This just in: men cannot be trusted with women.
This is not fake news, or snarky commentary from Slate or Salon. I’m not pulling from liberal alarmist news sites, or feminist click bait. It came from their king, their poster guy, the bro of bros. Yes, Mike Pence himself announced that men cannot be trusted alone with women.
In a Washington Post feature this week, the VP revealed that Karen Pence serves as his “gut check, and shield…” and that he makes it a point to never be alone with a woman other than his wife. This practice echoes that of Billy Graham, and other evangelical pastors of that era who employed an “above reproach” commitment to their own sexual purity.
There is so much ideological baggage wrapped up in this mess, I scarcely know where to start. So let’s begin with the obvious: Dear Mike Pence–the women I know are not exactly forming a line to get up on that… I think you’ll be fine.
With that out of the way, let’s get what Pence is really saying. Does he, in fact, acknowledge that men often pose a physical threat to women? That he, and many of his contemporaries, should not be left alone in these scenarios, because he is not responsible enough with his own boundaries and the appropriate protocols of social norms and personal space?
Thing is, women have been mindful forever of all the places where we should not go alone… Like a secluded alley, or an office with a closed door, or pretty much anywhere after dark. Is Mike Pence recognizing the imbalance here?
No, let’s be real. In his world, it’s the women who can’t be trusted.
There it is: Women can’t be trusted.
This archaic worldview is rooted in some ancient garbage about Eve and snakes and apples, and then it’s just all downhill from there. Women can’t be trusted with another woman’s husband, so women can’t trust other women. Divide and conquer. It has worked for centuries.
From Eve and whole unfortunate snake situation –which is folklore, but whatever– we wander into the narrative that women are dirty whores and homewrecking trollops. Therefore, women are not good for anything but sex and procreation.
This is where we get the toxic worthiness narrative attached to women’s bodies. If you’re not going to have sex with them…then what are they for?
So of course you should not ever be in a room with a woman other than your spouse, because sex is the only obvious outcome. Or at least, impure thoughts. And Lord knows, impure thoughts have brought down stronger empires than Indiana.
This view of women is just dripping with privilege… Do you think that a woman could make it in the professional world if she up and decided one day, “you know, I think I’m just not going to ever put myself in a situation where I’m in a room alone with a man.” Um… Talk to my bff who’s made a career in the sciences. Ask her how far she’d go in that field if she tried to sequester herself like that. Ask any of my female clergy colleagues the same. Or any woman in a top executive position. Or in academia…
No, only a man could adopt such an absurd practice and still find himself the Vice President of the free world… because he knows there are no women as gatekeepers between him and where he wants to be.
And where does he want to be? How about: in a room where he is the tie-breaking vote on a major decision about women’s healthcare. Where he can reject the voices of all the women in the room–even those from his own party–and still move to take away funding and provisions for women’s health.
Because women can’t be trusted. Not to draft policy, and not to make decisions about their own bodies.
This is some kind of bullshit, y’all. It may seem subtle, but it’s not an accident.
This lack of regard for women as whole people– with worth beyond their desirability and availability–is indefensible. It is 2017, FFS. (I find myself at least once a day lately needing to shout at somebody what year it is). It is 2017, and women have been fully incorporated into public life. Whether the bro club likes it or not.
Here’s what I wish Mike Pence knew–it’s his loss not to have significant contact with women who are not currently sleeping with him. (Although, having learned that he calls Mrs. Pence “mother,” one might also question whether or not his actual wife is sleeping with him). He is missing out on meaningful friendships. He’s missing out on a wider worldview that would sure come in handy in his line of work. He’s missing out on the wit and wisdom of his female colleagues, and all the ways that he might be made better by their support, all the ways they might push the edges of his thinking and challenge him to, god forbid, evolve.
Today, I’m especially grateful for the men in my life who know better. Who have ridden with me in cars, on the way to long meetings, and held space for my struggles in ministry. Who sit with me in restaurants, coffee shops and bars all over this country–scandalously unchaperoned– who have never once tried to make out with me, but consistently make me better, stronger and more confident in my work and worth. For friends outside of my vocation who knew me before my life was this weird ministry thing, but who still bother to be in my life, and call when they come to town. For those who have mentored and encouraged me, and held the door open in ways that changed the world…
There might be places where women should not go alone–but the fight for equality is not one of them. So my list of gratitude for the men who walk with us is pretty long.
Mike Pence, on the other hand, is gross. His brand of misogyny might be more subtle than the ‘pussy-grabbing’ approach of his counterpart in the White House. But make no mistake: it is just as toxic to women’s health and well-being. Perhaps even moreso, because it is veiled in the guise of chivalry and respect.
As women’s presence in public life has evolved, so have the expressions of sexism. The patriarchy has had to create a more stealth-like presence to avoid lawsuits and what have you. But it is still there, and this is what it looks like. The old narrative of “women can’t be trusted,” wrapped up in prettier paper for a new generation of bros, and often wrapped in legislation that does literal, physical harm to women everywhere.
As our President and Vice President achieve Ninja-levels of misogyny on a daily basis, we need a new language of empowerment for this reign of nuanced sexism. I think I may have just written the first chapter of my next book… But in the meantime, I’ll be thanking my guy friends more often, for not being absolute cave men. And you’d better believe, I’ll be trusting women. To make decisions about women, and to create space for more women to be in the places where men should never be trusted to go alone.