Mike Pence & I Were Taught The Same Ideas About Men & Women
A recent Washington Post profile of Mike Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, noting that Vice President Pence will not eat dinner alone with women besides his wife, shocked many readers who had never heard of this kind of practice before. I was not one of them. I didn’t talk to boys throughout the entirety of middle and high school. Sure, I'd chat with them about school things or nod to them, and I grew up overseas, so I would uncomfortably kiss their cheeks in greeting. But I couldn't initiate conversations with them, and barely managed to respond with a "yes" or a "no" if spoken to.
This wasn't due to my parents urging me to steer clear of my male classmates; my parents wanted me to talk to boys, wished I would go on dates. Rather, I place the blame for that squarely at the feet of a few books I read while I was young, particularly Beautiful Girlhood, a “1922 classic [that] offers gentle guidance for preteen and teenage girls on how to become a godly woman,” according to its Amazon description. I read that description and laugh, then sob.
I read this book as a sixth grader, but the only guidance it gave me was that talking to boys, joking with them, laughing, or poking fun would be considered "flirting"; and of course, flirting is the devil’s tool for leading men on. And leading men on inevitably leads to a woman being raped. I'm not sure it was the authors' intention for me to read the book that way, but the way they wrote communicated this to me.
This information changed my life immediately. A week before I read the book, I was teasing two boys in my class and we were the best of friends; yet, a week later, I was chatting with them when, in the midst of a sentence, I flashed back to the book. I thought, I'm leading them on, and physically turned my back on them. I spoke maybe a dozen times to those two boys for the rest of our three years of middle school.
Talking to boys, joking with them, laughing, or poking fun were all considered "flirting"; and of course, flirting is the devil’s tool for leading men on. And leading men on inevitably leads to a woman being raped.
Thinking about that moment, the friendships I lost, and the fact that as an 11-year-old, I was so afraid I would bring about my own rape that I stopped talking to boys altogether — it breaks my heart to this day.
At the same time that I was refusing contact with actual boys, I was devouring every Christian fiction novel I could find — most of which were romances. In these books, the female protagonist typically needed to do little other than exist to get the attention of the male love interest(s), so that she could swoon into his manly, strong, perfect arms. Cue kissing. Cue my brain and body longing for something I didn’t have.
I wasn’t talking to actual boys, but I was being groomed to believe that romance was the main goal of my life. I longed for it, desperately, and craved love like nothing else. And I expected love, too — because the books taught me that all I needed was to exist, and boys would love me, interactions not necessary until after marriage.
The evangelical Christian community has done a lot of good for me over the years. They supported my missionary parents, allowing me to be fed, clothed, educated. They prayed for me and offered so much of themselves. The people I know in this community are selfless, loving, strong, faithful. In short, they are incredible. They are living examples of the Jesus I know through the Bible.
I say that because I also have to say this: There is a lot I disagree with in the American evangelical Christian community. Their support for Trump is one thing I violently cannot get behind, as is many in the community's support for media like The Blaze and figures like Matt Walsh and Tomi Lahren.
And I disagree with so many mainstream evangelical views about relationships. Like the idea that they are the endgame of everyone's life... but especially of a woman's life. Like the extremist idea that it's wrong for boys and girls to be friends. The idea that men and women who aren’t married shouldn’t spend any time alone together.
While many non-evangelicals were shocked by the Washington Post profile, which also noted that Pence will also not attend events where alcohol is served if his wife is not present, many fundamentalist conservatives are angrily defending his practices — because they, too, have bought into the idea that friendship between men and women is impossible, because we are nothing but walking sex toys to each other. They believe that men only desire women’s bodies, and women are temptresses who contribute nothing more to a man than being an object of lust (the discussion also makes no room for the existence of LGBTQ people).
I don't know how this line of thinking became so common in the evangelical community; some say it's thanks to Billy Graham, and that's possible, although I personally believe Graham's manifesto was a way of protecting himself from scandal and entrapment, not a reaction to fear.
Because I think that's what it really is for so many: fear. Fear of being tempted, fear of entering into the mere appearance of evil; a fear that has for decades guided Christians into ruining their relationships with the opposite sex.
Which is ironic, considering the Bible literally tells us not to live by fear.
Let’s talk about Biblical men being alone with women and not being slaves to their sexual urges.
There’s Jesus, alone at the well with a woman who is literally the time's definition of a "loose woman" (five husbands, living with someone who isn’t her husband). He neither sleeps with her nor shrieks dramatically for his male disciples to come save him. Why? Because he’s not a slave to lust. Because he can see her as more than a sexual object.
Christian men, if you want to be like Jesus, look at women the way Jesus did: as humans, equals, people he could be trusted to be around.
There’s Joseph, who while wed to Mary, was able to somehow contain his sexual impulses for the nine months of their marriage that she was pregnant.
David saw a woman from afar and was intimate with her, killed her husband and lost the baby he conceived with her. But that version of David isn't the one we should aspire to. There are other examples of men not relating well to women, but those are painted negatively; Biblical good guys generally manage to hold themselves in check around women.
When I hear that Mike Pence won’t touch alcohol without his wife, that doesn't make me think that is to be commended for his commitment to his relationship; it makes me think that he believes he can’t be trusted. That’s something he should acknowledge and work on on his own, but it’s far from any woman’s fault.
My parents didn't support my youthful decision to refuse to communicate with boys. At one point, when I was all gung-ho and ready to sign a pledge saying I wouldn’t date but would only “court” someone, my mother literally would not allow me to sign it — she was supposed to sign it as a "witness" and she just wouldn't, so I couldn't make the pledge. I was so angry. But that example is a testament to my parents’ sanity. They recognized that some "rules" just aren't helpful.
If you know that you are easily tempted and can’t control your sexual urges, by all means refrain from being alone with someone of the opposite sex. If you’re afraid of what you would do, fine, put up boundaries. Recognize that the problem is you. If a man feels that he can’t control himself around a woman, it’s his own problem. Saying that it’s somehow the woman’s fault is literally rape culture.
Whether it's your intention or not, this thought process promotes the idea that a man’s lack of control is a woman’s fault, which ties right into believing rape is the victim’s fault.
It isn’t. Good grief, it’s 2017, shouldn’t we know this by now?
Since I started talking to boys and making friends with the opposite sex, my life has become nothing but richer. I have learned from them, laughed because of them, truly grown thanks to the guys in my life.
I would hate to go back to the life I had in middle and high school.
Beautiful Girlhood, Mike Pence and the Christians militantly supporting him have every right to their own opinions. They don’t, however, have the right to say “my way or the hell-way” and condemn me for their own shortcomings.
I love Jill Filipovic's tweet, embedded above, because it's so accurate. If women aren't allowed to dine with men alone, what happens if there's a great opportunity at work that requires meeting a man for dinner, like perhaps acquiring a new client at an ad firm? That opportunity goes to a man, not because he deserves it, but because he's male.
If it's immoral to dine alone with a man, I wouldn't have gotten my promotion, which often requires me to meet my boss to go over plans, even if there's no one else in the room. When we meet for lunch to discuss work, it is the farthest thing from a "date" (which is what so many Christians are calling eating alone with someone of the opposite gender).
And of course, Pence's personal views mean there is no woman who could have an important job requiring her to spend long hours with him (like Chief of Staff, perhaps), because he's so dang scared of their body parts that he would choose a man for the job even if a woman was more qualified.
This idea of men and women never being alone together isn't just misogynistic because it promotes rape culture, but because it promotes work inequality.
But then, isn't that how he got his job in the first place — America chose a man for a job, even though a woman was more qualified?