Special Briefing: The “Billy Graham Rule” Meets the #MeToo Era

Billy Graham speaks on June 27, 1954.

Source AP

Why you should care

Because there’s such a thing as too careful.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What happened? Mississippi State Rep. Robert Foster, a Republican who’s running for governor, sparked a media frenzy this week when he refused to allow Larrison Campbell, a female reporter for Mississippi Today, to join him for a ride-along without a male chaperone. Foster, 36, claimed the move was aimed at respecting his marriage and avoiding the potentially poor “optics” of the situation. Campbell and many critics, however, say the decision was purely sexist. (Campbell, by the way, is married to a woman.) Either way, Foster’s apparent invocation of the so-called “Billy Graham rule,” named after the prominent evangelical leader, has raised an important question: What’s the line between male caution in the #MeToo era and straight discrimination? 

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Robert Foster

Source AP

Why does it matter? The #MeToo movement has proven to be a powerful force for advancing awareness of sexual harassment and women’s rights. So powerful, in fact, that it’s had a resounding impact on the workplace: A study released in May found that two-thirds of male managers in the U.S. are wary of spending time one-on-one with female colleagues — a 14 percentage-point increase from last year. So male bosses shut down the opportunity for (or appearance of) sexual improprieties, but women get an additional career barrier. 

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Back to basics. Graham, one of the most influential Christian leaders of the 20th century, first developed his eponymous rule from a 1948 manifesto co-authored with fellow evangelists in Modesto, California. Pushing the importance of integrity in finances and publicity, as well as the danger of sexual immorality, it served as a sort of personal and professional guide for Graham, who refused to travel or otherwise spend time alone with any woman other than his wife. 

Modern interpretations. Before this week’s episode involving Foster and Campbell, Vice President Mike Pence was the most recent high-profile adherent of the policy, famously claiming that he wouldn’t have dinner with any woman other than his wife, Karen, or attend events with alcohol unless she was there, too. That’s why it’s now often known as the “Pence rule.” For those men who adhere to the rule, it’s a sign of respect for their wives and an attempt to head off temptations to stray. In Pence’s case, critics like employment lawyer Joanna L. Grossman suggested it might amount to illegal discrimination because it creates unequal access to the opportunity for face time with a superior. The rule has also become presidential campaign trail fodder. Sen. Kamala Harris called Pence’s practice “outrageous” in March, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand attacked Foster this week as “backward.” But Foster — running to the right in a Republican primary — could stand to benefit. About 70 percent of respondents in an online poll by the (Tupelo, Miss.) Daily Journal took his side, and he’s seen a bump in donations. Some analysts say the controversy could give a largely unknown candidate a surge of support. 

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Protesters attend a Me Too rally to denounce sexual harassment and assaults of women.

Source Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty

Playing it “safe” on Wall Street. Even in America’s high-octane financial sector, men in power are reportedly not only avoiding going out for dinner with female colleagues, but also shying away from sitting next to women on flights and even booking hotel rooms on different floors during conferences. “It’s creating a sense of walking on eggshells,” one former Morgan Stanley managing director told Bloomberg late last year, referencing the #MeToo movement. In the famously male-dominated domain, these attitudes could continue to hold women back.

… and elsewhere. Just as the #MeToo movement gathered global steam, so too has the tendency of expressing extra caution. In India, for example, a national study conducted late last year found that 80 percent of men there have altered their workplace interactions following public shaming of celebrities in the media and entertainment industries. Nor is it restricted to the world of business; even Hollywood star Keanu Reeves may be changing his behavior in the modern era. Or so people suspect: Social media was abuzz last month after multiple images emerged of Reeves posing for photographs with female fans, including country music legend Dolly Parton, but without touching them.

WHAT TO READ

The “Billy Graham Rule” Doesn’t Honor Your Wife. It Demeans Her — And All Women, by Monica Hesse in The Washington Post

“It’s rather like a thief sanctimoniously announcing that he brings a parole officer every time he goes to the bank to make sure he doesn’t rob it.”

Don’t Mock Mike Pence for Protecting His Marriage, Commend Him, by Mollie Hemingway in The Federalist

“Infidelity destroys intimacy, happiness, and marriages themselves. But it happens because of the strong temptation that exists every day for most healthy people.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Foster Denies Female Reporter Access to Coverage

“This is an instance where somebody said to me, ‘You cannot do your job the way your male colleague has been doing your job based solely on the fact that you’re a woman.’”

Watch on WJTV 12 News on YouTube:

The Aftermath of #MeToo in the Workplace: SurveyMonkey/LeanIn.Org Research

“If you don’t want to have dinner with women, don’t have dinner with the men on your team — lunch is for everybody.”

Watch on SurveyMonkey on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Rules are rules. Billy Graham, who died last year at the age of 99, even applied his rule toward a lunch with Hillary Clinton when she was the first lady of Arkansas. Yet the future secretary of state did manage to persuade Graham to meet privately in a public dining room. “She impressed me as a genuine intellectual,” Graham later wrote in his autobiography.

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