Mormons and the Billy Graham Rule

Today’s guest post is from Carolyn Homer. Carolyn Homer is an attorney and religion constitutional law enthusiast in Washington, D.C.

I’ve been surprised by the East Coast’s collective “sexist!” horror this week over the published tidbit that Mike Pence “never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.”  Famously known as the Billy Graham Rule, the point is to avoid temptation and any appearance of sexual impropriety.  For Mike Pence specifically, it probably goes beyond that — as a public figure running on Christian values, he probably doesn’t want to create even the possibility of a he-said/she-said sex scandal.  Even if Pence trusts himself, the rule protects against blackmail.

The same concept extends well beyond conservative politics and evangelical Christians and into Mormon circles — to say nothing of segments of Judaism and Islam.  Such a rule is so normal I found Pence’s position more quaint than offensive.   (But I did have to laugh at the Onion’s parody of it: “Mike Pence Asks Waiter To Remove Mrs. Butterworth From Table Until Wife Arrives.”)

I grew up hearing variants on the rule at church and around fellow Mormons. I learned it was inappropriate for adult men and women to be alone together in bedrooms, hotel rooms, cars, classrooms, and offices; that all dates should occur in public places; that any business dinner or trip must be chaperoned; and that any sort of “private” meeting or interview must be conducted with doors open. (Unless it’s a bishop’s worthiness interview? That part never made sense.)

I’m all for appropriate personal boundaries at church and at work, and I wholeheartedly support open communication with spouses on these issues. So while I can see room for some rules limiting alone time with the opposite sex, particularly with strangers or exes or those you don’t fully trust, a blanket rule strikes me as ridiculous.

In business circles, it’s utterly impractical. I’m a woman lawyer with a majority of male colleagues. It is not uncommon for me to be the only woman on a team. I eat with, meet with, and travel with men. I often reach out to male professionals to set up networking lunches. If even one such man enforced this rule (or if I created my own version) — frankly, the effect on my career would be pronounced, and detrimental. If a boss ever tried, I’d report him immediately to Human Resources. Besides the obvious “apparently my boss thinks of me sexually” complaint, the pragmatic effect would be that my male peers would have more mentorship opportunities than me.

In social circles, too, such a rule would be stifling. Many of my best friends, Mormons and atheists and everything in between, are men. I call, text, go on hikes, play board games, and eat dinner with them frequently. I’ve let them stay the night, or even share a hotel room, when they needed a place to crash.

Nothing improper has ever happened.

Frankly, it’s far more awkward when a man does try to enforce this rule. In inserts unnecessary sexual connotations into an otherwise humdrum interaction. By saying “I can’t trust myself to be alone with you because you might be a seductive temptress woman,” it signals a lack of professional respect. The effect is the exact opposite of what the Billy Graham Rule purportedly intends.

I’ll give an example. A couple years ago an elder’s quorum president stopped me in the hall at church. He had just learned that I was going through a particularly rough time; he wanted to offer the ward’s help. His compassion for a fellow saint was so genuine, and my life was in so much upheaval, that as we spent a few minutes talking logistics I started crying.

“I wish I could give you a hug,” he concluded.
I gave him a bewildered look. “You can?”
“Well, but my wife — you’re a — it wouldn’t be appropriate –” he stammered.
That sparked my inner feisty feminist.
“You’re not a missionary anymore, elder!” I scolded. “You’re allowed to give a crying friend a hug!”
Mildly chagrined, he awkwardly patted me on the shoulder.
I counted it as a victory.

“Mourning with those that mourn” isn’t gender-segregated. Jesus spoke alone to the woman caught in adultery; he met alone with the Samaritan woman at the well; he appeared alone to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection. We, in turn, should not let Puritanical fear quash Christlike love.


  1. It’s actually codified: “A man and a woman should not travel alone together for Church activities, meetings, or assignments unless they are married to each other or are both single.”

    (Handbook 2: Administering the Church, 13.6.24)

  2. Well put, Carolyn. I see the wisdom of some kind of guideline in certain situations for the reasons you lay out at the beginning, but a blanket, legalistically applied “rule” is a bad idea. I personally think your examples of Jesus meeting with women alone, such as at the well, are a pretty powerful rebuke of such a legalistic rule.

    The “no hug” rule reminds me a little of the guys I knew as a BYU student that would make a girl go back home to pee because it would be “against the rules” to let them into the bathroom. I thought this was stupid, because as I read the honor code rules, I didn’t think they were intended to override common courtesy. In a similar way, if you do decide to abide by some version of the Billy Graham rule yourself, for whatever reason, I think it’s a grave mistake to allow that to overcome charity.

  3. Wait, if they’re both single they are allowed to travel together? Does that mean that the Church recognizes that not all opposite sex interactions are inherently sinful? Or does it just mean the Church –wants– them to pair off? There have been many an elders quorum president / relief society president match in student wards, after all!

  4. I love the Mary Magdalene reference. Great piece. High five for the Onion connection.

  5. This came up in a Relief Society lesson last year. I white-knuckled it while women described the extreme lengths their husbands went through at work to avoid being alone with other women. The worst though was the women who spoke about how they wouldn’t let a male repairman (who they’d known for years) into the house unless her husband was present. She wanted to avoid the appearance of evil.

    I kept wanting to say, “yes, but what about me.” Because I work with men as a consultant for small business. When I meet with clients in person we almost always go out to lunch. I have one client (whose sister-in-law was in the room) who I’ve met any number of times at his house alone. His home office is attached to his bedroom. I can see his bed from where we sit.

    In these women’s world, I am not just the appearance of evil, but a possible road to divorce for my clients. And that makes me want to scream “Get out of the 1950!!!!”

  6. I had a similar reaction as the OP. The Pence marriage/rules strikes me as well-intentioned, familiar, and quaint. Honestly, I think the rule about having his wife around when alcohol is served is sweet. On a professional basis, though, it is probably counter-productive and damaging.

    Personally my husband and I both follow this rule in social settings – but as a woman in a male-dominated field I obviously travel and eat alone with male co-workers frequently.

  7. Frankly, it’s far more awkward when a man does try to enforce this rule. In inserts unnecessary sexual connotations into an otherwise humdrum interaction.

    Exactly. Mormons who try to enforce or promote this “rule” are the ones who are sexualizing a benign situation and objectifying the woman in the scenario. The woman is not seen as a human being with a purpose other than sexual gratification — when in virtually all cases that is not part of the equation at all. Instead, the woman is a professional trying to do her job and make use of all the same opportunities for interactions that men have always had, e.g. business lunches, dinners in hotel restaurants on business trips, meetings, and many other scenarios in every day life that bring a man and a woman together to discuss things in the regular course of business.

  8. I think the point about how such a rule actually works to sexualize a situation is central to how this actually works against women. This whole rule comes from a model of sexuality where all women are potential sexual targets for men and men are expected to naturally operate as if they are. This all comes from a really stunted view of sexuality and intimacy.

    Of course work affairs happen but it takes two willing parties who develop intimacy over time and cross any number of intermediate boundaries. If someone finds themselves with those feelings AND beginning to cross boundaries, they should remove themselves from the situation or have special rules to keep the relationship bound. That is the mature way to handle this without systematically excluding platonic and professional relationships for everyone else. It should be rare. And really if you are a person that finds themselves repeatedly in these situations, go see a counselor because you need to figure out what is going on. It isn’t normal behavior. If you by default thing of people at work or in a church as potential sexual partners, you should really get help. If you ended up having or almost having an affair at work then yeah there might be a case for having draconian rules but its because YOU screwed up and it should limit you not those around you.

    If you look at two professionals sharing lunch together and talking business and you see “an appearance of evil” then its you that is bringing an overly sexualized view to the world. And its just creepy.

  9. john f. Clearly we were thinking along the same lines. You were just more pithy :)

  10. I kind of approach this from the other direction. I try not to leave myself alone with women I don’t know well, because I don’t want them to feel threatened by my (intimidating) presence. I’m not responsible for others reactions, but I can do what I can to not make others uncomfortable.

  11. I work at BYU with mostly men (I am a woman). Various applications of this rule have had *severe* negative consequences for my career in the past. I’m not arguing for having no boundaries–I wholeheartedly believe in professional boundaries for a whole lot of reasons. But blanket “never” rules have served to humiliate and disadvantage me many, many times.

    My current coworkers are much more thoughtful and kind. I’m rarely with one of them alone, but when I am, they treat me normally and don’t sexualize the situation with awkward comments about “the appearance of evil.” It has made a world of difference in my ability to trust them and do my job.

  12. I have no problem with the Pences having this rule. But I get uncomfortable with the Church enforcing this rule, especially since it does so selectively (I’m alone with a man any time I need to renew my TR).

    Frankly, with all the nasty things politicians have done with people they aren’t married to, I’m not even sure why this is worthy of ridicule.

