Mike Pence only dines alone with mother, according to a profile of Karen Pence, the wife of the vice president, over at the Washington Post. This is information that apparently had been in circulation for about 15 years: “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.”
There have been a number of great and awful responses to the news that the vice president will not eat alone with a woman who is not his wife. Some conservative pundits used it as an opportunity to brag about not having female friends and speculate that maybe the only the time you can have a one-on-one with a woman is if your wife is dead and you have to plan her funeral. Others, instead of talking about their future dead wives, examined the hard and fast gender norms embedded in evangelical and conservative religious practice, which heavily police purity, temptation, and the appearance of virtue and sin.
One of particular interest to me was a response from Clara Jeffery, the editor-in-chief of Mother Jones, who noted that Pence’s rule means, in practice, that he could never a hire a woman to be his chief of staff or any other senior position that involves a lot of one-on-one time. The rule guarding against dinner would probably apply to a long drive or late night in the office, right? If you can’t be alone with a woman who isn’t your wife, you can’t work with women in any meaningful capacity.
A lot of men exclude women in this way—they just don’t attribute it to their faith. Instead, they call it culture fit. As Lauren Rivera, an associate professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, wrote at The New York Times in 2015: Culture fit has come to mean, in many workplaces, “snap judgments by managers about who they’d rather hang out with.”
She found this to be true while researching hiring practices at the country’s top investment firms, interviewing 120 people involved in hiring decisions over the course of nine months.
Here’s some of what she found (emphasis mine):
Discovering shared experiences was one of the most powerful sources of chemistry, but interviewers were primarily interested in new hires whose hobbies, hometowns and biographies matched their own. Bonding over rowing college crew, getting certified in scuba, sipping single-malt Scotches in the Highlands or dining at Michelin-starred restaurants was evidence of fit; sharing a love of teamwork or a passion for pleasing clients was not. Some (former) athletes fit exclusively with other athletes; others fit only with those who played the same sport. At one hiring committee meeting I attended, I watched a partner who was an avid Red Sox fan argue for rejecting a Yankees supporter on the grounds of misfit.
This reliance on a heavily biased sense of culture fit hits basically all prospective employees who aren’t straight white guys, and has an obviously gendered meaning across industries. In general, “whether the industry is finance, high-tech or fashion, a good fit in most American corporations still tends to be stereotypically masculine,” according to Rivera. Look at the gender ratios in industries like tech and finance, and the consequences of this kind of bias are clear.
And so the question of who fits in at your company—or who you can drink a beer with, have dinner with, spend late nights with figuring out ways to gut health care for people—is often answered with “men,” and usually white men. Pence’s rule about spending time alone with women who aren’t his wife is rooted in his faith’s deeply conservative read on gender relations and men and women’s place in society, but it’s also an example of how men otherize women into foreign objects to be fucked, feared, or both.
All of which is to say that some of the men with hiring power who are currently dunking on Mike Pence should take note: You are also probably bad.