On the Basis of Sex


If it feels like the march for women’s equality takes one step forward and two steps back, you’re right. The latest example of this is a backlash to the #MeToo Movement with some men insisting that they cannot ever be alone with a woman in a one-on-one setting (out of fear of being accused of impropriety). Two candidates for the governorship of Mississippi have now signed onto the “Billy Graham Rule,” which dictates that a man avoids being alone with a woman who is not his wife. This rule is sexist and hurts women.

The “Billy Graham Rule” disadvantages women journalists who are denied requests to interview the candidates—meaning that their male colleagues are being awarded the assignments on the basis of sex. To add an antiquated insult to this sexist injury, the men who adhere to this rule are not providing their own chaperones to the women journalists who are requesting access, instead putting the onus (and cost) on the women “in question” to provide for their own “minders.”

This may be illegal, according to expert Dr. Joanna Grossman, professor and scholar at SMU law school: “Under the Equal Protection clause, government officials like state representatives and governors ‘cannot treat people differently on the basis of sex without an important governmental interest.’”

Vice President Mike Pence is most famous adherent to the “Billy Graham Rule” (sometimes rebranded as the “Pence Rule.”) And politicians are not the only men discriminating against women in the workplace for similar reasons. LeanIn.org reported in May that “nearly two-thirds of male managers reported they would be uncomfortable taking part in a common one-on-one work activity with a woman.” This finding represented a 30% increase since the previous year’s survey. As a result of this sexist backlash to the #MeToo movement, professional women are missing out on networking and mentoring that result in career advancement.

To eliminate gender discrimination, men who don’t want to be alone with women simply shouldn’t be alone with other men either. If men don’t want to have a work dinner alone with a woman, then they shouldn’t have a work dinner alone with a man. So the candidates for Mississippi governor shouldn’t have one on one interviews with any reporters on the campaign trail, regardless of gender. That’s only fair — on the basis of sex.

Take Action! Does your company have a culture or policy that is discriminating against women as part of the #MeToo backlash? Invite The Representation Project team to consult on culture change initiatives, including screenings and corporate trainings using the film Miss Representation.