  13. Fricative says:


    That contributes to prejudice against larger people. People need to learn not to treat larger imposing people as violent objects. In taking on some of the responsibility for other’s actions on yourself (to help them) you are perpetuating the stereotype that large people are violent and we need to be wary of them. Whereas statistically, you don’t have a very high chance of being hurt by a large person anyway.

  14. As with so many problems involving sex, a thing that troubles me about the “Billy Graham Rule” is the undercurrent of fear that drives it. There is the sense that we can’t cope with sex because it’s too strong for us, so we need to create artificial barriers that end up hurting others as much as they help ourselves. There’s no doubt that sex is a powerful, deep, and mysterious thing. We are right to treat it with care. But I think we are wrong to cower before it. When our fear of sex leads us to fail in normal adult interactions, then the right way to fix the problem is by learning to be a better adult rather than creating hedges for an artificial childhood. This is a principle that should apply to many of our practices in the church, especially including the way we teach our youth. When we teach the Billy Graham Rule, we are usually implying to young people that they never will gain the power to handle their sexuality appropriately.

  15. I get the OP, and am sympathetic, but when you look like I do–mad dad bod, an attractive paunch, that sexy pasty skin from sitting at a desk all day, and a growing bald spot, revealing just the right amount of scalp–women just throw themselves at you. You just have to have boundaries. Especially when you’re dressed up, like I often am. More than once when I’ve worn a particularly nice tie, I’ve caught women at the office gawking at it, and I’ve had to say: “My eyes are up here, ladies!”

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    Great post, I totally agree. (I’ve always hated those stories about the bishop who sees the RSP trudging along in the rain and [self-] righteously drives on by.)

    Like you, I’m an attorney practicing in a big city (far from the Mormon corridor) in a field in which there are a lot of female stakeholders. Out here in the real world this kind of practice simply won’t work. BYU is sending young men from their business and other schools out into the big bad world unprepared for this. They’ve been socialized to step off an elevator if a lone woman gets on. They think that is great righteousness. It may be, in Provo. You pull that crap in Chicago you’ll get booted, and the firm will never hire another BYU grad for all the creepy sexualization they bring to such encounters. BYU needs to get a handle on this or they’re going to get a bad reputation (if they haven’t already) that will turn employers away.

  17. Fricative – “they shouldn’t feel that way” isn’t helpful to anyone. I’m not particularly large, just with a darker complexion and a standoffish demeanor that makes it hard for people to get to know me. If someone feel anxiety over my presence, it is certainly -not- my job to try and talk them out of it or treat them like they should just deal with it.

  18. Brother Sky says:

    I like rah’s and Loursat’s comments. It’s always struck me as both hilarious and ironic that the Mormons, whose fear of sex is absurdly high on the scale, tend to sexualize even the most innocent of situations. It makes one wonder if the law of chastity is really just mean to infantilize us to such a degree that we simply fear relating to anyone of the opposite sex who isn’t our spouse. A lot of this stuff becomes even more absurd if you say it out loud: “Sister Smith, I can’t give you a ride home to your house that’s five minutes away because I might have sex with you.” See what I mean?

    I’ve often thought the most healthy thing for the church to do would be to lose the abstinence part of the law of chastity. That would aid tremendously both in terms of taking the fear out of sexuality and would cultivate the ability to be much better prepared to talk about and experience intimacy with whoever will be our ultimate partner. And we’d learn to sexually relate to people in a more mature, more experienced way. Too bad that pigs will fly before the church ever lets loose those particular reins.

  19. When I was a professor at BYU, I would have students come to my office hours seeking much needed help. Sometimes the hallway outside my office would be relatively quiet and I would keep the door open; but sometimes the hallway would be quite loud, so loud that the student seeking help would be unable to hear what I was saying. More often than not, when I would ask a male student to close the door, he would get a scared deer-in-headlights look, visibly gulp and then mumble something like “You sure? You really want me to close it?” It was always so disconcerting to me, because it would immediately pull me out of the professional/professorial mode of interacting and instead remind me that some of my students see me first and foremost as a woman. (And unfortunately, centrally built into these students’ concepts of women seems to be the idea that women=sexual temptresses, just waiting for a closed door to pounce. /s)

    Given that I have also had to deal with needlessly aggressive students treating me in a way that they would never treat their male professors (usually right at the beginning of the semester, since I shut that kind of behavior down pretty fast), there were more than a few times when I wished I could stop being a female professor to some of these male students, and just be a professor.

  20. Can someone elaborate on the elevator rule at BYU? Is that a real thing? I’ve heard of it before but I always thought it was quirky folklore.

  21. My father was a professor, and he steadfastly refused to meet with any student, male or female, one on one in his office. When they came to his office, he had them stand in the hallway and he moved his chair to the doorway. Probably not all that effective, but that was his stance.

    But stop getting the vapors over BYU graduates’ marketability – no employer is turning away BYU students en masse, unless it’s someone run by a delusional Utah grad That’s just silly.

  22. queuno, I don’t think you’re quite aware of how closely Fortune 500 companies work with the placement offices at business schools. Ford used to (and may still) hire a large contingent of BYU MBA graduates every year, but they could always start recruiting more heavily at (just as a random example) University of Illinois instead. Same thing goes for law schools and big-name law firms.

    The relationships between recruiters and major professional schools are the object of incredible attention on the part of the latter, because the success of the alumni network is one of the biggest selling points for any professional school. This is especially the case for BYU; as rapidly as the Wasatch Front is growing, it’s still a small place, and the companies based there are mostly in really dubious lines of business (“nutritional supplements,” security systems routinely sold on false premises, etc.), so it’s imperative for the Marriott School in particular to develop close relationships with employers in larger urban areas.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    Marian, there is no elevator “rule,” just a practice some young men follow to show how extra spirchal they are.

    queuno, certainly not en masse, but there have been incidents and I know for a fact there are certain administrators in some of the colleges that are concerned about this dynamic and trying to figure out what to do about it. Fence around the law separation of sexes behavior that feels normal and even admirable in the BYU context is not normal in the big city business world (to which many of those BYU grads aspire).

  24. There’s no BYU rule – some students and professors self-select but it’s not an institutional thing. Church activities BYU activities.

  25. Another odd thought – how are same-sex attracted people supposed to adapt this rule? Try not to be alone with a person of the same sex to avoid the appearance of impropriety?

    It feeds into the paranoia about LGBT people – You used to be able to obviously tell who you should keep from being alone with but what if s/he is one of -them-? :P

  26. Blanket rules are implemented because individual judgment isn’t trusted. It can be nice to have blanket rules that are generally accepted to prevent unfortunate individual judgments (eg., no fraternization rules within a military unit, no dating a superior in an organizational hierarchy, etc.). I think the Billy Graham rule is extreme and I don’t subscribe to it, but there’s a big difference between a work lunch and late dinner after a long day of work.

    I work in a very male-dominated industry. I was once told that a woman in a slightly different discipline was going to be transferred into my group under my supervision. There was some sort of interpersonal problem going on in her group and rumors of some sort of legal action in the background, and I wanted no part of it. I was on decent terms with her, but I thought she was a little crazy and knowing some of the rumors and accusations, I didn’t want to take on her performance review. I certainly didn’t want to meet with her privately. I was informed that it was sexism to be unwilling to meet with her privately, and that doing so was a condition of my role. All I wanted was to have HR present, and I felt that given the circumstances, that could be a reasonable process for all performance reviews, irrespective of sex. However, since that policy would only be taking effect upon her transfer into my group, it was sexist, since it didn’t exist before a woman was in the group.

    The problem isn’t just that we’re so scared of sex. The problem is, sex definitely drives a lot of behaviors. That woman could very well have been sexually harassed in the other group. Yet, she’d also slept with at least one of my co-workers (one of my subordinates) and it ended badly. She had no idea what he’d said to me, what I might have believed, and if she’d been harassed before, no idea whether I might perpetuate it. I had no idea if she was as crazy as I thought she might be and if she might accuse me of something. The blanket rule would have protected both of us. If she and my co-workers were the mature adults they pretended to be, the problem would never have existed, but there we were.

    The fact is that men and women should be able to co-exist without sexism and without sexual tension being too big a distraction, and most can, but… I can see a reason for blanket rules. (But on the other hand, I’ve seen three sets of co-workers get married, including an executive with a subordinate)

  27. Eric Russell says:

    While it’s fine to not apply this rule to yourself, I think it’s important not to take offense at those who do. For all you know, the person who is applying this rule is in fact a recovering adulterer, is in marriage counseling with his wife, and has agreed to this kind of rule as a part of their process. (This scenario is, unfortunately, more common than you probably think).

    I agree that this rule as a blanket, unconditional rule is probably unecessary for most people – especially when the situation is prompted by work responsibilities. But there is a rule that couples should adopt: whenever one spouse does spend any time alone with someone of the opposite sex, this fact should be disclosed to the spouse and the spouse should be entitled to ask any questions they want about the situation.

