Forgive me the indulgence of a personal anecdote: Three nights ago, on the final evening of a return trip to my home state of Kansas, I met a friend at Buffalo Wild Wings (what can I tell you, it’s Kansas). This is one of my oldest and dearest pals, and we go all the way back to our middle school days, a nearly 30-year relationship (fine, do the math). But here’s the twist: she’s a lady.
In spite of that, though, and despite that during the course of our two-hour rap session we each had at least two fairly strong drinks (I mean, strong for Buffalo Wild Wings), we somehow managed not to fuck each other! CRAZY, RIGHT, I KNOW. You see, we’re both married, and we both have kids, and our marriages can somehow withstand the notion of being alone with a person of the opposite sex without ripping their clothes off, and until I got back to New York and started perusing Twitter, I didn’t realize that there are people among us who find this notion utterly inconceivable. Even nuttier, one of them is the vice-president.
The item that started all this hullaballoo appeared in Tuesday’s Washington Post, a lengthy piece on Vice President Mike Pence’s “prayer warrior” and wife, Karen. But a much older tidbit became the takeaway: “In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill 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.” Writers and activists responded to this throwaway nugget quickly and loudly, and for good reason: it’s fucking bonkers. The immediate implications of such a policy were best summarized by Mother Jones Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffrey, who noted:
And then, of course, conservatives were there for the push-back, insisting that no, no, godless liberals, this is totally normal behavior, why would a man in a loving, faithful marriage ever have a meal or a drink or be alone with some vagina-wielding seductress?
And, because the Internet is the worst, now there are even voices on the left scolding their political allies for marriage-shaming Mike and “Mother” Pence:
Ms. Wu has since sobered up and deleted those tweets, but I’ve heard from plenty of other folks, insisting that it’s hypocritical to judge Republicans for their private lives and relationships, to which I say this: Stop, just stop. This is different, and we know it – because this little controversy tells us so much about the conservative worldview. After all, we liberals are supposed to be the craven perverts, but time after time, we see how a certain segment of men – most specifically, a certain segment of conservative men, and even more specifically, a certain segment of Evangelical Christian conservative men – view everyone and everything around them through a hyper-sexualized lens. People are defined first and foremost by their sexuality (be it gender or preference), and presumed to act solely according to the animalistic urges of said sexuality. And, since self-satisfied narcissism plays no small part in this way of thinking, such sexual wildbeasts would pursue poor Evangelical Christian conservative men with wild abandon — and so, for the good of all, these smoldering sexpots must remove themselves from the situation.
None of this is new, of course. The decades-old attempts to keep gay teachers out of schools and gay soldiers out of the military operated under the assumption that, when put in those situations, they would be unable to resist the urge to fuck their students or their fellow soldiers. These ideas currently manifest themselves in the ridiculous debate over trans bathroom access, borne out of the insistence that trans women would be unable to resist the urge to use that access to leer at, and have sex with, these wives and daughters. (After all, these good and not-at-all-terrifying Christian men insist, that’s what they’d try to do.) They also flow freely through rape culture, and the repugnant notions that women must dress like Mennonites and drink like Quakers, unless they want men to “take advantage of them.” So it would stand to reason that a virile man like Mike Pence could not share a meal or a drink with any non-wife woman, as such a fornicating seductress could not be trusted to respect his marital commitment – and, it is presumed, neither could he.
And, most importantly, the particular Evangelical Christian conservative man we’re talking about renders the discussion imperative – because there are very real, and very worrisome, policy implications at stake. Because (and have a seat, because I might sound a little “radicalized” here) when you’re one rage-prone 70-year-old’s heart attack away from the presidency, it’s important that you’re able to see women outside of the strict roles of either divine baby carriers or vamping harlots. The inability to see women as whole human beings, beyond the definitions assigned by marital status and sexual proclivity, is how you end up dismissing fair pay, minimizing rape, and making their reproductive health decisions. And you also might also end up serving under a president who’s an admitted sexual predator – after all, they “let [him] do it.” And then you could end up as the tie-breaker vote in a bill to defund a vital provider of women’s health services.
So yeah, maybe sit down and have a conversation with a woman who’s not your wife every once in a while, Mike Pence. You might fucking learn something.