Earlier this week, in a Washington Post profile of Second Lady Karen Pence, this one sentence, included almost in passing, raised a lot of eyebrows: "In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill 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, either."
Iterations of this story—which is often included, as here, as a "charming" part of Mike and Karen Pence's grand romance—have been repeated in Indiana media over the years. It's supposed to make us think that Mike Pence is a godly man and a loyal husband, but it's really a tale about unusual (to be charitable) marital boundaries which have gross implications for a public servant.
I mean, you do you, Pences. If you need those sort of rigid boundaries to not cheat on each other, do your thing. What's stupid, however...— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) March 30, 2017
...is that it reveals how truly insulated the Pences' personal lives are, as well as how homogenous GOP politics are.— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) March 30, 2017
Pence has been a congressman, a governor, and a vice-president. And a working dinner alone w/ a female colleague has never been necessary?— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) March 30, 2017
It's also reflective of their complete insularity from LGB folks, that they presume every person with whom they interact is straight.— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) March 30, 2017
I have also had dinner alone with lesbian/bi women. And we managed not to have sex on the table, Mr. Pence!— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) March 30, 2017
But I get that not everyone can trust their spouse, so wevs. My issue with this shit is how it reveals a frightening insularity.— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) March 30, 2017
Seriously, think about what it means that Mike Pence has run for Congress, served in Congress, run for governor of Indiana, served as governor, run on a presidential ticket, and is now serving as vice-president, and he's never had occasion to have a working lunch or dinner with a key female staffer? That's absurd.
And, if it's true, it's indicative of how little Pence values women in his professional life. Not only does it suggest he's never put women in leadership positions, but it also suggests he doesn't allow women to get access to him, which can be a crucial networking opportunity, the way that male staffers can.
(This isn't theoretical: In 2015, Sarah Mimms wrote a piece for the Atlantic about women who work on the Hill reporting having been "excluded from solo meetings and evening events, a practice that could be illegal." One woman who worked for the same man for twelve years says he "never took a closed door meeting with me. ...This made sensitive and strategic discussions extremely difficult." I'll bet.)
Pence's private marriage rules are no longer just his business when they quite evidently affect his professional life as a public servant.
And they certainly aren't "charming."
Then there is this: These rules reflect an attitude that every interaction between two people of different sexes is necessarily governed by sexuality. Specifically, they suggest that the primary (or only) reason a man would have to interact with a woman is a sexual one.
This remains a frustratingly pervasive attitude among many straight, cis men—that women's only value is our sexual availability.
Recently, Iain started taking a class, which includes individual instruction, and he was able to choose his instructor after meeting several potential instructors. (I'm sharing this with his permission.) He ended up choosing a female instructor.
When he came home, he was telling me about his process in choosing his instructor—not because he felt obliged to justify choosing a woman, but because it was an interesting conversation—and all I thought about it was that it seemed like they were well-matched and he'd made a good decision. (Many months later now, it turns out he did!)
The next week, he came home and told me how his instructor had introduced him to her boyfriend, who just happened to be there (lol). Iain, being the clever bloke he is, immediately clacked on to the fact that she had to do this, because she'd had male students who had picked her specifically because she's a woman and then hit on her. He expressed his regret (to me) that she had to do this as a routine part of her work.
It was a perfect, terrible example of how ubiquitous is this notion among so many men that women are only useful, even when they are teaching those men something, as objects of sexual desire.
And how that fucked-up attitude affects professional workspaces. Especially for women.
[Commenting Guidelines: Please note that comments about how the Pences' marriage rules matter in the professional sphere are on-topic. Comments that are general commentary about their personal relationship are not.]