Vice President Mike Pence took a lot of criticism after it was announced he doesn’t spend time alone with any women besides his wife. This practice of avoiding mixed-gender socializing is apparently common among conservative Christians, and is known as “the Billy Graham Rule,” since it was first implemented by preacher Billy Graham, who wanted to avoid putting himself in occasions of sinful, adulterous temptation.
I suppose on one level, it’s admirable that Pence is so dedicated to preserving the sanctity of his marriage vows. But as a public official who is constitutionally obligated to treat women as equal citizens under the law, his squeamishness about women is weird and wrong. Pence’s use of “the Billy Graham Rule” is yet another indicator of the fundamental misogyny of conservative Christian ideology. Whether they’re undermining women’s reproductive rights, curtailing women’s attempts to get paid equally for equal work, or denying them opportunities in the workplace, Republicans think women are nothing but walking, talking vaginas.
Here are a few reasons why Mike Pence’s weird marriage is wrong for America.
It’s one thing for church leaders to use “the Billy Graham Rule” to govern their personal and professional lives; they’re not public officials. Different religions have different ideas about how men and women should interact, and what is “appropriate” behavior for a married man, and that’s fine. Every American has a Constitutional right to freely practice their religion as long as they’re not hurting other people or infringing on other people’s rights to participate in society, and every religious faith has the right to establish its own internal rules and standards. If you want to belong to a religion that expects women to dress modestly, or that expects men and women to have separate traditional roles, or that puts social pressure on women to have lots of kids, that’s fine with me—I might not agree with your religion’s beliefs and values, but I respect your right to live according to your values and conscience, as long as you don’t try to force your beliefs upon me.
But as much as he might like to be, Mike Pence is not a Christian pastor employed by a church. He’s—God help us—he Vice President of the United States. He gets paid by the taxpayers, not by church donors. He’s supposed to uphold the Constitution and represent all Americans, not just the Americans who share his religious beliefs. Public officials need to be held to a different standard than the leaders of private religious organizations.
The Iron Law of politics is: “all Republicans have weird sexual problems.” Mike Pence’s no-socializing-with-women situation is no different. What is Mike Pence so afraid of? Does he really think he’s so irresistibly sexy, such a delectable hunk of Indiana man-meat, that any woman he’s alone with is going to try to rip his clothes off? Does he see all women as foul, sin-soaked temptresses? How does he live? What if he stops into a fast food restaurant or a convenience store late at night and the only employee on duty is a woman; does he walk out? What if his hair stylist or dental hygienist or dog groomer is a woman—is he not allowed to be alone with her? Does he use a Scientology-style “minder” everywhere he goes?
Or is Mike Pence secretly longing to be a Tiger Woods-level man-whore? Is he crippled with lust for every woman he meets, to the point he can’t trust himself to be alone with them for 5 minutes? Is Mike Pence such a skilled lothario that without his compliance to a strict “Billy Graham Rule,” the halls of Washington, D.C. and every Indianapolis suburb would be reeking of sex and cheap cologne?
I’m mad at Mike Pence for even making me have to think about all of this stuff. If he can’t trust himself to behave professionally and respectfully around women, he shouldn’t be working in politics in the first place.
Aside from Mike Pence’s private beliefs and proclivities, the real reason why his marital policy is a bad thing is that it shows he’s incapable of treating women as equals. Apparently, in Mike Pence’s mind, every woman is fundamentally to be treated with suspicion and kept at a strategic distance, as if they’re all a threat to his marriage, as if the most important thing about every woman is that she has a vagina and she can use it to tempt him. This attitude is not uncommon among conservatives—many women who work on Capitol Hill have said that their Republican bosses have similar restrictions, which can lead to discriminatory practices in the workplace. When women aren’t allowed to be alone with their boss, it limits their influence and restricts their opportunities.
The same day that the story came out about Mike Pence’s marriage, he cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to make it easier for states to defund Planned Parenthood. Call me crazy, but if you’re not allowed to be alone with a woman, you shouldn’t be able to take away women’s health care. Maybe if Mike Pence spent time with more women, he wouldn’t be so quick to deprive them of health care funding.
But here’s the thing: conservatives ultimately don’t care about women. Not as “people.” Not as equals. Every aspect of conservative ideology—from rejecting equal pay for equal work, to removing funding for Planned Parenthood, to trying to remove women’s right to have an abortion or use birth control—is based on the idea that women are nothing more than baby-making vaginas. Conservatives see women first and foremost as mothers-in-waiting. They don’t know how to deal with women who want a career but don’t want kids, or women who want kids but don’t want to get married, or women who are LGBT, or women who are otherwise outside the mold of a small-town churchgoing obedient wife. Conservatives act like, if these angry radical feminists would just stop complaining, we could all go back to a friendly Leave It To Beaver, ‘50s white bread world where Big Daddy White Boss always knew best, even though that world never really existed, and lots of “traditional families” with a male head of household are rife with repression and abuse, and children raised by same-sex couples tend to do much better in life.
The kind of marriage Mike Pence has doesn’t really work for most people, but Mike Pence is insistent upon forcing his extreme beliefs and his weird worldview upon the rest of us. Mike Pence and his wife are welcome to have a faithful monogamous marriage with no occasions of sin; good for them. But if you can’t be alone with half the population, don’t run for office. And don’t act like this is any way to lead the country as an elected official. Every day he refuses to treat women as equals, even on his own staff or in his own office, Mike Pence is living out the ultimate goal of conservative ideology: treating women as second-class citizens who are only useful for making babies or tempting men or getting groped by Donald Trump, who don’t deserve equal pay, who don’t even deserve to have their voices heard or have a seat at the table when policy decisions are being made that affect their lives.
I’m not going to criticize Mike Pence for his private beliefs. I’m criticizing him for the public impact those beliefs have. There’s a direct connection between being too afraid of women to be able to spend time alone with them and being willing to condemn women to die due to lack of affordable health care, or casually signing a global gag rule for family planning funding that will cause thousands of poor, vulnerable women and girls in developing countries to bleed to death in childbirth because they couldn’t get an abortion.
Remember, ladies: you are a vagina. And as a vagina, you are only good for making babies or getting grabbed by Donald Trump. And if you try to do anything else with your vagina/life, like get preventative health care or have an abortion, Republicans might just try to kill you.
Isn’t it amazing how “Pro-Life” people cause so many deaths?