A majority of women think it's 'inappropriate' to dine alone with a man. Given what we know about workplace harassment, can we really blame them?by Barbara Speed / July 4, 2017 / Leave a comment
I’ll start by saying I think Mike Pence has a point.
When it emerged in March that the US Vice President won’t go for dinner or an event alone with a woman who isn’t his wife, especially if alcohol was involved, the hot takes were unstoppable. This, we declared, was the problem with right-wing men. They wouldn’t include women at work events, because they couldn’t trust themselves to be alone with them. And women’s careers suffered as a result.
But this week, the New York Times has revealed that a majority of Americans basically agree with him. In a survey of just over 5,000 registered voters, the Times found that 53 per cent of women thought it would be ‘inappropriate’ to have dinner alone with a member of the opposite sex. Forty-five per cent of men agreed.
Having a drink was even worse: only 29 per cent of women thought this was appropriate, while, again, men were more balanced at 41 per cent appropriate and 48 per cent inappropriate.
The survey complicates what Pence said. Now we know this view is not one held by a single man whose closest colleague apparently grabs womens’ genitals for fun, it shows that the message isn’t as simple as “uh, sexism”. Put simply, Mike Pence may want to avoid dining with women—but many women don’t want to meet him for pizza and conservative chitchat either.
Putting the results in context
While some commenters were shocked at how widespread Pence’s opinions are, the results shouldn’t actually surprise us, given one of our society’s favourite questions is ‘Can men and women ever be just friends?’ That question asks whether platonic relationships between men and women are possible without sexual feelings getting in the way. All Pence has done is extend this to the workplace, and give his answer: no. It’s offensive—but by that measure, so, frankly, is One Day.
It is also important to consider the responses—particularly the women’s—in context. Puritanical as they may seem, they also make sense when we consider the possibility that the workplace is now, in some, privileged cases, the first place where sexism really hits home. On paper, women now thrive in most educational spaces, and it’s conceivable that a…