I picked a fight with some male co-workers a couple weeks ago. They had put together a day of conferences about the international relations of the Trump presidency and out of 10 panelists, only 3 were women, including me and the first panel had no women at all. This happens all the time in Spain, but the U.S. isn’t all that different. Only 24% of foreign affairs and security guests booked during weekday cable and Sunday programming are women, 76% are men. This is so common that I’ve made a hobby out of retweeting photos of all-bro panels and with the hashtag #wherearethewomen?
Where ARE the women? One way our progress has been slowed is that we have been ghettoized and we can thank Mike Pence for at least coming clean about how he does this to women in his orbit.
Pence’s no-go rule for dinners alone with women and events with alcohol without his wife present is on the extreme end of the common practice of gender segregation that happens both formally and informally. Why would this happen among adults? The answer is sex. Think about it: Pence is talented enough as a politician to have risen to the office of Vice President. Is he not sufficiently in control of his own sexuality to be alone with a woman and not do naughty things with her? Is he incapable of keeping it in his pants at events with alcohol? Or is it that the women just aren’t able to keep their hands off this irresistible, white-haired politico?
Sex is persistently out there, even in work life and my first brush with it came young. I was a 17-year-old senior in high school planning our homecoming dance and dealing directly with the catering manager at a local hotel. And I was feeling awfully grown up about it until he called me and asked me out on a date. (I was mortified! What was he? Like, 30??) I said no, was afraid to tell my parents and was so embarrassed by the whole thing that I asked our student council advisor to deal with him. In the end, I missed out on a great learning experience yet I’m sure he still got his commission off what the hotel made from the dance. More recently, an ex-boyfriend insisted that every time a man I knew professionally was nice to me, it was because he wanted to sleep with me.
Those are just the bookends to dozens of like experiences that have colluded to make me wary of men in my work life. And sure, the guys suffer from it too, but gals are the big losers in all of it. Men still have an extraordinary share of power in this world and we all know that the old saying—it’s not what you know, it’s who you know—is absolutely true. So, whether its Pence’s extreme version or just that dudes like to hang with other dudes, this behavior hurts women because men are more often better positioned to give out bigger favors, and people do favors for their friends.
As we move up the rungs of power, the consequences of this become more consequential. My co-workers are just guilty of sticking their friends on the panels they needed to organize. But, if you’re a man in a position of real power, like Pence, then the men he dines with have much bigger benefits to reap. How are the women who are kept at arm’s length supposed to compete?
I don’t know how to take away the sexual undertones, but we—both women and men—can’t let them scare us away or lock us out from making the connections we need to get where we want to go.