It’s an unsettling time to be a man in America. Democrats recently tried to destroy the career of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh over a sexual assault allegation that lacked any substantial evidence or corroboration.
According to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kavanaugh deserved “no presumption of innocence.” This attitude has also infected the campus tribunals that adjudicate sexual assault claims, and now run roughshod over the rights of accused college students. It culminates in cases like one recently reported by writer Robby Soave at Reason, where a University of California at Davis student spent $12,000 defending himself against allegations stemming from a clearly consensual encounter.
False Accusations Should Terrify Everyone
It’s understandable—even reasonable—that young men would want to take steps to protect themselves from false accusations in this cultural climate. One idea re-emerging among some people on the right is the “Pence Rule,” Vice President Mike Pence’s self-imposed practice of avoiding dining or meeting alone with any woman other than his wife.
But even if the motivations for embracing the Pence rule make sense at first glance, to do so would not only be unwise, but also do little to ward off false accusations while still representing a massive step backward in our social culture.
After all, this self-isolating practice wasn’t actually invented by Pence, although it rose to popularity after the Washington Post profiled him. It was the late Rev. Billy Graham who popularized the idea that men should avoid spending time alone with women other than their spouses in order to “avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion.” If only preventing false accusations were that simple!
Could Accusations Be Avoided With Simple Precautions?
The logic underlying Graham’s practices falls apart when applied to today’s context. Even if a man never puts himself into a situation in which he’s alone with a woman, he can still face false accusations of impropriety.
Kavanaugh’s first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, nearly derailed his nomination even though she couldn’t provide evidence or corroboration proving that the two had ever met, much less that they were ever alone together. Subsequent accusers made evidence-free claims of indecent exposure, and one even pushed wild theories about gang rape rings Kavanaugh supposedly participated in. Not even the most modest corroboration or substantiation of these claims was required before they were given mainstream media coverage by prominent outlets, let alone any proof that these women ever met Kavanaugh in private.
There are also many less high-profile examples of men being taken down by unsubstantiated allegations that couldn’t have been thwarted by the Pence rule. The infamous “Sh-tty Media Men” list derailed the careers of multiple media moguls (some of whom may be guilty) without naming an accuser, much less establishing a location. In 2018, the reality is that no amount of self-segregation can shield you from accusations, even when they’re false.
Would the Pence Rule Hinder Professional Women?
Yet even if there was some utility in embracing the Pence rule, it would come at far too great a cost. Pence is incredibly close with his wife Karen—so much so that she had a direct line to his desk as governor—and that’s admirable. But does maintaining such closeness really require shutting out, or at least limiting, one’s relationships with women?
Perhaps it would if you view men as so depraved that they lack the self-control to remain faithful or avoid sexual immorality. Yet Graham and his peers believed the nature of man was actually that barbaric when they invented the “Pence rule,” motivated by the fear that they would “[fall] into immorality.”
Both this language and thinking grant men almost no agency. Men are fully capable of controlling themselves in the presence of a woman, and do not “fall” into misconduct—they choose it. This means they’re fully capable of choosing not to misbehave, and to think otherwise is fundamentally pessimistic. Surely the vast majority of men can and do hold themselves to a higher standard.
While it’s Pence’s right to do as he pleases, there’s little doubt his practices have unfairly affected others. Over the years, how many young female congressional staffers or statehouse aides were denied the same mentorship as their male counterparts due to their boss’s archaic habits? If you can’t be alone with someone, even just for coffee or an office meeting, how can you really learn from them? Regardless of what you think of Pence’s politics, there’s no disputing the wealth of his political experience—or justifying sharing it along strict sex lines because the VP refuses to meet with women alone.
Implementing the Pence rule broadly would amplify these losses on a larger scale. So while young men have a right to be concerned by today’s freewheeling Me Too culture, it would be a mistake to respond by embracing a tactic that will do little to ward off accusations and only send society lurching backward.