    Right this minute, somewhere in the country, there’s a man or woman who is questioning the frequency of alone time that their spouse is spending with someone of the opposite sex. And right now that spouse is feigning offense that they would even ask such questions. They are insisting that the friend or co-worker in question is only that and are chastising their spouse for being so prudish as to believe that two mature adults of the opposite sex can’t ever be alone together. And yet, all the while, this spouse is indeed having a physical or emotional affair. It happens every day.

  28. John f: sexualizing a benign situation and objectifying the woman. Rah: the mature way to handle this without systematically excluding platonic and professional relationships for everyone else. Loursat: When our fear of sex leads us to fail in normal adult interactions, then the right way to fix the problem is by learning to be a better adult rather than creating hedges for an artificial childhood.

    So many good comments and analyses.
    Creepy sexualization is exactly what it is.

    Being married to a never-mo, I am in many ways a de facto single woman, but I actively participated and raised my children in my ward. In the past couple of years my meeting attendance has been sporadic due to intense problems. In an effort to boost my meeting attendance, the men in charge of my ward periodically send a pair of missionaries to my door, who I am happy to invite in for a chat and some water. I don’t need anything from them, but I have siblings and young relatives who’ve served missions and feel affinity for them. The past two visits have been ruined by a rule from the new MP they they cannot come inside, unless there is a man there. I can’t find words to express the offense that is. Offense that hurts. They are sweet, devout, and earnest, and among the most trustworthy men who come to my door. I am old enough to be their grandma, and I’ve been chaste in my decades of a difficult marriage, and I deserve to have that respected. We had a conversation in front of my house in the Arizona heat about the offensive ridiculousness of it. They told me the rule was that they needed another priesthood-ordained man at least age 16, and that their MP said “I don’t care if it’s a room full of 500 women, if you don’t have a third, you don’t go in.” I had a non-member friend working at my house that day, and when they left and I went back to her and explained the interruption, she was shocked, and amused. Her only question was “Why don’t they just send them out in threes?” We look ridiculous because it IS ridiculous.

    Later, it came up with a relative who’s serving as a bishop, and he commended the missionaries and their MP for “sticking to their guns.” This is piety theater.

    My voice calling for correcting this counts not at all, and I’m not dealing with this on top of everything else I must manage, so my solution is to remove from it.

  29. It’s a good point about how these kind of rules can sexualize a situation that shouldn’t be. A few months ago, on a day when my wife was out of town, I allowed a mutual female friend to sleep the night in our guest room because our residence was a convenient place in the middle of a road trip for a night’s rest. Of course, there was nothing sexual (nor otherwise inappropriate) about the visit (and that would have been true even if we had been the only ones in the house). But if my wife had told her, “You’re not welcome to spend the night at our home because I’m not there to chaperone” — well, that would have been both creepy and damaging to a rewarding long-time friendship.

  30. Excellent post, Carolyn. I am particularly struck by your aside on bishop’s interviews, where we *require* that women (and teen girls) be alone with a man. It seems like a whole lot of misplaced faith in people exercising self-control in such situations if we’re actually concerned enough about their lack of self-control to apply the blanket rule in all other circumstances.

    I think the defenses of people applying the rule for themselves are interesting. There are clearly benefits to the blanket rule. The question, though, is how they stack up against the costs. If you’re not a woman whose career progression is being impaired by it, like the anonymous BYU employee above, it can be easy to wave these costs away as inconsequential. But if you are, it’s got to be at least irritating and possibly infuriating.

  31. Eric: I nearly got a female friend kicked out of BYU for a second Honor Code violation because, after driving her nearly 15 hours* from Denver to SLC (where she picked up her own car) then down to Provo, but having to divert to US40 due to an avalanche that closed I-70, I crashed in a spare room in her off-campus apartment instead of trying to find a hotel room at midnight. One of the local Honor Code commissars in her complex saw me in there and reported her, but in an act of unusual compassion the HCO let it slide.

    MDearest’s term “piety theater” is genius and I will start using it.

    (*This is not usually nearly so long of a trip, but I-70 was closed due to an avalanche and we ended up having to go through Oak Creek, up to Steamboat, and west on US-40. I nearly hit a couple of mule deer somewhere east of Vernal.)

  32. I worked for an LDS church owned business for 5 years. I was alone with male subordinates and superiors (1 on 1) all the time. Car trips, lunch, working late, all okey dokey as far as the company was concerned. Nobody thought anything of it. I agree with the OP- I think enforcing such a rule sexualizes a relationship that doesn’t need a weird complication and gets in the way of work that needs to be done.

  33. You should realize that when you “invoke” the rule you are suggesting that you are so HOT so woman can resist you.

  34. Part of having a professional workplace is hiring people — women and men, bosses and subordinates — who respect each other and are appropriate. Part of a successful marriage is thoughtfully making decisions about your friends and who you spend time with, together or alone.

    As a woman who has often been on teams only with men, it’s crucial to have a level of trust from all parties. It’s important men don’t think women are going to either a)flirt/seduce them or b)make false sexual claims, and that women don’t a)get left out of meetings or trips because they are woman (which has happened to me) or b)assume they are just going to flirt with the whole team and distract everyone, or worse.

    But these “dangers” can be mitigated by hiring competent, good, and trustworthy people; self-reflection; and open and strong communication with your spouse.

  35. Has anyone considered maybe his wife has asked him not to? I know what a catch my husband is and unfortunately he spends his working hours away from his family. Frequently this includes networking lunches with other attorneys, those he mentors, and he meets with those he supervises. He is friends with many of the female attorneys in the office. I get to hear about all the things he does while away from home but started hearing about one female attorney too much. While I know no sexual attraction existed between them I felt jealous that she got to be around him while he was at work, while I couldn’t be. Somehow it made all the difference to know when he went to lunch with her she never had his complete undivided attention because he always made sure to invite along someone else they were friends with to join them. Some women thought he was being kind of silly (one was this same lady I had an issue with), and I told him he could blame me for it if they didn’t understand. I trust my husband completely but it means a lot that he considers my feelings about having to share him with others away from his family. I appreciate his respect for me- call it whatever you want (insecurities?) to not give me any reason to ever doubt him. He has supervised, mentored, and hired many women attorneys and has never found this simple request from me has inhibited his ability to do his job, counsel them, befriend them, work to promote them, etc. He has had to address gender issues specifically with some of the attorneys he supervises– one of the judges can be condescending and discuss stereotypically male topics in detail in court such as sports putting some of the female attorneys at a disadvantage in some cases if they are not up on that topic. He directed them to other courtrooms where they would not start out with a perceived disadvantage or bias towards the male attorney from the judge. I will continue to guard my intellectual and emotional relationship with my husband, my best friend. I don’t think I should have to apologize for this because some find it sexist.

  36. John Mansfield says:

    Going out to eat and calling it work is right up there with reading blogs on the job.

  37. Mel,
    I think it is highly likely his wife asked him not to. Unfortunately that doesn’t change that damage that can be done to women’s careers when men won’t meet with them or socialize with them in the same manner that they will meet with and socialize with men.

    Also I often think men who implement these rules are not aware of how much affect it is having on women. It usually doesn’t hurt them, their advancement, their career, so unless a woman has the guts to point it out to them (which most women won’t because then they are forever tagged as the whiny crazy woman) they may never know.

    I am genuinely curious if you would have been equally jealous if the attorney you’d been hearing a lot about, who got to be with your husband so much more than you, had been a male attorney? And why or why not?

  38. John Mansfield,
    In my profession lunch meetings where food is eaten in a public place and work is discussed are a more than weekly occurrence. Also, even when the lunches are just social, these are the settings when most mentoring and networking is done. It absolutely negatively impacts women in my field when men refuse to go out to lunch with them.

  39. Fricative says:

    “I trust my husband completely but it means a lot that he considers my feelings about having to share him with others away from his family.”

    Flip this to the other gender and everyone freaks out. This is what people call objectification.

  40. Mel, thank you for your insight. I can’t speak for anyone else but I certainly don’t think your attitude is sexist; it’s the blanket rule that is imposed by others that’s hard to take.

  41. Fricative says:

    I dunno, she is literally asking her husband to treat a woman differently than he would a man in the same situation just because she is a woman. I am pretty sure that’s the definition of sexism.

  42. There is also the assumption that working women are out to steal your husband.

  43. “This is piety theater.”

    Perfect description, MDearest (@11:35am), and so so sorry to hear you’ve had to endure that.

  44. That seems a little unfair, Lily. The situation the poster described is a fear of too much intimacy – sexual or otherwise – with the other principal people in her husband’s life. For most of us, if we are not at home, we are at work. So clearly that fear would manifest towards her husband’s work relationships. That does not in my view imply an assumption about the evil tendencies of working women.

