Mike Pence broke the internet today and he must be thrilled. Never before have so many women demanded to go out to dinner with him.
These were the revelations that set off today’s firestorm (from a 2016 profile of Pence):
“During his 12 years in Congress, Pence had rules to avoid any infidelity temptations, or even rumors of impropriety. Those included requiring that any aide who had to work late to assist him be male, never dining alone with a woman other than his wife, and not attending an event where alcohol is served unless Karen was there.
In a 2002 interview with The Hill, Pence called it, “building a zone around your marriage.”
“If there’s alcohol being served and people are being loose, I want to have the best-looking brunette in the room standing next to me,” Pence said.”
The internet went nuts. People fought over whether Pence has an appropriately healthy marriage, whether he would be able to dine with Theresa May and Angela Merkel on overseas visits, whether he would respond appropriately in a nuclear crisis, and whether female politicians would ever have had successful political careers if they followed similar marriage-zoning rules (of course, they would not have). The conservative media bashed liberals for being out-of-touch (I’d contest that it was Pence who was opting out of the touching), and then liberals bashed each other for not being more sympathetic to Evangelical marriages.
My thoughts on the Pence marriage-zoning rules:
- Today, while we were fretting about Pence’s marriage, he was called in to break a tie in the Senate to pass a measure that would allow states to withhold funding from Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide abortions. This should have been way, way, way bigger news. Like 1000 times bigger. But it was not.
- Whom Pence grabs dinner, lunch or drinks with, and whether he takes his wife along as his one-woman libido control squad (or just because he wants her company), is mostly his business. Unless the company he keeps during his meals constitutes an ethics or other violation, or has serious effects on policy or other major outcomes (see #4), his marriage-zoning rule is just another outdated ritual in his long, conservative, Evangelical marriage. No one I know would want to be in his marriage. But he does. And his wife does. So suck it up, Internet.
- Yes, his rules for personal interactions involving women appear bizarre (even comical) to many of us, and they are certainly consistent with his bizarre and too-dangerous-to-be-comical attitude towards women. And that attitude towards women – as some kind of “Other” – is reflected in his anti-woman policies. See #1. But mocking his personal choices – to the point of saturating social and traditional media coverage – can’t possibly be the most productive way to stand up to his awful policies.
- The most valid direct concern about the Pence marriage-zoning rules is the exclusionary effect that it almost certainly has on his female colleagues and staff. Pence reportedly required that “any aide who had to work late to assist him be male” so he could avoid “infidelity temptations.” That potentially denied his female staff members professional opportunities to shine (and may have affected his decisions to hire female aides), and that looks a lot like discrimination to me. In general, politics at that level tends to be male-dominated and it is hard enough already for women to fit in. Remember that cute story that we all shared on social media about how Obama’s top female aides had to work extra-hard to band together in order to have their voices be heard? Not so cute for the women that had to suffer through it. And the fist-bumping, frat-house, bro-culture in the Obama White House? Yep, that happened too. Also, this report in the Atlantic about female Congressional staffers complaining about members of Congress excluding them from solo and evening events.
So I’d be shocked if the Pence marriage-zoning rules did not reinforce and exacerbate the old boys’ club mentality that already exists in that environment. And that’s definitely worth some outrage. But not as much as we saw today. Meanwhile, life – and pro-life – goes on: