Robert Foster wants to be governor of Mississippi — at least the male half of it. A Republican first-term state representative who’s running for the state’s top job, Foster doesn’t seem to value women much beyond their bodies.
Last week, a female reporter at Mississippi Today, a nonprofit digital news company, wrote that her request for a ride-along with the candidate had been denied — unless she brought a male colleague with her. Ride-alongs allow reporters to spend time with subjects going through their daily routine. It’s an interview technique that can give readers a closer, more detailed picture of the subject. In this case, reporter Larrison Campbell didn’t even need to spend time with Foster to find out that he is a sexist dinosaur.
Foster’s explanation for the unusual condition he put on the interview was that he feared he might be accused of having an extramarital affair if he spent time alone with a woman who was not his wife. Once the story went national, Foster explained in a tweet that he obeyed the so-called “Billy Graham rule” which is supposed to help men avoid being tempted by women or being suspected of it. He said it was a matter of “respect” for his wife.
Ugh. If this sounds like something from a different era, that’s because it is. Cooked up by the Rev. William Franklin “Billy” Graham Jr. in 1948, the rule holds that a man should never be in a room alone with a woman to whom he is not married. Incredibly, this relic has made a comeback in modern times as reaction to the #MeToo movement. Men in power say that they are limiting contact with women in the workplace to protect themselves from being accused of sexual misconduct. Vice President Mike Pence practices a form of the rule, refusing to dine alone with women.
Forgive us from stating the obvious, but the best way to not be accused of sexual misconduct is to not engage in sexual misconduct. Avoiding women to keep your reputation clean is more punitive than noble. In fact, it’s sexism — and a particularly pernicious form of it because it is masquerading as courtesy. Being excluded from private confabs with the boss and other opportunities in and out of the office that men use to bond and to advance poses as much potential harm to a woman’s career as having a boss who makes lewd suggestions.
Look, cultural upheavals are scary. But that’s no excuse to practice discrimination and to devolve into a Saudi-like society in which women’s bodies must be kept away from men so they don’t lose control. If Foster, Pence and the executives avoiding contact with women can’t leave their sexual desire at the office door, they must find nondiscriminatory ways to keep their reputations safe. May we suggest body cams or a chastity belts in the office? If those sound ridiculous to men, they’re no more absurd than the many injustices that have been perpetrated on women just for being women.