  45. Mel, I don’t think anyone is worried that doing this has hurt your husband’s career. The point is that it potentially hurts the careers of women who are unfortunate enough to have landed in his sphere of influence and who therefore are disadvantaged because their mentor/boss (your husband) views them sexually, or rather it can be inferred both by them and others that he views them sexually instead of professionally, by subjecting them to this rule, which means that, different from their male colleagues who have your husband as a mentor/boss, they will not benefit from one-on-one experiences and mentoring, etc.

  46. Worth reading Damon Linker’s tweet storm on this today. Normally I hate tweet storms but this is a good one that gets and the different intuitions on the subject.

  47. Not much to add, but the OP and some of the comments express exactly how I feel: that this rule inherently sexualizes situations that ought to be professional. “Piety theater” is a nice framing, too.

    I often have men visit my office to discuss confidential issues. Some choose to leave the office door cracked instead of shutting it, which I don’t mind that much. But a few times I’ve had men attempt to explain the cracked door, and this sets a really bad tone for the rest of the interaction. It suggests that there’s some kind of sexual tension in the room, or that the man don’t trust me to act professionally, or that they think I might falsely accuse them of assault, or at the very least that they think other people might suspect me of carrying on sexual dealings in my office. It makes me acutely self-conscious about the possibility that these men might be sexualizing me as we speak.

    The Mormon expression of this is awkward as well. Although I have more in common with most men in the ward than women, many men actively avoid me and blow off even friendly small talk. My LDS social life is very limited. Even one of my home teachers, a man some 30 years my senior, refuses to come to my house (with his companion) because he is so threatened by my single woman status. It feels so demeaning to be reduced to my sexuality that way. It’s also weird to know that these men have spent enough time contemplating my sexuality to consider me dangerous.

  48. The fact that Damon Linker’s line of reasoning could also be used to require all women to wear a niqab tells me all I need to know about his argument (note that I have no problem with women voluntarily choosing to wear these extremely modest garments, but I would have a problem with it being enforced by men.) It’s always so interesting that these argument start with the premise that men are base animals, practically incapable of controlling their lascivious urges to the conclusion that we should limit women in ways that directly affect their well-being.

  49. urges to the conclusion that we should limit women in ways that directly affect their well-being

    Yes, very troubling that we view it as necessary for women to bear the consequences of men’s inability to control themselves.

  50. Anon WML says:

    Didn’t this attitude and similar rules almost kill that senior missionary in the Belgium airport bombing last last year? As best I can tell he was the THIRD wheel b/c the mission or Church did not trust the other TWO boy missionaries to drop the sister off at the airport alone. That poor guy was nearly killed for the sake of these attitudes and fears.

    As a WML with (great) sisters serving in our ward don’t get me started on all the hoops and ratios I have to always consider for rides and splits and teaching.

  51. It would take an entire OP to dismantle everything that is wrong with the Damon Linker tweet storm, but in the interest of time I will just quote this one tweet which I believe speaks for itself:

    “13. So there’s no reason not to immerse ourselves in sexualized culture, have (married) men & women work tog in all settings (din w alcohol)”

    Lumping “immerse ourselves in sexual culture” together with “have men and women work tog[ether]” is just not something I can take seriously. Is the proposal that men and women should be segregated and never work together? That is seriously messed up.

  52. Chesterton’s fence strikes again! You people act like workplace romance isn’t a thing.

    Obviously, women shouldn’t be disadvantaged because a man wants to be careful in private interactions with her. The same clearly applies to a woman in leadership positions, which the same code (more of a guideline really) applies.

    Just some quick googling shows that 40% of people in an office have been romantically involved with a co-worker. One survey reported nearly a quarter of those involved in office romance were people who had their marriage destroyed through an affair. Heck, my wife and I worked in the same office for a time, and one of my coworkers tried to make some moves on her!

    It’s not like that fence was put up for no reason. It annoys he heck out of me to have to open and close gates for what seems like random fences thrown up on country roads. It might even carry some cost at times as it sets me back. But that fence can also serve a purpose.

    I wish we could all just be more virtuous and Christ-like. But there are plenty of people in our society who think sexual virtue is practically a sin.

  53. I’m fine with people never meeting alone with opposite-sex coworkers if they apply the same rule to same-sex coworkers. Like if a man has an agreement with himself or his wife that he’ll never meet with a woman alone, then that should mean that ALL interactions are happening in groups of three or more. Because if he’s meeting with men alone, but not women, then that is cutting women off from workplace opportunities. And there’s a larger context around that that keeps it from being an acceptable personal choice, in my opinion.

    I still think the rule is silly, but silly is fine as long as it’s harmless. The problem is that in many industries/professions, one-on-one meals or drinks are integral to career advancement and mentorships. So you either need to never participate in that at all, or do it in an equal-opportunity way.

  54. Clark Goble says:

    I didn’t take Damon Linker to be agreeing with Pence but more trying to explain the two sets of intuitions and why liberals got so upset over the issue. (Recall Pence wasn’t saying he wouldn’t meet with women one on one, just not socially) Whether one agrees or disagrees with Pence, I think Linker pointed out one of the issues. Where I think Linker needed to say more was over the costs to women. He alludes to that in passing but not enough which is why I think some got upset at him. His point is that there is a trade off between costs and benefits. Clearly from his perspective the costs aren’t worth what Pence does, but thinks that at least in terms of intentions Pence is praiseworthy.

    My own view is that the rule is pretty unworkable for many people. Although I also think critics are downplaying the real costs and risks. Reading the uproar on Twitter has been eye opening to be sure. It at a minimum highlights the huge gulf in perspectives in the country. Most people see each other through mutual incomprehensibility although as Haidt noted the social conservatives seem able to understand the liberals better than vice versa. They just disagree.

    I confess I don’t quite understand how this inherently sexualizes situations. Someone on Twitter (sorry can’t find the tweet) noted how creepy it would seem if someone made a similar rule for kids. Which was shocking since by and large that’s an explicit rule in most organizations like the Boy Scouts. Not only is it an explicit rule because of bad actors, but no one thinks it sexualizes relationships to require no one being alone. So some of the over the top responses (such as saying the logic entails support for burkas) kind of get my eyes rolling.

  55. Angela C says:

    This rule irks me as a woman who has managed professional relationships with men & women colleagues for decades. It’s work. If people want to have affairs, they will, but there are plenty of negative consequences to a person’s career if they can’t keep their berries in the basket.

    The missionary rule irritates me to the point that I don’t want to invite them over, which is a shame because they are good kids, around the same age as my own kids. I don’t understand the supposedly superior optics of sending 3 young men into your home rather than 2. However, my neighborhood isn’t full of pearl-clutching Gladys Kravitzes who think I’m having teenage missionaries over for a sex party. Isn’t the reason we have companionships to keep them out of trouble? I’m sure one day there will be some massive missionary orgy, and they’ll change the rule to 20 young men, all wearing a wire, and a Go Pro strapped to their heads.

    How does Pence view Trump’s serial sexual assault? Does he shake his head and think “If only he hadn’t been alone with those harlots, none of this would have happened”? Because that’s how these types of rules feel as a woman. I’m not injecting inappropriate sexual tension into professional relationships. Being informed that my mere presence is sexual, frankly would feel like harassment.

  56. Clark Goble says:

    OMJ, I agree, but I think the unstated assumption needs perhaps be made more explicit. Perhaps one on one social dinners ought be changed so as to make things more equitable for women. The unstated assumption is that despite sexual harassment and so forth that social dinners for business are essential. That seems nonsense and arguably already puts women at a disadvantage in various ways due to bad actors and power relations.

  57. Clark Goble says:

    The missionary rule seems a different case because you’re dealing with often emotionally and socially immature 18 year olds. Plus you frankly have situations where people regularly try to seduce missionaries. Even going in pairs it happens more than it should. The rule just helps prevent it from happening more.

  58. Angela C says:

    Anyone capable of seducing a missionary when he shows up with 1 other person is also capable of seducing a missionary who shows up with 2 people. If it happens once, it happens more than it should, but the percent of times it actually happens is well below Dick Cheney’s 1% rule, and yet we treat every interaction as though it is a certainty that it will happen. This teaches young men in the church that just being in the presence of a woman puts them at risk for having sex; ergo, women are not to be trusted. Some quantity of missionary seductions must be due to the fact that we planted the seed in the first place by treating women like harlots and liars (fear of false accusations).

    But I get it. Someone who thinks this is a good rule is just going to assume I’m a godless heathen who wants to seduce children. Carry on.

  59. Thing is, workplace romances can crop up *even* between coworkers who aren’t ever alone together. Yes, if they’re actually going to be blatantly unfaithful to their spouse(s) then they’ll eventually want to find time where they’re alone together, or at least away from people who know them. And THAT’S a good time for one or both of them to make the mature decision not to be alone together (although avoiding sexualizing your coworkers in the first place also helps).

