But the way to overcome that problem, Elsesser said, is not to monastically order room service every night of your business trip. Instead, it’s to normalize men and women interacting professionally, in a non-sexual way. “If you always saw men and women meeting together for dinner,” she told me, “people wouldn’t see it as suspicious.”
In the midst of so much policy news, Pence’s gender-segregated meals might seem like a minor issue. And since that tidbit was from 2002, it’s not clear if he still hews to that standard. “He set a standard to ensure a strong marriage when he first came to D.C. as a congressman,” said Pence spokesman Marc Lotter in an email. “Clearly that worked.” Lotter pointed out that several members of Pence’s senior staff, including his deputy chief of staff, Jen Pavlik, and director of public engagement, Sarah Makin, are women.
But this quirk of Pence’s highlights broader questions over where, exactly, women’s voices—other than Ivanka Trump’s—belong in the Trump administration. Women I met while covering the Women’s March told me they feared, given Trump’s rhetoric, that their views and concerns will be pushed to the sidelines during his tenure. And indeed, Trump has vowed to defund Planned Parenthood and has already cut global family-planning funds.
As Jill Filipovic recently pointed out in The New York Times, “President Trump’s cabinet is the most white and male in 35 years. Among his top staff members, men outnumber women two to one.” When Pence tweeted a photo of a meeting with the House Freedom Caucus on health care recently, what made waves was not the attempts at political deal-making but the fact that room, which was weighing the elimination of mothers’ health benefits, was so crammed with Y-chromosomes.
A cheesy bon-mot popular among lobbyists goes, “in Washington, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” In other words, if you don’t schmooze, you lose—and so does the agenda you’re pushing. If Pence literally won’t sit at the table with women, where does that leave women’s issues?
There’s really no need for Pence—or any other man—to wall women off professionally. As my colleague Emma Green points out, the Pence rule (which is actually the Billy Graham rule) is meant to preserve a marriage at all costs. But in the age of sexting, avoiding co-ed meetings seems aimed more at managing one’s reputation than at preventing a sex scandal. In 2017, if you really wanted to cheat on your wife, you wouldn’t take your staffer to the Palm. You’d hit her up on Snapchat.