When does a rather ordinary news profile turn into a mass-media panic?
When it’s in a Washington Post feature about Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence.
I covered this two days ago in that finally -- after zillions of fawning pieces about Hillary and Michelle -- a major newspaper had profiled the Second Lady. I had no idea that one sentence in the story would create a Twitter mob scene. Part way down the story, a Post reporter mentioned that Mike Pence has a policy of never dining alone with a woman nor attending an event where alcohol is served without Karen by his side.
Ka-boom. The mockery began.
Social media went nuts, excoriating Pence for being such a Neanderthal and worse. There were references to sharia law, for example. BBC asked: “Are Mike Pence’s Dining Habits Chivalrous or Sexist?” Clara Jeffery, editor of Mother Jones, fired off at least 15 angry tweets on the topic during a period of high dudgeon on Wednesday afternoon. Naturally, The Onion weighed in.
Jezebel.com had something so unprintable, I’m declining to link to it. Guess I get tired of media slinging the F-bomb around like it’s candy from a parade. That was pretty common during this Twitter tsunami.
Here's the original Tweet:
Former GetReligionista Mollie Hemingway covered the contretemps via The Federalist, pointing out that such cautions are rather commonplace in certain quarters, particularly the religious world:
Anyway, is Mike Pence a monster for not dining privately with women who are not his wife? What about not boozing it up at parties unless his wife is around? Not only is he not a monster, he sounds like he’s a smart man who understands that infidelity is something that threatens every marriage and must be guarded against.
Emma Green of The Atlantic explained how Orthodox Jews and many Muslims have similar rules about men and women not being alone in a room and noted that politicians like the thrice-married Newt Gingrich might have done well to have had such a rule. She wrote:
Socially liberal or non-religious people may see Pence’s practice as misogynistic or bizarre. For a lot of conservative religious people, though, this set-up probably sounds normal, or even wise. The dust-up shows how radically notions of gender divide American culture. ...
That some people are so quick to be angered -- and others are totally unsurprised -- shows how divided America has become about the fundamental claim embedded in the Pence family rule: that understandings of gender should guide the boundaries around people’s everyday interactions, and protecting a marriage should take precedence over all else, even if the way of doing it seems strange to some, and imposes costs on others.
One of the comments on her Twitter feed suggested that American history might have been different had Bill Clinton adhered to Mike Pence policy.
Then there’s a 2015 piece on the “Billy Graham Rule” via Christianity Today that explains the history behinds the practice. It also admits how women get shortchanged, as a result:
As a researcher who focuses on female Christian leaders, I hear it over and over. The first female vice president of a Christian organization confessed she missed out on opportunities to advance her projects because the president made businesses decisions over lunch, and he promised his wife he wouldn’t eat lunch alone with women. It was enough to make her want to quit. A female pastor in Minnesota told me about being overlooked for staff development opportunities, while the lead pastor invested in her male coworkers. A female seminary professor shared the too-familiar struggle of trying to find a mentor among her all-male colleagues.
Personally? I hate it. Years ago, I asked my pastor if I could meet him for lunch on Capitol Hill. I was a reporter and editor in Washington, DC. He would come to the Hill to meet with male politicians, so I wanted to show him the Senate press gallery and explain what journalists do for a living.
But he arrived with a female clergywoman in tow. I icily informed him that I wasn’t aware that we needed a chaperone. This was broad daylight on the Hill, not some nightclub.
To make matters worse, he said it was policy in our Episcopal diocese that male clergy couldn’t dine alone with a woman. The next day, I called the diocese to see if that was true. Officials there incredulously heard my story, then denied there was any such policy. I eventually left that church.
So I get why many women despise this policy. But I have seen examples of people in the secular world saying that it’s not a bad idea.
Click on this 2003 piece from Salon graciously provided via Twitter (hat tip to Bob Smietana) that tells of the almost-affair the author had with someone 6,000 miles away. The memorable take-away line:
Affairs do not begin with kisses; they begin with lunch. Or something like it.
Also, think of all the anti-sexual harassment workshops -- primarily targeting males -- out there in academia. And the new normal in church life post Catholic sexual abuse crisis: Open doors or windows in the doors. Scheduling meetings in public places with more than two people. Background checks for Sunday school workers.
The saddest part of is how this media meltdown goes along with the Donald Trump playbook about the mendaciousness of the press. Who in their right mind in that administration will cooperate with a reporter after this?
Those in the secular media need to get a grip on how people in conservative religious circles think and live. If they’re going to be shocked by Mike and Karen Pence, then get indignant over how some rabbis and other Jewish men will refuse to shake a woman’s hand when being introduced. Ditto for some men in Islam.
Never heard of that? Then read up on the world of religion, where the rules may be different, but sometimes they make sense. Once again, you don't have to agree with a belief to attempt to understand the people who believe it.