    What I don’t get about the men who insist on meeting me with the office door open is that we’re still having a confidential conversation that nobody else is supposed overhear. So the open door clearly cannot prevent an intimate conversation that could potentially be romantic in nature. So either they believe that
    a) I might assault and overpower them
    b) that they might assault me
    c) that both of us might be very suddenly willing to do something sexy with each other in my office, but we’ll decide not to because we’re too lazy to close the door
    d) that I might falsely accuse them of assault (although I could do that whether the door was open or not)
    e) that other people are watching my office door to see who comes in or out and might start salacious rumors on this basis (nobody watches my office)
    Or maybe f) that it will send a signal to me that they are a good Christian guy, and maybe I’ll even be a bit pleased or flattered at the implication that I’m tempting (I won’t be).

    Are there other ways to interpret it?

  60. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was a missionary back in the late Jurassic, we didn’t have these supernumerary rules. If we tracted into a woman who was home alone, if she’d let us in we’d teach her a lesson. If a single woman invited us to dinner, we went. The theory used to be that a companionship entails a built in chaperone at all times. Undoubtedly there were some negative situations that gave rise to the new rules. But making three men accompany two sister missionaries and the like is to my eye a pretty obvious example of the legal dictum that hard facts make bad law.

  61. MDearest – Piety theatre is right up there with TK Smoothies. Now to find a way to use them both in the same sentence at Church next week. Lol!

    Anon WML – that was my exact thought when I first heard the news on CNN, that one of those kids was wounded because of this stupid rule.

    LBUB – “It’s not like that fence was put up for no reason” – This fence is put up to keep women in their place, and that’s it.

    CG – “The missionary rule seems a different case because you’re dealing with often emotionally and socially immature 18 year olds” – Then they shouldn’t be out there at 18 (or 19, or any age where they can’t be trusted to avoid being “seduced”.

  62. Is the Arizona mission rule reported by MDearest a general rule? or is it a creation of an overzealous and somewhat silly mission president? There have been plenty of those over the years.

  63. I appreciate the OP and the many insightful comments. I want to add that to my way of thinking there are two false notes in the Mike Pence story. The first is that Pence is notorious for treating women as other (a headline from last year’s campaign season–“Mike Pence’s Awful Positions on Women’s Rights”). While his “never eat alone” might have pros and cons in general practice, in the case of Pence in particular it reads as expression and reinforcement of his attitudes about women. Second, the simplistic idea of fencing away from the cliff doesn’t work. With respect to extramarital relationships, it is well known that people find a way. Correspondence, even by letters on paper, can result in deep and long intimate relationships, with or without a physical component. Email and texts make it easier. And I have learned (from psychiatry) that some of the most painful situations arise where there are too-rigid boundaries, where a person has separate boxes for their life–a church box, a parent box, a relationship box, a work box–and try to believe that these separate lives never bleed into each other.
    I suppose both false notes have application to LDS practice. If the Church gave women status and respect (I’ve come to believe that ordination is the only way, but that’s a different discussion), then the sometimes silly rules about meetings and automobiles would feel different. And discussion of open doors and group dinners, that feel abrasive in the context of strict absolute prohibition and denial, may make good sense in the context of managing relationships and channeling attraction.

  64. Elizabeth St Dunstan says:

    Great piece! I also saw it much like the OP, that I’m fine with couples deciding how they want to handle themselves socially, but when it comes to the workplace (and the all important socializing and networking that occur around that), it’s discriminatory to women. I’ve worked for men who enforced this rule, and I found myself constantly excluded from key decision making that was part of my actual job, because the real decision making happened while the guys were hanging out. I felt disrespected, demeaned, and patronized.

    I also don’t like the idea that we culturally expect the Billy Graham rule of our fellow saints. By making it a blanket norm or requirement, we’re invading each couple’s right to have conversations and set boundaries that feel right to them. It also causes me problems as a single woman in the church because I am treated as a threat to the married women. I say this as a woman whose physical presence couldn’t be further from sexy or alluring. That fact highlights the utter farce of the situation, but I don’t mean it as an excuse to condone shunning my gorgeous sisters, either.

  65. “It’s always so interesting that these argument start with the premise that men are base animals, practically incapable of controlling their lascivious urges to the conclusion that we should limit women in ways that directly affect their well-being.”

    When I was right out of school in the late 80s (and much younger and cuter) I worked as a temp. I learned pretty quickly that certain men seemed to view a woman alone in a photo-copier room as an invitation to all kinds of unwanted advances. We’re talking married men here, grabbing, kissing. I also learned to never let it become known that it was my last day because that was when the trolls would come out of the woodwork. (Take a shot with the temp. Why not? She’s powerless and she’ll be gone tomorrow.) I learned to disappear quietly, never to be heard from again.

    Fast forward a couple of decades. I’m no longer temping. I now have work experience. I was offered a job in a new company. My boss and I worked alone together in the office all day long for months. He was completely professional and we got along great.

    Unfortunately, I lost count of the number of men – and it was always men – who met with my boss who assumed I was romantically involved with him. Occasionally they would see my bio or hear about my background and realize that I actually had qualifications. But the default assumption seemed to be that I was his girlfriend unless otherwise stated. I like to think of myself as an aware person but the degree of sexism surprised and disappointed me.

    (I had the last laugh though after they left, when I was tasked with evaluating their projects. It reminded me of that scene in Mad Men where Peggy is interviewing someone and he keeps looking over her shoulder for her boss and she says, “Hey, I’M the one you need to impress!”)

    Not all men are base animals. Not even most. But clearly some men are not capable of working with women as colleagues. Some men are either hitting on you or you are wallpaper. So what is the answer? I don’t think blanket rules work, as in my case I would have missed out on many opportunities over the years. But I do think that it comes down to trust. You have to be so careful about who you choose to work with. There are no easy answers. It’s not a level playing field for women in the workplace. I don’t think it ever will be.

  66. Clark, if Linker was just trying to make an observation about the difference between religious conservative and secular liberal intuitions with respect to Pence, he could have stopped at tweet 19. Instead Linker defends two controversial premises (1) that the conservative view of men as carnal, sensual and devilish is more grounded in reality (tweets 25-27) and (2) Pence’s behavior does not constitute a grand injustice to women (tweet 20). From these premises he concludes that, where building hedges around temptation at the expense of liberals [read women] is concerned, “the (somewhat extreme) Pence example is salutary” (tweets 42 and 43). All this seems to count against your interpretation, and toward the interpretation that Linker is actually trying to offer a limited defense of Pence and the religious conservative approach to understanding human nature. The fact that you also take Linker to be “pointing out one of the issues” with the liberal point of view suggests that you also took him to be making some sort of argument, and not just observing differences.

    As for premise 2 (Linker’s tweet 20), there are female congressional staffers who have come forward recently and discussed exactly how detrimental this sort of behavior is to them professionally. I think we should take them at their word, rather than engaging in arm-chair speculation a la Linker. This is a point that I take you to agree with.

    Indecently, I read recently that a similar line of reasoning was also employed against enforcing sexual harassment laws. The argument started with the same premise that men are so sexually base that they can’t always be expected to control their sexual impulses around women in the work place, as witnessed by the fact that sexual harassment was so widespread, and from there it was concluded women should leave the workplace and just stay at home. Interestingly, after sexual harassment laws started being enforced by the courts more routinely, the majority of men were able to miraculously curb their uncontrollable sexual impulses and stop sexually harassing the women at their work. I suppose only secular liberals could have guessed that was possible.

  67. Clark Goble says:

    Kevin, we had the rule but we typically just taught people anyway. Perils of the pressures for stats I guess. That said we also had some pretty blatant sexual harassment experiences too.

    Rachel, I took his (20) to suggest the socialization dinners isn’t a grand injustice because he could and would meet at other times with people. As I said the issue seems to be that no one wants to change the socialization structure. That is I took him to be saying there were structural changes so one could avoid the cost to women while maintain this. We can of course disagree with him there, which I take you to be doing. As I said I think he needs to go through the costs more instead of just mentioning them in passing. i.e. his 20 need to be more detailed and have evidence. So I agree that’s the most problematic of the statements and that’s what I was alluding to earlier.

    I took Linker less to be pointing out problems with the liberal view (which I took to be his view given his initial comments) so much as again explaining why liberals were angry. Again I think to explain the anger one should look at costs more than what Linker outlines, but I do think he has correctly seen one big divide between what we might call the Kantian and Benjamin views. (To give the “natural man” a more Mormon label) I take you to be agreeing in part given your point about sexual harassment. i.e. that the liberal Kantian view is right because when you impose enough cost people change. The more cynical view is that of course while it’s changed somewhat there are still far too much sexual harassment and sexism so there’s reason to be skeptical of the Kantian view and see if structural changes are necessary in addition to penalties.

    In the same way I think a structural change that would significantly reduce rape and harassment is simply to change the social norm of consuming alcohol at social events.

