Last week, a story about Keanu Reeves made the rounds on social media. Some fans of the actor started noticing that while posing for pictures with fans, or even fellow celebrities, Reeves does not touch women. Reeves maintains a hands-off approach with women in order to remove any potential awkwardness from unwanted touching during an encounter. This approach is in stark contrast to the first “meeting” between pop star Ke$ha, and comedian Jerry Seinfeld back in 2017. During that encounter, Ke$ha (and I can’t tell you how annoying that name is to type) tried to kiss Seinfeld three different times, each time being politely denied. Ke$ha, not having the misfortune of being male, never received any negative press for this. Reeves’ method eliminates such awkwardness.
Rightfully, Reeves has been hailed as a “respectful king” and has received plaudits for his shomer-negiah-like policy. However, we must contrast the media coverage of this story with that of the “Pence Rule.” For those unfamiliar, the Pence Rule is a policy adopted by Vice President Mike Pence back in 2002 wherein he does not have one-on-one dinners with women. The media jumped all over this policy when it was revisited in 2017. Most notably, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg noted that to be fair to female colleagues, this rule should apply to men as well. This way neither gender would benefit or constrain from the policy.
Here’s the thing. The media hate Pence. They created an air of bigotry around him. He’s against gay people. He hates women. He bases his policy on the Bible. All of these things have no basis in fact, and yet have all been touted by the media since he was announced as Donald Trump’s running mate. The New York Times went so far as to say that he’s “worse” than Trump, a stance that even the extremely left-leaning Huffington Post declined. You see, any policy made by a politician that the media disdains will be met with extreme vitriol, so let’s just look at the facts about the Pence Rule.
Firstly, this is all based on a throw-away line in a 2002 piece from The Hill. 2002! That’s 17 years ago. Even the more-left-leaning-than-the-Huffington-Post Vox pointed out that there is no evidence that Pence still adheres to this rule. Pence himself has never commented on it. But let’s just say that he does. Mike Pence does not eat alone with women who are not his wife. That’s all we know. We don’t know if he makes other time for women. We don’t know if there is a business exception. The Hill never asked a follow-up, and I haven’t seen Pence himself address this since. Every single piece of negative opinion journalism is based entirely on conjecture. And thus we have “Pence hates women.”
So if we’re allowed to base opinion entirely on conjecture, might I say that if this Keanu Reeves story came out about Mike Pence, he would be derided as a male elitist. “Pence thinks he’s so much better than women that he won’t even touch them,” they would say. Headlines would run rampant among the media about how Pence proves once again that he gives women less attention than men. Sheryl Sandberg would be out there complaining that this policy should apply to men and women alike, and that this is obviously sexism on the part of Pence. You see that conjecture? It’s easy to do when you have no proof. But the point stands. The reason that people don’t like Pence’s policy is that they don’t like Pence.
“But how do these issues affect me,” I hear you ask. “I’m not Pence. I’m not a woman who will ever have a dinner with Pence denied.” True. But this all ties into a recent survey conducted by leanin.org, an organization founded by (drumroll please…) Sheryl Sandberg! The study shows that “60% of male managers say they’re uncomfortable participating in regular work activities with women, including mentoring, working one-on-one, or socializing.” This is a 33% increase from the previous year. Many other areas of concern came out of this survey, including likeliness of male bosses having one-on-one meetings and dinners with female employees. Sandberg calls these results “totally unacceptable.”
And maybe she’s right. Maybe these results are totally unacceptable. But what Sandberg is failing to realize is that the way she is going about her push for equality is entirely wrong. Ever since the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have taken hold, men, especially those in positions of power, feel lost. Every single action they are taking is being dictated. And sure, some men are scared of false allegations, but I really believe that those are in the minority. Men aren’t worried about being falsely accused of impropriety; they are just confused as to the rules, rules that rapidly change. So new initiatives come out in their companies, which are followed by more rules and more guidelines, and more procedures, and finally, the men are just saying, “I give up! I don’t know what you want me to do anymore so I’m just going to cut any potential for wrongdoing out.” And your response to this is, “That’s unacceptable! Here are more rules for you to follow.” Instead of listening to these men, you are actively pushing them further away from the goal you are setting.
Now before you all jump down my throat, I’m not saying that the way male bosses are handling this is correct. Interpersonal relationships, especially between genders, in the workplace are extremely complicated, and obviously the answer is never to shut down discussion and quash the advancement of the other gender. But if the goal is to level the playing field for women, the answer is clearly not to dictate to men how exactly to behave, because clearly that’s not working! A better way to analyze the data is to discuss why this is happening, but the survey results published on leanin.org spend exactly one sentence on the why: “36% of men say they’ve avoided mentoring or socializing with a woman because they were nervous about how it would look.” There is no other data on the why.
So here’s my message for Sheryl Sandberg, and anyone else who thinks this is the best way to handle this issue: Whether it be the population at large, male bosses, or the vice president of the United States, how about instead of dictating to people how they are to behave, you listen to why they are behaving that way. Spend a little more time listening to them instead of labeling them as “unacceptable.” Maybe by taking their concerns and reasoning to heart you can get them to take your message to heart.
Izzo Zwiren works in healthcare administration, constantly concerning himself with the state of healthcare politics. The topic of healthcare has led Izzo to become passionate about a variety of political issues affecting our country today. Aside from politics, Izzo is a fan of trivia, stand-up comedy, and the New York Giants. Izzo lives on Long Island with his wife and two adorable, hilarious daughters.