At first it seems a trivial issue, the alarm about Vice President Michael Pence saying he would never dine alone with a woman other than his wife. But it’s illustrative of a world turned upside down that there would be such a stir without accompanying howls of laughter. Maybe it’s not so trivial an issue.
The Pence remark, resuscitated from a 15-year-old interview, is seen by critics as something outlandish, evidence of a sexually discriminatory disposition, a religious throwback to primitive understandings. The fear is that the views of this conservative evangelical Christian could dramatically thwart women’s career advancement, and if you want ruminations on what those views are, tune in to Laura Chapin writing for U.S. News & World Report.
Citing as evidence nothing but the quote, this Democratic commentator says Pence’s “concept of women is whether you want to have sex with them,” a peculiar way of putting it, but there it is. For Pence and other “right-wing men,” she has telepathically learned, “women exist only in terms of how men define and perceive them.” They are around “solely for procreation, which is to be determined and directed by men,” she says in an example of indefensible generality having more to do with bigotry than thought, or so it seems to me.
Others in magazine and newspaper articles may not go as far as this, and a few are more sophisticated, but the gist of the worry is that women need male executives as mentors and friends, that Christian fundamentalism gets in the way because of worries about sexual temptation and that this is just absurd. Take those women to dinner, you guys, or you will be wrecking careers and lives, it’s said, and it does not strike me as the end of the world if some executives do just that. But there are three quick answers as to why there is nothing wrong with saying no thanks, and why that response might even be wise.
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One, there really, truly can be a threat of one-on-one engagements breeding something romantic. Even if there was no sexual attraction either way beforehand, it could develop over a dinner or two or three. If some find this unimaginable, they might try talking to some friends and acquaintances or watching some movies or maybe reading some biographies or novels. By the way, they might also consider that women can sometimes be the aggressors. It happens.
Two, there is such a thing as gossip that can be deadly in the workplace, and there are also lots of sexual harassment and assault charges going around these days. The last thing some executives might want is to put themselves in a situation in which they might be falsely accused or have some action or exchange of words misinterpreted. Men can also be at a disadvantage in instances of allegations coming their way. Male students facing suspension or expulsion at universities have routinely been denied normal due process procedures, for instance.
Finally, there is a simple solution that enables all sides to win.
Invite a third party.
It is definitely a good thing for executives to boost the careers of talented, hard-working employees of character, no matter what the sex, but it is possible to be a mentor or helpful friend with others looking on. And there are all kinds of get-together possibilities outside of restaurants. If someone is worried even about sessions of just two behind closed doors in office buildings, open the doors. Let others look in if they pass by. So what?
As for solutions to extreme ideological inanity carrying on all the time, I’d suggest common sense.
The writer is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.