posture.

Yes, this posture has some potentially unfortunate side-effects for women’s careers, but that’s not men’s fault. Because it’s not their fault, Beaty’s attempt to use the Times platform she was given to guilt-shame all men with a disingenuous appeal to Christianity rings very hollow, especially given that paper’s deep-seated hostility to Judeo-Christian faiths and their followers.

Cross-posted, with possible revisions, at NewsBusters.org.

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2 Comments

  1. That’s some very conjectural and hypothetical nonsense coming from her about female career advancement being stopped by the Pence Rule. She assumes advancement has come from people having lunch and going on business trips together without any evidence. How do we know that the opposite is not true too, that some lunches and business trips have resulted in an employee getting fired or demoted? And does she really think people can’t figure out ways to get together one on one without having to be totally alone? And how does she know Christian groups don’t have many women at senior positions? There are a lot of Christian groups out there with woman at the head of them, such as the Susan B. Anthony List. Also, the Family Research Council has plenty of women in top positions.

    Comment by zf — November 17, 2017 @ 5:17 pm

  2. Very good points, though I would argue that from the standpoint of mentoring and counseling, she may have some valid concerns in some instances.

    Comment by Tom — November 17, 2017 @ 5:52 pm

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