Last week, a Mississippi gubernatorial candidate refused to allow a female journalist to follow him on his campaign because he follows the Billy Graham rule. The rule is that married men should not ever be alone with a woman to “avoid any situation that may evoke suspicion or compromise of [a] marriage.”
As a divorcee, I agree that trust is key to marriage. However, if the trust between a man and a woman is so weak that he cannot be alone with a woman, then that isn’t really trust. That’s fear. As Jeremy White tweeted, the rule “presumes either: A) you can’t be trusted or B) women can’t be trusted.”
The Billy Graham rule discriminates against women. Full-stop. If a man cannot be alone with a woman, he cannot mentor her through a tough situation. He cannot take her with on a business trip to a client site. He cannot meet with her to give her a performance review. As a result, the woman will miss out on significant business opportunities. She’ll miss out on activities that are critical for her success and advancement. She’ll be held back. This is discrimination plain and simple.
As my friend, Suzanne Lucas advises, we should “flip it to test it.” Instead of a woman, let’s say a man cannot be alone with a black man for fear that man will claim racism. No business trips, mentoring sessions, or performance reviews for the black man. Or a Native American. Or an Asian American. Or a Latino. Or a Jew. Or a Muslim. Or an older man. We’d all agree that this would be discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, religion, and age, right? (Readers – this is where you nod.) The Billy Graham rule perpetuates the idea that men are only safe when they are with men like them.
Instead, we need to treat each other like humans. We see women and everyone else as humans, colleagues, partners, and equals. We don’t withhold support, advice, and opportunities for fear of a complaint; we treat everyone with respect. Period.