  68. General Electric was at one point caught it serious anti-trust and collusion issues. As a result GE had very strict rules about even talking to competitors. These very strict rules were prudent. They had nothing to do with “objectifying” competing salesmen or saleswomen.

    Every year in America there are over 12,000 EEOC charges alleging sex-based harassment. More than half result in no charges for one reason or another. I knew a wealthy British businessman accused of harassment, a charge which he vigorously denied. I knew of an office romance at another company that ruined at least one marriage. Standards and policies voiding not only scandal and impropriety but also vulnerability to a lawsuit would be prudent both for an individual and for an institution.

    Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart didn’t have the “Billy Graham rule.” Billy Graham did. I prefer Billy Graham.

    At least twenty sexual harassment suits have been filed against President Trump. I am not aware of any filed against Vice President Pence. I prefer Vice President Pence.

  69. my typo: “voiding” should be “avoiding”

  70. Eric Russell says:

    There’s a broad range of scenarios being discussed here, and when it comes to not being in an elevator or work meeting alone with someone of the opposite sex, of course that’s ridiculous.

    But this conversation seems to miss the point about affairs. They’re not about sex. Even when an affair involves nothing but sex, it’s still not about the sex. And unless you’re talking about a sex addict, they’re not about impulse control either. Affairs are about a sense of emotional connection.

    When emotional connection is missing or strained in a marriage, people will inevitably turn elsewhere. Many will turn to non-sexual relationships with friends of the same sex, some will turn to the internet, others (ironically) will turn to porn. And sometimes people will turn to people of the opposite sex for a sense of connection. This isn’t just a male issue – women are just as likely to develop an emotional connection with whoever is in their sphere of contact – a family friend, kid’s soccer coach, whoever.

    If a marriage is struggling and one or both are spending time alone with members of the opposite sex, there is cause for concern. The first solution, of course, is to work on the marriage. But for many people that doesn’t happen overnight. If anyone reading this is in this situation, which I suspect there is, my advice is to ignore everything in this thread and do what’s best for your marriage. Whatever boundaries you and your spouse need to set together are fully justified – even if that ends up hurting the feelings of the soccer coach or a co-worker. They don’t have to live in your marriage for the rest of their lives, you do.

    Marriage is more important than friends, more important than your job, and more important than other people’s jobs.

  71. another anon says:

    I work in the mormon corridor and travel a bit for work. I don’t have any problem having a one-on-one with a woman (whether it be in the office or over a meal)–I couldn’t do my job nearly as well if I couldn’t, so enforcing such a bright line rule would hurt me as much as it would the females who need/want to work with me. I also don’t have a problem traveling with a woman–same problem on both ends.

    But I tend to think that bright line rules on the outer margins of most questions are problematic. I think the BYU elevator thing mentioned above sounds completely crazy, for example, as do some of the mission rules that have been talked about. But having said that, the positions on both outer margins can be problematic, and I don’t think you have to be sexist or a prude to see that.

    For example, “traveling together” is one thing; but sharing a hotel room with a woman feels really different. Barring something extreme or unforeseeable, it just seems like paying the extra couple of hundred bucks for a separate hotel room is worth it. I’m really surprised that some of the comments have suggested that that might be ok.

    Also, even on the meals question, I think there are situations where the propriety line (wherever it is) is crossed. It’s one thing to have a periodic lunch or dinner with a female coworker. But if I’m regularly going to restaurants, alone, with the same female? At some point, what’s happening there that can’t happen at work or with other people around? To put the shoes on the other foot: I have no problem if my wife meets a male friend for lunch every now and then. But if my wife and one particular male friend start having lunch or dinner together alone at restaurants regularly? I’m sorry–but that looks like dating. I’m the one who dates her, not other men. Seems like the same rules ought to apply to me.

  72. I thought it a stupid rule until it blew up my marriage and family of 6 minor children, then it isn’t a blanket rule any more but a horrible damaging reality.

  73. To say that rigid boundaries like this are stupid and harmful to women in the workplace is not to say that there should be no boundaries. Yes, people should be cognizant of the potential for intimate relationships to develop at work that can threaten a marriage.

    Are you *looking* for reasons to be alone with a coworker? Then there is probably a problem and you should spend less time with that person and get some marital counseling. And maybe you should implement some rules. But they should be fair, so make them gender neutral.

    As I said before, I work at BYU and in the past have experienced huge negative consequences to my career because of rigid rules like this and the related cultural norms of basically never talking to a woman unless necessary. I now have much more respectful colleagues. We do most things in groups, but no one abruptly stops the presses if they end up alone with me. If we have a 3-person lunch appointment and the other person cancels or is going to be late, we still walk to get lunch. If I need to have a confidential conversation with a male colleague, we’re able to have it. We have friendly, chatty conversations in the halls that build rapport. That’s all I’m asking for. Be normal. Don’t treat me like I’m the bubonic plague.

  74. I agree that people should thoughtfully and prayerfully set boundaries in their own marriage that work for them. If the husband or wife has been unfaithful or has even engaged in an emotional affair in the past, perhaps hedges do need to be placed around temptation. However, people should set boundaries very even-handedly, if possible. For example, Pence will spend a lot of time in the back seat of a car being driven to meetings around D.C. He may be busy and really want to spend that drive-time talking to a staffer about what else needs to be accomplished. If Pence is unwilling to ride in a car with a female staffer, then he should also be unwilling to ride in a car with a male staffer. Otherwise, when it is time to promote someone, he is more likely to promote the person whom he spent more time working with. Not having a staffer in the car with him might inconvenience Pence at times, but treating employees fairly, while hedging around temptation, requires being willing to also let some of the burden of Pence’s boundaries fall on himself.

    The same logic applies to lower-level employees. If you are unwilling to do a business lunch, a meeting one-on-one behind closed doors, or a business trip with another woman, then the ethical thing to do is to also not do these things with any men, including male bosses. If this makes you pause and think, “But this would damage my career!” then stop and think how excluding only women might damage the careers of other women in your office, women who never had any say in establishing your marriage boundaries. In other words, be mindful of whether the hedges around your marriage cause women to bear career burdens for your sake that you wouldn’t be willing to bear yourself.

  75. Clark Goble says:

    Fully agree Rachel, whatever personal rules we follow we need to pay close attention to how they affect others.

  76. Angela C says:

    About 13 years ago, I was in a large business-to-business role, and we often had out of town clients who would come in to see the operations center. Because they weren’t locals, it was just good manners to invite clients to a business dinner while they were in town, and our company would foot the bill. These dinners were always professional, and they are incredibly common in business-to-business settings for people who travel a lot. I have been in hundreds of them if not more, and I honestly haven’t heard of any shenanigans going on in a simple dinner (at boondoggle events, yes, but not at a business dinner).

    I had an employee who was hosting a dinner with clients, and his wife had secretly followed him to the restaurant and confronted him about the dinner with clients as if he were having an affair. It was a huge embarrassment for him and for the clients, and I’ll tell you what–with an unstable wife at home, he was off the roster for client visits. He could never have done my role because these types of dinners were even more frequent and necessary, and I was often the one traveling in another city. So you can set whatever boundaries you have to in your marriage, but when it affects other people, it affects your career. Those lauding this rule as leading to a great marriage are missing the point. It is much more about a lack of trust than it is about a strong relationship.

  77. Angela C says:

    Sorry, but one more quick story that comes to mind. I was talking with someone (a Mormon) who owned his own dental practice. He said he made it a point to only hire unattractive women so he wouldn’t be tempted by them. He said he thought that was what he was encouraged to do, to be a good Mormon man. I pointed out that it’s unethical and immoral to discriminate against candidates on the basis of their attractiveness. Instead, just be a professional and a decent human being and don’t have sex with people who work for you. It’s not that difficult.

  78. Angela,
    A family member of mine only hires unattractive women as secretaries so that his clients will see that he hired them for their competence and not their looks. He believes he is being very gender progressive. I explained the problem with this and he understood but I don’t think he changed his mind. It doesn’t help that the vast majority of his clients are rich old white men in a very conservative area so he probably is right that most of them would see an attractive secretary as less competent.

  79. marcella says:

    JR asked if the missionary thing was a real rule. It sure is. It was always an issue for me as a single mother trying to have the missionaries over for dinner so my son could get to know the Elders. I finally gave up not long after re-marrying (a non-member this time). Now I finally had a man at home and could invite the Elders over for dinner regularly without finding other dinner guests to feed as well. The last time they came I answered the door. The Elders said they could not come in unless there was a man home. I said my husband was in his office but would be up to join us in a minute. The Elders said they had to see him before they came in. That was it. Now, I’m not only and evil woman planning to do who knows what to them given the chance but I’m not above telling lies either. Sigh. End of inviting missionaries over for me. I just pass that calendar along in RS. I’m surprised they don’t travel with test kits to be sure we evil women don’t try to slip rohypnol into their dinners so we can have our way with them for dessert.

