While some might wonder why I write so much about life between the sexes, you have to admit that when your culture is a teeny kayak on the swirling lip of a huge sexual maelstrom, it is hard not to. Not only does a new scandal break every day or so, but in response to each new scandal, armies of people then write enormous volumes of nonsense about it. It is like living in the El Dorado of material suitable for satire.
And so shortly before the Al Franken news broke, The New York Times published a piece by an editor named Katelyn Beaty, an editor for Christianity Today. In the course of her piece, she said this:
“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.”
Let us approach this two ways. The first is to lean in to Beaty’s simplistic reduction, and point out that even on her own terms, the Pence rule is starting to appear more and more sensible. What has it been about the behavior of powerful and well-situated males over, say, the last month, that has given Beaty the urge to give gents such a strong vote of confidence? Furthermore, how many women who go to college today will be sexually assaulted over the course of their four years? What statistic is the received wisdom? Twenty-five percent? If you believe that statistic, then stop yapping about the Pence Rule. Embrace the Pence Rule—for the same reason that airlines have you buckle up. Just simple risk management, right?
If we actually do live in a rape culture, as some people incessantly tell us, then the Pence Rule makes perfectly good sense. If we don’t, then it is not the same urgent necessity, but that means we should stop claiming that we do in fact live in a rape culture. Do not manufacture crises in order to get funding for the Women’s Center on campus, and then expect us all to forget the statistics you touted once the building is complete. Or once the election is over.
But there is a second way to reply to Beaty’s reductionism. It is to deny her supposition. She says “if that is the case.” But the problem is that it isn’t the case.
She says that refusal to meet with a woman one-on-one is tantamount to saying that you can’t because it creates too great a temptation to assault the good lady. But there are a host of other reasons why a gentleman might decline to meet with a woman one-on-one. It might be to guard against false allegations against him, by that woman or by third parties—whether it is an investigative reporter or just the town gossip. It might be to protect against the appearance of impropriety, giving no room for jealousy to arise in his marriage. It might be to guard against actual impropriety. It might be to keep a distance so that temptations to impropriety don’t ever arise. It protects against sexual aggressiveness from the other direction. Or finally, maybe Pence doesn’t meet with women one-on-one in order to avoid all those regrettable micro-aggressions.
Think of it this way. Do you think that Roy Moore now wishes he had followed some variant of the Pence Rule faithfully? If he is guilty of the alleged offenses, following the rule would have protected him from immorality. If he is not guilty of them, following the rule would have protected him from these accusations.
Or fast forward thirty years. Suppose Roy Moore was at a nice restaurant with some cute intern, and he was explaining to her how a bill becomes a law. If a photographer from the Post showed up, camera at the ready, would he ask Moore’s permission before taking the shot? “Because, after all, we professionals know that this is probably just business. We at the Post do not wish in any way to hinder the advancement of women . . .” The way some people expect us to not be able to see through their protestations could make a cat laugh.