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'Billy Graham rule': Safe or sexist?

The 360 is a feature designed to show you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

Speed read

What's happening: Earlier this month, a Republican candidate for Mississippi governor made national headlines for refusing to allow a female reporter to travel with him unless a male colleague accompanied them. The candidate, state Rep. Robert Foster, later said he avoids being alone with another woman "out of respect" for his wife. The reporter, Mississippi Today's Larrison Campbell, said the campaign wanted to avoid any situation that could "insinuate an extramarital affair."

A few days later, one of Foster's opponents in the Republican primary, Bill Waller Jr., said he also follows what is known as the "Billy Graham rule." Graham was one of the most prominent Christian evangelists in the country until his death last year. He established a set of rules for his ministry in 1948. One of them is that a man should never be alone with a woman who is not his wife.

Vice President Mike Pence drew attention in 2017 when it was reported he never eats a meal with a woman who is not his wife.

While the number of men who formally follow the rule is small, an informal acceptance of the concept seems to be growing in the wake of the #MeToo movement. A recent study found 60 percent of male managers "are uncomfortable mentoring, socializing with or even working alone with women in the workplace."

Why there's debate: Proponents of the rule argue that it prevents impropriety and shields men from false claims or insinuations of misconduct. Foster reportedly said he was concerned about trackers working for his opponents planting stories of impropriety for political reasons. The rule is even more necessary, some argue, because of the #MeToo movement, when a single accusation can crater a man's career.

Campbell called the rule sexist. Many echoed her criticism, saying men who follow the rule see women only as sexual objects with no other value. Others say the rule perpetuates the idea that women are in some way responsible for men's misbehavior.

The "Billy Graham rule" holds women back professionally, some argue, by denying them the chance to work alongside men in positions of power who could help promote their careers. The rule may even "violate several different laws" when practiced by public officials, one legal analyst said.

What's next: Barring a legal challenge, the Billy Graham rule would become part of day-to-day business if Foster or Waller were to become Mississippi governor. Both candidates are considered underdogs in next month's Republican primary. The frontrunner, state Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, has declined to say whether he follows the rule.

Perspectives

The rule holds women back professionally.

"The idea that a devoted, loving relationship could be destabilized by the mere presence of a woman doing her job for 15 hours is, at its core, an irrational and ridiculous assertion. It would be laughable if it didn’t materially degrade a woman’s capacity to function professionally." — Janelle Hanchett, Yes Magazine

The impact of the rule changes when it's practiced by a politician.

"These might be acceptable, if dispiriting, choices for a private citizen to make in his own life, but a governor making them has cascading effects for hundreds of thousands of people within his bureaucracy. The Graham/Pence rule prevents women from climbing to the top of their careers because the men who have the power to help them get there won’t even let them in the room." — Monica Hesse, Washington Post

The rule is a smart way to prevent false accusations of assault.

"When 'Believe all women' is the party line, it’s only prudent for men to take themselves out of situations where they risk being accused of anything." — Karol Markowicz, New York Post

The rule promotes unprofessional treatment of women.

"It casts working women not as fellow professionals who deserve respect, but as hazardous sirens, luring helpless men away from the professional mission and into the pit of sinfulness. It suggests jobs that require close proximity to the governor might not be open to women in a Foster administration." — Ashton Pittman, Jackson Free Press

Men who practice the rule are conceding they're untrustworthy.

"While they would deny this as the reason, these men don't trust themselves not to misbehave around women. This should make them look bad to voters. Their wives don't trust these guys around women. Voters may want to inquire why that is, and the reasons may well end up looking bad to voters." — Irini Manta, Reason

The rule punishes women for men's inability to control themselves.

"Forgive us from stating the obvious, but the best way to not be accused of sexual misconduct is to not engage in sexual misconduct. Avoiding women to keep your reputation clean is more punitive than noble. In fact, it’s sexism." — Editorial, Los Angeles Times

The rule treats women as only sexual objects.

"The troubling part of this story is that the very 'rule' itself is founded on the assumption that women exist to titillate and tempt men, even in a professional setting in which they simply seek to do their jobs. Equality is foreclosed by a system predicated on that assumption." — Joanna Grossman, Southern Methodist University law professor, to Business Insider

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