The Mike Pence rule—whereby one does not dine alone, or meet behind closed doors, with a member of the opposite sex to whom one is not either married or related—is a fine rule, and you cannot reasonably begrudge anyone, man or woman, who follows it. The rule is meant to avoid both the temptation and the appearance of impropriety—it is meant to safeguard against sexual licentiousness and false impressions or accusations of the same. For advocating this sensible dictum, Mike Pence was pilloried as a patriarchal dictator, because that is the state of liberal politics these days.
A number of people have correctly pointed out that observing the Mike Pence rule would have had the happy ancillary effect of preventing a fair number of the alleged incidents of sexual harassment and assault that have come to the fore in recent months. Harvey Weinstein’s bait-and-switch trick, for instance—inviting actresses up to his hotel room and exposing himself upon their arrival—would be totally negated by following the Pence Protocol, as would the creeper behavior of Roy Moore. That’s not to suggest, of course, that the victims of sexual harassment and assault are somehow responsible for their victimization, or that the perpetrators are somehow not responsible; only that taking sensible precautions can make it much harder for criminals to take advantage of vulnerable circumstances. Anyone who disagrees will have to explain why they lock their front doors at night, or why they don’t walk through crime-ridden neighborhoods at 3AM.
At ThinkProgress, Casey Quinlan is not impressed:
The best way to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault of women and girls is for men not to sexually harass and assault women and girls. But conservatives appear to be less interested in finding ways to teach men how to co-exist with women, who comprise 47 percent of the U.S. labor force, than discussing how best to avoid women altogether.
This is silly—nobody is suggesting that men “avoid women,” good grief—but also there is such a cheerful naiveté to Quinlan’s proposal, the stuff that you often hear of in Reader’s Digest-style kids-say-the-darndest-things yarns. There is indeed a genre of gimcrack literature in which the simple unlettered “wisdom” of children is valued as something greater than itself: when a child muses, say, “Why can’t everyone just stop hating each other and love each other and give each other hugs and candy?” we are expected to view this as a profound and meaningful statement rather than, well, a merely childish one.
I want to suggest that Quinlan is engaging in a similar type of ultimately useless discourse. She is right that “the best way to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault of women and girls is for men not to sexually harass and assault women and girls.” Sure, stipulated. But that is both a circular and presently meaningless directive. Yes, it is critical and necessary that men not sexually harass and assault women and girls. But they do. At present this is a reality. Whatever solutions Quinlan and others propose to curbing incidents of harassment and assault—sexual assault prevention training, a public campaign, whatever—the time it will take to implement and realize them is surely not negligible, and that’s assuming it would work at all. A sensible rule like Mike Pence’s, in the meantime, can serve as a useful stopgap. What’s the controversy?
There is a persistent and popular strain of feminist thought that bristles at such practical suggestions. There is no area of political discourse that I am aware of that is as aggressively resistant to these workaday-type solutions as progressive feminism. Every law-abiding citizen, for example, wants to see the crime rate go down—but we do not, before it does, insist: “I shouldn’t HAVE TO lock my car door!” What is it about liberal feminism that turns people off to simple and reasonable proposals?
For her part, Quinlan believes that the Pence rule “is also deeply harmful to the careers of women in the workplace.” This is a consistent refrain from the opponents of the Pence rule, but it is a curious thing: nobody, so far as I am aware, has been able to produce a woman whose career has been “deeply harmed” by anyone, Pence or otherwise, who follows this protocol. You would think that, for all the harrumphing, we’d have at least some evidence! But maybe that’s asking too much.