I do not think all that highly of Mike Pence, but I have to say I am mildly impressed with his so-called “marriage rules:” the stipulation that he never dines alone with a woman who is not his wife, or attends events at which alcohol is being served unless his wife is there too. I think this is perfectly admirable and commendable. We live in a world where possibly upwards of two-thirds of married individuals will engage in unfaithful extramarital sexual activity at some point during their marriages. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a husband’s and a wife’s taking steps to strengthen and safeguard their marriage.
Yet many people were outraged and scandalized by the Pence’s rules—people who have nothing better to do than get angry that somebody, somewhere is exercising sexual and nuptial circumspection. There are a great many individuals in our society who despise sexual prudence, who look upon it as some sort of ghastly extraterrestrial function, and who will find any excuse to vilify it and demean it and vilify and demean the people who practice it. In any normal, sane world, Mike Pence’s careful protection of the sacred union he shares with his wife would be at worst unremarkable, and more likely commended and celebrated. Oh, well.
At Time Magazine, which does indeed still exist, Glennon Doyle Melton seizes on this hysteria and cranks it up all the way to eleven. It is difficult to figure Melton’s essay: she commits howling, crazy fallacies, one after the other, unabashedly and with great and childlike gusto. “Remember the woman at the well, Vice President?” she asks. “Jesus met with her because that was part of His job on earth. Meeting with women is part of yours too.” (What is so strikingly bizarre here is the presumption that “not dining alone with women” is synonymous with “not meeting women at all.” Who could make such an argument with a straight face, and without shame?) Elsewhere she writes that the consequence of Pence’s rule “is to preserve and pass down men’s power to other men.” (Mike Pence’s own personally-selected Lieutenant Governor in Indiana was a woman.) Melton also claims that Mike Pence’s not dining alone with women, and not drinking alcohol without his wife nearby, “invite us back to 18th century political ideology,” wherein women were confined to the home and even “stripped [of] their legal existence” after they got married. All of this because Pence won’t share the blue plate special with a woman to whom he’s not married!
Melton’s own explanation for why the Pences have these rules in place reflects the incoherent outrage that has rebounded throughout the political and media world over the past few days:
Pence’s rule for his marriage perpetuates religious and political ideologies based on false, dehumanizing ideologies about women that, when espoused by those in power, have manifested disastrous outcomes for all of us. If Pence cannot eat alone with a woman, it must be because when he sees a woman across a table, she’s not an adviser, she’s not a teacher, she’s not a leader, she’s not a constituent — she is only a sexual entity.
Real talk: does anyone, even Glennon Doyle Melton, believe that Mike Pence is perpetuating a “false, dehumanizing ideology,” and that the sees women only as “sexual entities?” I very much doubt that anyone outside of the Feministing masthead believes this. It’s entirely probable that Melton simply needed to push her piece’s world limit just up over the tip and wrote this quaintly absurd paragraph as a result.
In any case, these charges sounds like the m.o. not of Mike Pence but of Bill Clinton, who had his twenty-two-year-old intern blow him under a desk, who subsequently humiliated the young woman on the global stage by lying about their “relationship,” yet who is nevertheless still very much a progressive darling these days. When Bill Clinton ejaculates on the dress of a woman young enough to be his daughter, very possibly while his wife is somewhere in the building at the time, he suffers no real personal or professional consequences and indeed is held in very high regard for decades afterwards. When Mike Pence puts some simple and reasonable restraints on his social and professional conduct to safeguard his marriage, the Internet explodes with half-baked theories about What It All Means and heralds the coming of a Second Great Age of Dehumanizing Patriarchy. Why the double standard? Why the ideological discrepancy?
Here is why: because our post-sexual-revolutionary politics ratchets in one direction only. The message of the American political and social landscape is very clear: abusing and disrespecting women can be forgiven, even celebrated and chuckled about in some cases, so long as the basic structure of sexual libertinism and unrestraint are left in place—so long as the abuser does nothing to inhibit the sexual anarchy to which our present society is heir (and it very much helps if the abuser is a Democrat). If, however, you exercise sexual restraint and attempt to safeguard the sexual and emotional purity of your marriage, then you may very well be cast as an abuser and a dehumanizer and a heavy-handed patriarch: if you’re preemptively unwilling to risk even the appearance of impropriety—let alone the impropriety itself!—then you will be pilloried. The reigning state of sexual licentiousness has to be preserved at all cost, which is why someone like Bill Clinton is beloved by millions of liberal ladies while Mike Pence is looked upon as a mean old fussy fuddy-duddy who wants to chain women to their aprons or something. With these insane priorities, it’s not had to imagine a culture in which infidelity is the norm, not the exception—though in the case of the Pences, their marriage seems to be perfectly healthy and functional, and it’s easy, after all, to see why.