It’s only a matter of time until the female of the species becomes predator, and is caught in the web of what the country preacher called “he’in and she’in,” which has been the favorite game of men and women since Eve disdained perfection in the Garden of Eden.
Adam was a sap, but Eve must have been truly irresistible. Science insists that one day two big clods of cosmic clay banged into each other somewhere out there beyond Pluto, and the evolutionary result a zillion eons later was a heavenly creature with the body of Marlene Dietrich and the face of Hedy Lamarr. Or maybe it was Elizabeth Taylor or Ingrid Bergman. But to actually believe that requires more faith than most mere men can muster.
The man has always been the dumber of the sexes since the time when there were only two, and neither was a gender. Beguiled by feminine beauty, men have never tried very hard to resist the irresistible, and when Eve — it must have been Eve — invented the game of “He’in and She’in” Adam, being the jerk he was, couldn’t wait to break the rules. A man is often still a jerk, but every woman seems to want one.
The only way to deal with the urge to play the game is for the man to keep his distance. Mike Pence, the vice president, was only yesterday roundly mocked for adopting the famous Billy Graham Rule, forbidding his being alone with a woman not his wife, neither dining with her alone nor attending any event where alcohol is served unless his wife is along.
Some of Eve’s progeny, ever eager to take offense whether one is intended or not, took this as an affront to all women, and particularly women looking for work. Feminists complain that the Graham/Pence Rule is a barrier to women advancing the corporate ladder, though a tryst is rarely how the ladder works, and there’s no evidence that a woman has suffered in the workplace for not having had tea for two with the veep.
Women have always been suspicious of what men do when they are not allowed in the clubhouse. “Offering the Pence Rule as a solution to male predation is like saying ‘I can’t meet with you one-on-one,’ ” writes Katelyn Beaty, an editor of the magazine Christianity Today, in an op-ed essay in The New York Times. “‘Otherwise, I might eventually assault you.’ If that’s the case we have far deeper problems around men and power than any personal conduct rule can solve.”
She has a point, but that’s not all the Pence Rule is meant to solve. Many executives, even newspaper editors who aren’t anybody’s idea of a heartthrob, take subtle precautions against bearers of false witness. Such false witnesses can turn up in the most unexpected places, and women, as fair and wondrous as all of them are, are not immune to bearing such witness.
A certain kind of woman is particularly tempted to offer forbidden fruit to a preacher, perhaps foolishly figuring that he is as close to the divine as she is likely to get, and relishes the attention she gets in bringing him down, like Delilah with Samson. The Graham/Pence Rule, says Jay Richards, a research professor at Catholic University, is only a reasonable response to the dramatic social changes that have erased boundaries between the sexes over the decades since conventional morality died in the rubble of World War II.
“We now find ourselves trying to kind of create rules after discovering fallout from these dramatic social changes,” he says. “It’s not as if Pence’s rule is written in stone. Different people have different rules that are similar to this. But I know many Christian organizations and Christian ministries have rules more or less like Mike Pence’s in place for all employees.”
In fact, rules like those put down by Billy Graham and Mike Pence are more likely to have been written in sand, not stone. In certain trades and professions, such as in Hollywood and on newspapers and then in television, behavior has been traditionally freewheeling. Back in the day, every reporter had a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in the lower left-hand drawer of his desk, often the gift of someone thinking of it as an investment, and boys being boys, sometimes invited the girls into the clubhouse.
This summer of fun, if not exactly love, is likely to have a calming effect on the way men and women behave, but the effect is likely to be neither profound nor permanent. The immediate effect is political, and a moral culture is not built on politics. We can take what we can get, and hope for more.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.