  80. Antonio Parr says:

    While I know that the politically correct thing to do is to mock Pence’s practice and laugh off the thought that people who work together might have a sexual attraction for each other, my years as an attorney counseling a broad range of clients has taught me that the forces that attract human beings to each other outside of the workplace do not magically disappear just because people happen to interact with each other inside the workplace. I have seen some very successful men and women make absolutely horrific choices with professional peers. Most instances were fueled by excessive consumption of alcohol (a risk factor that does not apply to most of us), but other times by nothing more than the feelings of romance that can just happen when two people meet alone in an intimate restaurant lit only by soft candlelight. Does that mean we should refrain from hugging a hurting member of the opposite sex or refuse to give a member of the opposite sex a ride home when it is raining, or refuse a one-on-one working lunch with colleagues or clients? Of course not. But i would be slow to mock the Church’s counsel with respect to one-on-one encounters with members of the opposite sex. Ya’ll are an amazing bunch of people, but you are not supernatural and not that different from the very good people who I have seen stumble along the way.

  81. Marcella,
    If it makes you feel any better it was a rule for the sister missionaries too. We weren’t allowed to visit with any males unless a third female was present. I never once broke this rule and it was a hassle. It sure didn’t stop me from getting sexually harassed all the time. The point is, men are considered evil too under this rule.

  82. Oh and by the way, it wasn’t the magical power of three. The companionships with three sisters had to have a 4th female there!

  83. EBK
    “I think it is highly likely his wife asked him not to.” But we don’t know, do we? Just saying it’s a possibility.

    We don’t have a total no one-on-one blanket rule, but we do make it an extreme exception when he (or I) meet one-on-one with a member of the opposite sex. We share with each other when we do find it necessary. To say my husband is ruining many women’s careers by not meeting one-on-one with them seems a bit far fetched. Maybe in some situations, but usually a simple invitation to a spouse or another colleague to accompany the one-on-one meeting that is problematic solves it. I’d be happy to join another lady for lunch with him– as a couple we support each other in all our endeavors. Usually he is in groups of attorneys when lunching and colleagues know there is an open invitation for others to go along. Sometimes he was the only male in the group. Why should he go out of his way to meet one-on-one with a woman if he wouldn’t do that for a male colleague?

    I wouldn’t be as jealous if my husband was meeting with another male but that is because he is not bi or gay so the friendship and intimacy is emotionally different. I find my husband physically attractive, but love him for his beautiful mind and it is mine and I am his. However- if he started spending a lot of time with males at work at the cost of his intellectual or emotional intimacy with me or our children then I would have a problem with that too. Where your heart is there will your treasure be also.

  84. Fricative-
    I guess if he was bi or we were gay I would ba asking him to treat men differently then? I know because he is heterosexual his friendship with other men won’t go anywhere but if it was a real bromance maybe I would remind him his priority was to his family and not the other guy. We like spending our time together though so it hasn’t been an issue really. It is hard when he needs to be at work and we have to make do with our limited time with him.

  85. queno,

    I have on good authority (people who work at the Y and run specific programs) that significant employers of BYU undergrads have specifically threatened to stop recruiting at the Y due to systematic problems they have had with male BYU grads treating women inappropriately. Also in evidence, this has led to *specific policies* and initiatives to fight these behaviors. Some of these have been attested to by people here. I also worked for a major (once rated the the most admired firm for multiple years in a row) firm that specifically stopped recruiting from a BYU program due to related social problems with its grads.

    So yes, this is impacting the Y at the level of recruiting and the school is responding. This is not a made up issue.

  86. Of the hundreds of meals I’ve shared one on one with colleagues and clients, not one has taken place at “an intimate restaurant lit only by soft candlelight.” Straw men can take an astonishing array of forms, can’t they?

  87. Lily-
    I’m sorry if I gave you the impression I think working women are “out to get” someone’s husband. I don’t feel like that generally, but know that it does happen unfortunately. It just takes one bad apple unfortunately and can happen unintentionally as intimacies can and do develop from friendships. Drawing a clear line to delineate friendship and any kind of intimacies protects all parties and keeps it friendly and professional. If you need to meet with a man, invite his spouse along– I keep confidences wonderfully and you will double your networking ability and possibly win an advocate for your side in the man’s home!

  88. Mel, your presence at a working lunch as the wife of a colleague completely changes the dynamic to one where shop talk — the usual purpise of such meetings — would be rude, and where social small talk takes its place. There’s little point to such meetings; if anything, it transforms the female colleague from a colleague to a female, which is the very thing this draconian rule is supposedly intended to avoid.

  89. John f.
    I wasn’t saying it hurt/didn’t hurt my husband’s career. I was saying my husband had gone out out of his way to be inclusive to both the men and women he works with. I don’t think he views these other women sexually (although possibly may find some physically attractive as he is heterosexual). I think it is more of a concern of not wanting to give any females the wrong impression he is interested in them/they have a chance with him, which *would* be very unprofessional. Most of the time this is not the case, unfortunately, we have all encountered the one who flirts inappropriately when he/she knows you are attached because in the world it is seen as acceptable in the world. He has mentored one-on-one many female attorneys and usually just leaves the office door open when one-on-one is needed. Frequently, many good learning/coaching opportunities occur in group settings too.

  90. Mel,
    “Why should he go out of his way to meet one-on-one with a woman if he wouldn’t do that for a male colleague?”
    I don’t think anyone here would suggest that men should do this. I think the exact opposite is being asked. Namely, why should he go out of his way to NOT meet one-on-one with a woman if he would do that for a male colleague? Obviously there are boundaries that need to be set as they do in all relationships both casual and intimate.

    It is unlikely that your husband’s rules have ruined a bunch of women’s careers. But it is possible that they have hindered a few women’s careers. And for every man that makes this rule there are likely a few more women’s careers who are hindered. And if each of those women had multiple men who instituted this rule, their careers were likely severely impacted. It’s something I refer to as “death by a thousand cuts.”

    I do understand the jealousy issues that come up. I sometimes feel jealous of other women that my husband likes and respects. I think there may be times when those feelings are justified and times when they are not. I think a lot of my jealousy stemmed from why I know consider an incorrect belief that married men and women cannot be friends without developing intimacy. I just don’t believe that to be the case anymore. My husband has multiple female work colleagues who are friends. He goes out to lunch with many of them. We’ve had them and their families over for dinner. I am open with my husband about things that make me feel uncomfortable and he is happy to set boundaries to avoid that. Being a working woman in a predominantly male profession where promotions happen if you are friends with the powers that be, I just can’t condone refusing to be friends with women at work. My husband has women at work who report to him and if I found out he was giving them fewer opportunities to get to know him and pick his brain then the men who report to him because of me, I would feel absolutely terrible.

  91. EBK-
    We appear to be on the same page? I’m not sure why you think I’m in the wrong? My husband doesn’t go out of his way to not meet with women one-on-one. He just typically doesn’t find it necessary to do so with either sex in his job with superiors or subordinates. His boss is a woman. I think men who get overly paranoid about meeting alone one-one-one with women are just anxious to avoid establishing a pattern that might lead to inappropriate intimacies reserved for family.

  92. Ardis- I can tell you I’m more likely to encourage my husband to support business people who strengthen our family time as opposed to weakening it. I can’t tell you how many business functions and “social” (networking) functions I have attended as “the wife.” Spouses are often silent partners and do a lot behind the scenes. Sorry if you think the time is wasted just because a spouse might be there.

  93. Angela C says:

    “I think it is more of a concern of not wanting to give any females the wrong impression he is interested in them/they have a chance with him, which *would* be very unprofessional.” This is just nutty. He doesn’t have to insert the assumption that others are targeting him with sexual interest into a professional setting. Even if someone did want your husband, it’s very easy for him to politely decline, regardless the circumstances. We are talking about adults in a professional business setting, not teenagers at a high school dance. These interactions are not fraught with sexual tension in the way some seem to imagine.

    Ardis’ experience matches my own. If you insert a non-colleague into the business meal it makes it personal rather than business. It would be rude to talk about strictly business as a result. And as a woman with decades of business experience, let me just say–I’m not looking to make personal friends with my business colleagues’ spouses in the way you describe. I’m sure they are lovely people–I’ve met some of them–but we aren’t going to “hang out” or go on mini-weekends together. You have friends, colleagues, and clients. Client relationships are always one part negotiation. You have to be focused on how you present your company and yourself because it impacts their willingness to do business with you. Colleagues are your friends but also your competition for raises, promotions, praise and projects. Some of your colleagues become allies. Those ally friendships are based on your mutual survival (or not), and on having a common view of what it was like being in that situation together.

