Vice President Mike Pence’s
adherence to the “Billy Graham Rule” is now widely known (and widely
ridiculed). Apparently he refuses to dine alone with any woman other than his
wife. He also refrains from attending events where alcohol is served unless his
wife is with him.
Despite the insistence that this
rule reflects a commitment to propriety and faithfulness, it is still an
inherently misogynistic rule. It frames women as seductresses-in-wait. It frames
men as impulsive sex fiends. Moreover, it turns a personal decision about one’s
marriage into a professional setback for women in the workplace. (Are women
expected to find chaperones if they’d like to seek out mentorships or meetings
with Billy Graham Rule-following male colleagues?)
As parents, we can—and should—raise
our boys to do better than what this rule prescribes. We can raise them to
become the sorts of men who reject sexist rules and practices like the Billy
Graham Rule. And we can start when our boys are very young.
1. We can raise our boys to view women as people—not as temptresses
and possible sex partners
Let’s just stop with the “ladies
man” onesies and t-shirts. Let’s stop viewing every boy-girl toddler and
preschool interaction as a proto-romantic relationship. (They are not “boyfriend
and girlfriend,” they are two small humans playing with, and probably fighting
over toys together.) Let’s make sure our boys hear us praising girls more for their
intelligence and bravery and creativity than for their pretty hair or clothes
or faces. And as our boys hit the tween and teen stages, let’s stop inquiring
about every feminine name they mention as if it belongs to a potential crush or
love interest. (Let’s stop assuming that all kids are heterosexual, too.)
We can shape the way our boys view
girls and women by paying attention to the way that we talk about their
relationship to other girls and women
2. We can raise them to seek out strong, competent mentors in the workplace—including
strong, competent female mentors
Women pediatricians. Women
religious leaders. Women sports coaches. Women principals. Women camp counselors.
This early engagement with women
mentors can inspire young boys to seek out the guidance of women leaders
throughout their lives. Furthermore, it can help them to see strong, competent
women as strong, competent women: not
as potential sex partners who happen to have leadership skills.
3. We can raise them to become non-sexist, non-predatory and fully
supportive mentors to their female colleagues
Let’s closely monitor the ways our
boys wield their perceived power—and how we talk about that power.
Let’s stop saying that boys chase
and tease and pick on girls only because they have a crush on those girls. That’s
not “boys being boys.” That’s boys being predatory and presumptuous.
Let’s stop assuming that boys are
always stronger or faster or less dramatic than their girl peers.
And as our children grow older,
let’s talk about our own experiences with mentors or mentees of another gender.
We can help to shape our children’s values by taking care with how we speak
about our lives and values.
4. We can raise them to be people with good character
Rigid gender norms and
expectations undermine a person’s ability to develop a good character.
As novelist Chimamanda Ngozi
Adichie describes in her famous essay, “We Should All Be Feminists,” “masculinity
is a small, hard cage, and we put boys inside this cage.” The Billy Graham rule
is but one bar of this cage. It is one of many gender-related,
character-warping assumptions that confine men and women, boys and girls, to
narrow set of behaviors and roles.
We can raise our children to be
more than that. To be—and do—better than that.
Let’s raise our boys to be the
kind of people who don’t need a rigid, sexist rule to help them maintain the
level of honesty and commitment that they and their future partners expect from
each other. Let’s raise them to use tact and compassion to navigate situations
in which they fear they might stray from that honesty and commitment.
And let’s raise them to spot and
call out misogyny whenever and wherever they see it.