How the Sexism of Trump and Pence Are Two Sides of the Same Coin

Adding to what we already knew about Mike Pence’s extremist position on reproductive rights, we were recently reminded that “he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.” That restriction for evangelicals dates back to what became known as the Billy Graham Rule.

The most famous provision of the manifesto called for each man on the Graham team never to be alone with a woman other than his wife. Graham, from that day forward, pledged not to eat, travel, or meet with a woman other than Ruth unless other people were present. This pledge guaranteed Graham’s sexual probity and enabled him to dodge accusations that have waylaid evangelists before and since.

On its face, that might seem to be the polar opposite of the kind of sexism exhibited by Donald Trump — who made a name for himself by bragging about committing sexual assault shortly after he married Melania. But in actuality, they are two sides of the same coin. Emma Gray summed it up this way:

This history makes it all-the-more clear that this do-not-dine-with-women rule is predicated on the idea that the company of women is always first and foremost about sex.

Pence’s sexism can be misleading because to some, it appears chivalrous. But in the end, it relegates women to being nothing more than sex objects. Being alone with a woman is first and foremost a temptation to infidelity. That is exactly the reason why women in some Muslim countries have been forced to wear burqas – so that men aren’t tempted by the mere presence of a female body.

Karen Pence is cast as the shield that is the only thing standing between her husband and depravity. As the flip side of Trump’s promiscuity, we see the age-old binary way of defining women as either the Madonna (save me from my uncontrollable urges) or Whore (indulge by uncontrollable urges).

Throughout my professional life, I have found myself attracted to men I came in contact with during the course of business. But the idea that I would see any private meeting as a potential sexual encounter is absurd. Emma Gray points out that women have had more practice at dealing with that kind of thing.

The ability to refuse to be alone with someone who is not the same gender as you and still climb the professional ladder is a privilege that is simply not afforded to women…

To be a successful woman in an industry where men still make up the majority of power brokers means working with men. It means fighting for a spot at the table, and accepting that, sometimes, you may be the only woman there.

But if I was a man, I would find the Billy Graham Rule to be as offensive to my gender as it is to women, just as Trump’s excuse that he was simply engaging in standard locker room talk was offensive to both women and men. The end result of both forms of patriarchy is that women are simply sex objects and men can’t keep it in their pants. That view of humanity is degrading to all of us.

I can’t help but think of the amazing speech Michelle Obama gave in New Hampshire after the Access Hollywood tape was released. So I’ll leave you with this:

The men that you and I know don’t treat women this way. They are loving fathers who are sickened by the thought of their daughters being exposed to this kind of vicious language about women. They are husbands and brothers and sons who don’t tolerate women being treated and demeaned and disrespected. And like us, these men are worried about the impact this election is having on our boys who are looking for role models of what it means to be a man…

Because let’s be very clear: Strong men — men who are truly role models — don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful. People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.