During the 1990’s Clinton administration, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton reached out to Rev. Billy Graham to arrange a private luncheon meeting. Graham, an influential evangelical minister who routinely met with U.S. Presidents and other world leaders, turned her down. Graham wasn’t worried about the political optics of meeting with a liberal like Hillary. Graham routinely met with Republicans and Democrats indiscriminately. Rather, Graham’s initial rejection of a meeting with Hillary was because he made a practice of never meeting privately with any women without his wife or another third party present. This practice grew from Graham’s concern that the meetings might be tinged by impropriety.
The practice became known in the evangelical community as the “Graham Rule.” Today it is also widely known because it is standard protocol followed by Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence was generally praised by those on the right for his adherence to the Graham Rule. It was seen by many as an honest effort to maintain his marital fidelity. Many conservatives welcomed a reprieve from the indefensible actions and words of Donald Trump. For conservatives, Pence could be the man in the White House who not only represented party ideology, but was also respectable.
But on closer look, the rule used by Pence shares the same misogynistic roots that underlie Donald Trump’s “pussy-grabbing” views of women. That is, Trump’s statements and the Graham Rule are wholly consistent.
Why should we think this? First notice that the misogyny captured on the Access Hollywood tapes resulted, by political necessity, in Trump’s apology. But rather than undergoing public scorn, Pence’s credentials among conservative voters are likely to be bolstered by news of his use of the Graham Rule. Few, if any, Republicans are concerned by the rule’s patently discriminatory application. This is because the Graham Rule operates covertly in its use of standard misogynistic ploys. Parading under the cloak of cassock and collar it holds women responsible for men’s indiscretion. Balancing biblical authority over fairness, the rule casts all women in a Jezebelian hue. The rule reduces the professional context in which men and women interact to a sexual context. Perhaps most ironically, the Graham Rule is driven by the inevitability of adultery rather than the very thing it is widely lauded for honoring: marital fidelity.
No one confused Trump’s statements as an act that demonstrated good family values. But that is exactly what the Graham Rule is thought to be. The Graham Rule, however, does not demonstrate good family values. Rather, it shares many of the same misogynistic views of women as Trump.
“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
Both Trump and Pence operate under the principle that when they encounter a beautiful woman, neither can exercise self-restraint. Trump confesses that he has no self-restraint. When he sees a beautiful woman, he’s automatically attracted to her. He then acts with sexual aggression. This is consistent with the reasoning offered by Pence for his policy.
Pence maintains that he is following the lead of Billy Graham, but note how Graham is quoted as rejecting a private meeting with Hillary: Graham reportedly told Hillary that he “didn’t have private lunches with beautiful ladies.” The similarity between Trump’s approach to women and the Graham Rule extends beyond the superficial reduction of women to their appearance. (One does wonder though if it is only “beautiful” women that Graham refuses to meet alone with.) Rather, the primary similarity between the rule and Trump is this: Neither Pence, Graham, or Trump believe themselves capable of exercising self-restraint when they encounter a beautiful woman. Where Trump would treat women as sexual prey to play out his misogyny, Pence and Graham instead hold women responsible for their own lack of self-restraint by censoring women’s viewpoint. While adherents of the Graham Rule would bristle at the notion that they are unfairly penalizing women when they refuse one-on-one meetings, there is an obvious discrepancy between the rule’s stated motivation (marital fidelity) and the operating motivation (Mike Pence does not trust himself to exercise sexual restraint in professional meetings with women, thus, he does not meet with women privately). Meanwhile, men who wish to meet privately with Pence are afforded the opportunity to do so.
“This whole thing is one big fix . . . . It’s one big, ugly lie.”
This is from Trump’s complete denial that he sexually harassed each of the 15 women who have leveled allegations against him, from a campaign rally in Greensboro, N.C. October 14, 2016. One reading of the motivation for the Graham Rule is that men lack the self-control not to commit adultery when they meet privately with women. Another reading of the Graham Rule is that women are too risky to meet with privately because they are likely to lie about sexual misconduct.
Under this reading, the rule again shares a common assumption about women with Trump. Restated, if the Graham Rule is not a misguided approach to blunt the tendencies of male indiscretion, then it is whole-hearted acceptance of the Myth of the Lying Woman. Under this reading, the Graham Rule mitigates the risk of being falsely accused of sexual misconduct because when Pence meets with a woman, there is always a third party present to bear witness that nothing remotely sexual happened. While this may seem prudent from a legal perspective, it might often result in a difficult psychological balance that disfavors women.
In the view of Trump and Pence, women who allege that rich or powerful men have committed sexual misconduct are mere “opportunists” standing to gain from a quick settlement payout or public notoriety. But the “opportunistic” narrative about false reports shares a similar root in misogyny. The women who accuse rich or powerful men of sexual misconduct do not share the same legal and circumstantial safeguards afforded those men. There is a strong incentive not to falsely report sexual misconduct when the accused is rich or powerful because it may lead to a defamation suit; and in criminal cases, it may lead to prosecution. Additionally, the notoriety achieved by the accuser is hardly an incentive because it highly intrudes into the personal affairs of the accuser.
Perhaps it is possible that Trump’s accusers are lying, as he has unequivocally maintained. In that case the Graham Rule would not share the assumption of the Myth of the Lying Women with Trump’s view of women. But, it seems unlikely that all 15 allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump are false reports. Such a result, if true, would be a gross deviation from statistical likelihood. With such unlikely odds, it seems safe to say that both Trump and Pence share the view that women are deceitful and likely to fabricate lies about sexual encounters.
“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there and she was married.”
Trump, Pence, and Billy Graham lack a respect for marriage and the professionalism of women. In the Access Hollywood tape, Trump can’t help but comment on coworker Arianne Zucker’s appearance. As a married man, he found her irresistible. Trump, then-newly-wed to Melania, remarked about past sexual conquests of other married women. Without knowing the nature of Trump’s own marital vows, he clearly demonstrated little respect for other married couple’s vows when he so aggressively sought to undermine them. Additionally, he found it within the bounds of acceptable topics to discuss such indiscreet behavior with coworkers. Trump attempted to reduce the relationship with his colleagues to a sexual relationship, or one revolving around speculative sex.
This reduction of professional relationships to sexual relationships is implicit in the Graham Rule also. Pence does not meet with women privately because he fears it may lead to sex. It is women who bear the negative brunt of this fear when they are shut out of political decision-making.
Most ironically, men who follow the Graham Rule are regarded as having a healthy respect for their marriage. The Graham Rule is followed to protect marital fidelity. But what sort of respect do these men actually have for marriage? A preoccupation with adultery dictates their view of marriage. Sex becomes the end or aim of every relationship. The Graham Rule is premised on a sensibility that the fault is not in the man disregarding marital vows in pursuit of an extramarital affair, but rather the fault is in the fatalistic “stars.” These men are driven by fear rather than a careful consideration of the importance of their marital relationship. A sense of ordained infidelity is the driving force behind the Graham Rule–not respect for the marital relationship. These husbands do not trust themselves to be alone with women because if given the opportunity they are afraid of what will happen.
Instead, adherents of the Graham Rule do not wish to keep their marital vows as much as to avoid the test of them.