What Is The “Mike Pence Rule”? Here's Why It'll Never, Ever Solve Sexual Harassment In The Workplace
Following the wave of sexual harassment allegations against powerful men in many industries, some conservatives have suggested that adhering to the "Mike Pence rule" would somehow prevent harassment from occurring in the first place. In reality, though, employing the rule in a business setting isn't just sexist — it could be illegal. That's because as Vox notes, Title VII doesn't let employers treat employees any differently just because they're a man or woman.
Pence's rule dictates that he does not dine alone with any woman or attend any event where alcohol is served without his wife. And it's a guideline he's chosen to actually follow. According to the New York Times, it reportedly has its roots in evangelical Christianity and is primarily derived from the famed evangelical minister, Billy Graham. According to the Times, adopting some version of Graham's rule, which mandates that men not "eat, travel or meet alone with any women who [aren't] their wives" is common among evangelicals. Recently, a myriad of conservative figures have suggested that adopting rules similar to those of Graham and Pence could end workplace sexual harassment and assault. But they couldn't be any wronger.
In October, Former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka tweeted " THINK: If Weinstein had obeyed @VP Pence's rules for meeting with the opposite sex, none of those poor women would ever have been abused." Conservative writer Matt Walsh also tweeted suggestions for curbing sexual harassment in November, with his first suggestion being "Observe the Mike Pence rule" and his others noting that one must "Emphasize chastity" and "Emphasize modesty.”
Imposing the Pence rule as a general workplace practice will do little to curb sexual harassment and it isn't difficult to understand why. As ThinkProgress pointed out in a November article, sexual harassment research certainly does not show that stopping men from interacting with women one-on-one constitutes a solution to the problem of harassment. Instead, having clear workplace policies on what counts as harassment, coupled with effective harassment reporting procedures, is one of the most effective ways to counter the problem in the workplace.
Moreover, employing the Pence rule to stop sexual harassment would not just be ineffective — it would also be counterproductive. Instead of teaching men how to interact with women respectfully in a professional setting, it merely frames all opposite sex interaction as a problem. Since the Pence rule (and other similar evangelically-derived rules) are typically implemented by men (and not the inverse), it implies that women specifically are a problem and that avoiding them constitutes the best solution for men to "protect" themselves — and, patronizingly, women.
In the professional world, this mindset wades into dangerously murky, and sexist territory. Women are already regularly overlooked for leadership positions and excluded from more informal professional gatherings where formal business decisions are often made. Implementing the Pence rule would even further entrench the notion of an "Old Boys Club" in the workplace and increasingly limit women's professional opportunities.
Finally, the aforementioned fact that mostly men seem to implement the Pence rule on a personal level — and that mostly men are advocating for its implementation on a professional level as a means of ending sexual harassment — means it is highly problematic. If the Pence rule was a legitimate, viable solution to ending sexual harassment, you'd think more women would be suggesting its usage. Instead, it's pretty clear that the rule merely serves as a means of protecting men by pushing women out.
The Pence rule entrenches patriarchal notions of what relationships between men and women should look like, especially in the workplace. It also allows men an easy way out — exempting them from doing soul searching and intensive learning to ensure that they are acting inclusively and behaving respectfully. Imposing the Pence rule as a workplace standard would exempt men from responsibility and merely cast women aside, framing their mistreatment as inevitable unless they are excluded "for their own good."