06 April, 2017

What Pence Said Is Not What Pence Said

A lot has been written about how VP Pence does not dine with a woman alone or will not go to an event serving alcohol without his wife. There is a vital need to identify context not only for what Pence said but for those who have written so passionately against it.

Just the Facts, Ma'am:

Let’s look at what Pence said (or what was written about what Pence said):
“(Pence) follows a short list of self-imposed rules aimed at keeping him out of trouble. For starters, he never dines alone with a woman who is not his wife. And when his wife is absent, he never attends events where alcohol flows.” (The Hill)
Note: this is not a direct quote from Pence (a minor point, but one that needs to be made).

There are two ways to look at that statement:
  • Pence is putting responsibility for any possible action on others.
  • Pence is putting responsibility for any possible action on himself.

Let's Try a Little Context: 

Some have claimed this stance is antiquated and/or sexist. These two sentences explain why women are not in the c-suite and is further proof of Pence’s hatred towards women.

Looking at what was written in the original 2002 article (and quoted in last week’s WP article that stirred all this up) it is imperative we recognize a lot of what is being said about Pence is added context.

Pence is indirectly quoted as saying he will not dine alone with a woman who is not his wife. That is different and has more to do with his marriage and integrity (remember that word?) than a woman’s career advancement.

The argument that females in his circles are somehow being discriminated against because they can’t get a drink with Pence is hyperbole.

He did not say a woman on his staff can’t come to an after hours function.
He did not say he would not dine with a woman in a group.
He did not say he will not meet with a woman on-one-on in a business setting (like for a review, or a pitch or a policy briefing).
He did not say women should be out without a chaperone (please!).

His words are not about pushing women into hiding or whatever other innuendo has been added into his statement.

He never said women are a subservient class or that they are not people too.
He never said his marriage is so weak one dinner could undo it.
He never says women should not be seen, heard and respected.
He never said the rule is in place because he does not trust women.

Why Context Matters:

This rule is in place as a boundary (remember those?) for him and his marriage. And it sounds like it is more about time vs. person involved.

By the way here is a snapshot of the original article: 

from here

The original quote was from 2002 after the fallout of yet another politician getting brought down by an affair. Further, no one has offered proof that this rule still stands. (And, if you read more than a soundbite and get context, you will see that Pence said he often does not eat with male colleagues either – to build a zone around his marriage.)

In a time of “fake news” and “alternative facts” (and much of what has been written about this can be labeled either of those by the way) we need to stand on what is true. We cannot add context or innuendo into things and call it real. We have to separate our emotion towards Pence and not overreact to what is a pretty innocuous quote. What people are outraged about is a lot of conjecture from people who already don’t like Pence.

Women in the Workplace + The "Rule"

It is a huge overstatement that women are not getting ahead because one (at the time) senator would not have dinner with them. Pence’s “rule” does not narrow the gap for women. It just doesn’t. There are 117 reasons more women are not in c-suites and dinner alone with the boss is not one.

We need to address the real reasons women are not advancing and stop creating fake ones that, when separated from emotion, insult our intelligence. Stop adding your disgruntled context and turn your focus to the real fight because that is taking enough energy already.

We can talk about office bonding and after work opportunities. I ask how many of those happen in a group vs. one on one. How many business dealings with a superior really happen over cocktail hour at Joe’s?

To be transparent, I was raised in an environment where this rule could have applied easily. I have worked for men (and women) who held this rule. It is not about sexuality at all. It’s not about men being easy to tempt or women being sexual predators. That is insulting on oh so many levels.

It’s about the appearance of things and how people fill in the gaps. It’s the question of what can be gained by taking a co-worker (of either gender) out after work that cannot be done in the office. It’s a healthy work-life boundary more people need. It’s keeping your marriage first. Reading this quote in the context of the 2002 article, it is about personal responsibility and has nothing to do with whom Pence is eating with (again, the direct quote says he doesn’t often dine alone with male colleagues). Instead, it's wanting not to let his job consume his life.

As Matt Lewis said (after a well thought out debate on the topic), “You have the right to exercise personal responsibility. If your priority is to protect your reputation, marriage, and political career, you have to do what you have to do, even if it means there might be some collateral damage.” (Daily Beast)

Do I think Pence wants more control over a woman’s body than he should? Yes.

Do I think some of his policies towards women are harmful, wrong, and ignorant? Yes.

Do I think this rule falls into that? Nope.

There are enough battles to fight without starting unnecessary ones. And I would love talk to Pence about those, one on one, in his office, during business hours.


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© Amanda Lunday