    I’m reminded in this conversation of the movie Hidden Figures. Katherine Johnson is a brilliant mathematician assigned to work in a room full of white men and one white woman. After they see her getting coffee from the table, they add a second coffee pot labelled “Colored” just for her. Even though there is another woman in the office, Katherine cannot use the same restroom due to segregation and has to walk a half mile to the only area where there is a restroom for her–wearing the required calf-length dress and high heels. These types of “accommodations” put her at a hidden disadvantage (hidden to them, but obvious to her). She constantly has eyes on her, no matter what she does. Everyone views her with constant scrutiny and distrust. She is the “other,” the one who requires special accommodations. But really, those accommodations are for them, the privileged majority, and not for her.

  94. Mel,
    Perhaps we are on the same page. It’s always harder to get a good idea of where someone is coming from when discussing online. The part of your original comment that had me wondering is that, from what I understand, your husband is refusing to be one on one with a particular colleague who you concede there is no sexual attraction with, based solely on the fact that she is female. It seems from your comment that this behavior has caused more than one of his colleagues to take notice. My thought is that it is possible actions like this could negatively affect this woman’s career and your husband might not ever realize that effect. Am I misinterpreting?

  95. Mel, I would end the meeting and drop your husband as a client if you insisted on intruding into a business function. You may think you’re being a supportive spouse, but you’re actually inserting yourself where you have no business being. Rather than discussing a research strategy or examining the implications of a recent document about which you know nothing — and literally the only couple I know where both spouses are informed historians is Richard and Claudia Bushman, so it’s a reasonable assumption that you would not know enough to contribute to the work — I would either have to ignore your presence or shift to conversation that would include you: Tell me about your children? What good book have you read recently? — topics I would never schedule a business lunch to discuss.

    You of course will live your life as you see fit. Do not, however, assume that others must live their lives as you see fit. You don’t seem to understand that there are times and places where your presence is unnecessary, even highly unwelcome. A business meeting over a grilled cheese sandwich is one of those.

  96. EBK- in the situation we discussed I asked my husband to not have any more one-on-one meetings/lunches specifically because she seemed to be becoming too familiar and wanting to be close friends instead of coworkers (in an uncomfortable way). I’m not sure if others also avoid her because she is female or if it is just an abrasive personality who enjoys criticizing management (why my husband eventually stopped spending time with her completely- not because she was female).

  97. Ardis & Angela C-
    It sounds to me like a difference in business practices and relationships. My husband works in government where spouses and families are close and interact. There are very few private clients to deal with. Networking is done among coworkers, judges, and the legal community. Spouses are frequently included at the various events.

  98. I’m a government attorney. I would echo what Ardis and Angela C are saying. A co-worker’s spouse at a business lunch or dinner would make it not worth my time to attend. Spouses belong at Christmas parties not at business meetings in any of their forms.

  99. Reading the comments here I guess I’m not a good person. Twenty-five years ago I refused to hire a woman because her rather large breasts were more exposed than not. One of the other attorneys wanted to hire her specifically for that reason. I selfishly didn’t want to deal with it.

  100. Rachael says:

    Or you could have followed the example of many other companies: when a prospective employee, male or female, comes to an interview dressed unprofessionally, but is still the best qualified candidate for the job, such companies will simply hire the best candidate, and make it clear the company dress code requires that they wear something different in the future. I know that may seem like a radical suggestion, but it sure beats being investigated for employment discrimination.

  101. Rachael says:

    It should go without saying that if a company is willing to rule out the best qualified candidate, based on mildly inappropriate interview attire, then the rule should be applied to both male and female candidates equally.

  102. Bridgette says:

    If a person has a blanket rule against meeting with ANY colleague one-on-one, fine. But if I found out that someone in a position of authority at my company had a policy against meeting with women specifically? HR would be hearing from me, no question.

    Networking, mentorship, etc are all important. If women aren’t getting the same kind of access as men, it will absolutely hinder career advancement.

  103. Left Field says:

    I was a missionary at the same time as Kevin in the late Jurassic, and we would have had the same White Handbook. I still have a copy. It says that missionaries should never be alone with a person of the opposite sex. That was easy. By definition, you are always compliant as long as you stay with your companion, and that’s how it was universally understood.

    The handbook also said that a single person of the opposite sex should not be taught except in the presence of an “adult chaperone.” That one is a little more ambiguous. Missionaries are legally adults themselves, so it’s anyone’s guess who was intended to qualify as an “adult chaperone.” [I think I’d be annoyed enough about the wording to insist that the two missionaries are each other’s “adult chaperone.”] And is “single” supposed to refer to marital status or just to someone who happens to be the only one in the house? Who knows? In practice, we mostly took a common sense approach. Like Kevin, if someone invited us in while tracting, we would have taught a discussion, even if it was a couple of college-age young women. I think our mission president interpreted the “don’t teach a single person of the opposite sex” rule to refer to ongoing teaching as an investigator, rather than tracting. But if a woman was old enough that there was obviously no impropriety, then we just did what made sense. If we scheduled return visits with a young single woman, we tried to arrange for stake missionaries or members to go with us if needed. If available and practical, we might ask the sister missionaries to teach her.

    We visited members of the ward/branch without worrying whether a man was in the house. In two areas, I lived in a house in the same living area with a middle-aged or elderly divorced or widowed landlady. In another area, we stayed with an elderly couple, but never gave a thought to whether the landlord was in the house or not.

    As far as I know, there were no major sins committed as a result of missionaries interacting with other humans in, you know– a normal way.

  104. Clark Goble says:

    Left Field, I did the same thing because otherwise we’d basically be unable to teach. Finding splits with members was hard (there were few members in our area) and most of those we taught we women. That said quite a few people including someone who came out the same time I did ended up getting sent home over inappropriate consequences from doing the same. So I guess it rather depends upon the person. Often rules aren’t there for the typical person but the weaker person.

  105. I had an experience on my mission where we were visiting a less active sister who was married to a non-member, and a few of their kids were members. She mentioned how earlier that week her husband was over at the neighbors house and the neighbor had told him that the Mormon missionaries were visiting his wife while he was away at work, and strongly implied misconduct. The husband came back to the house and started yelling and making a big fuss. The wife was confused and finally got the whole story out. She told him that the missionaries only ever came into the house at night when he was home. Any time that we’d drop by in the day, we’d stay outside. The husband went back over, and asked the neighbor if the missionaries did stay outside the whole time. The neighbor confessed, and sheepishly admitted that he was trying to cause trouble for the Mormons. I suspect that the rule prevented me some physical harm.
    As for Bishops meeting with women, alone, for interviews, they never do that without a clerk/secretary in the next room. I was Executive Secretary for a Bishop who had had a previous experience where a woman he was counseling did not like what he was saying. So she started to unbutton her blouse and was threatening him with accusing him of rape. He quickly open the door to the clerks office and said “Hey, there’s something in here you need to see.” The woman quickly clutched her blouse and ran out.
    So I am grateful for the church rules when representing the church.
    In the workplace though, I’ve never held onto any sort of rule which would make working with women awkward.

  106. another anon says:


    I’m a government attorney too, and I have been for a long time in several different offices. Sure, spouses come to seasonal networking things like christmas parties or summer barbecues. But when I go to lunch with coworkers or even colleagues from across the aisle, the point is to bond by talking about work stuff. If a spouse tagged along, to be polite, we couldn’t or wouldn’t do that–thus defeating the whole point of the lunch. Your suggestion that government attorneys have no need for alone time with colleagues (and without spouses) is way, way, way off from my experience.

  107. Antonio Parr says:


    You wrote:

    “Of the hundreds of meals I’ve shared one on one with colleagues and clients, not one has taken place at “an intimate restaurant lit only by soft candlelight.” Straw men can take an astonishing array of forms, can’t they?”

    “Straw men” are used when making arguments. I was not making an argument, but simply reporting observations of a fairly long career representing a broad array of clients.

    And good for you for avoiding the intimate restaurant settings. But the fact that you personally haven’t experienced such an encounter has absolutely no bearing whatsoever as to whether they occur in other workplace-related encounters. They can and they do.

  108. Of all the members of the opposite sex you have met over a lifetime of simply living in a world that has two sexes, how many were you really that attracted to? My guess is less than a few. Recall dating? The one you liked never liked you “that way” and vice versa more often than not. It is hard to find one special person and there are people all around us all the time. After marriage, there aren’t suddenly more attractive members of the opposite sex appearing. Most people just aren’t interested in one another because there’s no chemistry.
    The missionaries lived with us for two years. My husband was home sometimes when they were here and not always but they didn’t have to wait outside until he came home before they could go upstairs. I’m their mother’s age. Years later, I had two elders bang on my front door as if they were going knock it in. I answered only to be told they couldn’t come in because my husband wasn’t home. I said, ” Let me get this straight. You were just banging on my door to tell me you may not be able to come inside?” It was idiotic. They asked if they could visit any of my neighbors and I replied, “So you can tell them you may not be able to come inside? No. Grow up. No banging.Knock like an adult and enter like an adult or don’t do it all.” It’s not one elder, there are two of them for safety. They’re fine. And so are the men at church. Most women would have no romantic interest in them even if they were unmarried.

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