A recent Washington Post profile of second lady Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, dug up an interesting insight into the couple’s relationship. In an interview with The Hill in 2002, Mike Pence reportedly stated that “he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side.” The Twitter-sphere was fast to react to the resurgence of these revelations and responses were mixed. While some praised Pence for the respect this suggests he holds for his marriage, others lambasted the vice president for implying that men and women were incapable of working together. So should we care?
Well, yes. Although the remarks were made some 15 years ago, during which time a lot may have changed, they nonetheless reveal a significant insight into how Pence views his relationships with women, and hence his potential working relationships with female colleagues. As Emma Gray of The Huffington Post points out, Pence is now first in line to replace Donald Trump should he leave office for any reason and, needless to say, holds a significant degree of influence on how the administration is run. Its glaring gender imbalance — thus far Trump’s cabinet is the most male and white cabinet since the Reagan era — might not seem so stark to someone who believes that the presence of women is primarily about sex and must therefore be limited to one’s spouse.
The photos that keep emerging from the White House, of Trump flanked by a series of white men as he signs a flurry of executive orders — some of which have specifically concerned women’s health care — may have prompted much public derision for their notable absence of women, but to someone who cannot see the opposite sex beyond the prism of marriage they may seem completely normal.
Can you imagine if a female politician said she refused to dine with a member of the opposite sex who wasn’t her husband? As columnist Jill Fillipovic succinctly noted on Twitter, “She couldn’t.” Or what if she refrained from being around alcohol without her faithful partner in tow? Her political career would be short-lived to say the least, as she actively isolated herself from the majority of her colleagues. For women like Nancy Pelosi or Elizabeth Warren, working with men is not an option, it is a prerequisite for climbing the political-career ladder. Which leads one to wonder how or, indeed, if Pence holds professional relationships with his (few) female colleagues, like Kellyanne Conway, without supposedly committing marital betrayal. And what about female reporters?
Ian Millhiser, an editor at ThinkProgress, highlighted how problematic Pence’s dining preferences are for women’s careers, writing, “The revolting thing about Pence’s no-meals-with-women rule isn’t prudishness. It’s that he’s limiting key professional opportunities to men.” He was echoed by Mother Jones editor-in-chief Clara Jeffery in a Twitter thread, “If Pence won’t eat dinner alone with any woman but his wife, that means he won’t hire women in key spots,”she posted on the social media platform.
The no-eating-with-another-woman rule was popularized by evangelical pastor Billy Graham in 1948. According to the Christian History, the pledge was the most famous provision of the “Modesto Manifesto,” and pledge “guaranteed Graham’s sexual probity and enabled him to dodge accusations that have waylaid evangelists before and since.”
Read the full story at The Huffington Post.