Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Here is a deeply weird thing:

These are conservative internet men, declaring, like Vice President Mike Pence—who calls his wife “Mother,” among other oddities—not only their own absolute refusal to dine one-on-one with a woman other than their spouse, but that it is flatly inappropriate for any married person, under any circumstances, to have a meal alone with a member of the opposite sex to whom they are not married. This sentiment is all over conservative Twitter today.

On a surface level, this is hilarious and/or gross for all the obvious reasons. For one thing, it turns what in at least some of these dudes’ cases is the organically arising circumstance of not ever having had occasion to be alone with a woman other than their wives into something draped in principle and supposed old-timey virtue. I have never been alone in a room with any woman other than my wife, not because I’m a lonely weirdo without much of a real-world social life but because, uh, I won’t allow it.

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(Full disclosure: I am making fun of myself here, too. My wife and I have been married for nine years, and in those nine years I have not shared a one-on-one meal with any other women except maybe my mother or sister. That’s not because of any principle other than the one that also has prevented me from sharing more than maybe two one-on-one meals with any men in those nine years: I’m an asocial hermit. Also my company is of no value to anyone.)

For another thing, these no-opposite-sex-dinner declarations make plain the flimsiness of these bozos’ marital fidelity: That for these men—at least in their imaginations—the chute leading from an overcooked burger at Chili’s to, like, an entire secret second family, is wide, straight, steep, and absolutely drenched in WD-40. Who knows what might happen if we sit down to mozzarella sticks together! It’s all out of my hands from that point on!

It’s also, and for the same reasons, creepy as hell, insulting to women’s agencies, and an abdication of responsibility for any of the 10,000 decisions that would lead—even on a date, a dinner held for the express purpose of pursuing a spark of mutual attraction!—from the place that is for eating food and not for fucking (the restaurant) to a place that is for fucking and not for eating food (presumably not the restaurant). This makes it cousin to handwringing over the clothing choices of rape victims. It describes a world in which women are not individual human beings—witness these men who cannot even imagine a reason why any man might choose to share a meal with a woman he doesn’t intend to fuck—but generic objects of sexual temptation at which men have only very limited power to resist flinging their genitals. It weaponizes women—most especially young, unmarried women—against themselves: I can’t be alone with you, even over some friggin’ nachos, or your presence might cause me to fuck you. Indeed there could be no other reason for us to sit down to a meal together. This is the sort of thing that is being referenced when people use the term “rape culture.”

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While we’re at it, this rigorous performative self-policing implies—yes it does, don’t even bother saying otherwise—the inverse: That these men police their wives’ interactions with other men. If you can’t imagine a reason, other than as a prelude to sex, why a married man might choose to share a meal with a woman who is not his wife, then you can’t imagine a reason why any other man might choose to share a non-adulterous meal with your wife. This might make things difficult for her if, say, she has friends who are men, or has any intention of pursuing a career.

Imagine, just purely hypothetically, a society in which the vast overwhelming majority of positions of authority and power, in every industry as well as in the government, were held by members of one sex—let’s say males, just hypothetically. Further imagine that, as most of the males holding these positions of power were pretty well along in life, many of them, certainly the majority, were married.

And now, imagine that, in this purely hypothetical imaginary society, for basically as long as there had been people—sorry, wait, let’s call them, uh, gorks! since clearly they are not us!—sitting down for a one-on-one conversation with a more experienced, successful, powerful, uh, gork, had been one of the most common and beneficial ways to receive mentorship or counsel, or to strengthen a professional network, or to discuss opportunities for employment or advancement, or to plan strategies for an enterprise. Imagine also that for thousands and thousands of years gorks had been conducting these kinds of one-on-one encounters over meals—that this was so deeply entrenched a tradition among gorks that the practice of breaking bread together was thought to be one of the very most basic and sustaining—and completely non-sexualized—acts of gorkhood.

Now imagine that the married male gorks decided that, for reasons of propriety, they would not allow themselves to dine alone with female gorks—nor indeed even to be alone in a room with a female gork. The female gorks would be pretty well disadvantaged by this, wouldn’t they? The married male gorks, occupiers of the vast overwhelming majority of positions of authority and power, now could continue providing extremely valuable one-on-one mentorship or counsel to, or networking with, or discussing opportunities with, or making plans with each other—but the female gorks would be almost entirely excluded from this practice. Female gorks would find their access to authority and power severely bottlenecked, compared to their male peers, by the relatively tiny number of potential mentors and profitable social contacts available to them.

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Why, if the male gorks wanted to ensure female gorks would always have a harder time making their way in gork society, and that male gorks would retain their power, they could hardly come up with a better informal method than standing up marriage as a proxy for social establishment, and then making one-on-one meetings between married gorks and gorks of the opposite sex forbidden by taboo.

Huh. I wonder if Mike Pence has thought of that.