| July 11, 2019 04:47 PM
A Republican state representative just told a female reporter he wouldn’t let her do a ride-along with him. Why? Because she’s a woman and it would look bad.
Cue the anti-sexism fervor, with Roxane Gay and even presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., weighing in on Twitter.
“If your view of women is so backward in 2019 that you can’t be alone with a reporter doing her job,” Gillibrand wrote, “what the hell are you doing trying to be the governor of a whole state?”
The issue in question began when Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell, who had broken the story of state Rep. Robert Foster’s entry into the gubernatorial race, requested to shadow Foster on a 15-hour campaign trip.
Foster’s campaign director, Colton Robison, declined the request because Campbell is a woman.
“Perception is everything. We are so close to the primary. If (trackers) were to get a picture and they put a mailer out, we wouldn’t have time to dispute it. And that’s why we have to be careful,” Robinson told her on Tuesday.
Robinson suggested that Campbell bring a male colleague with her, an unreasonable request that would strain a local paper such as Mississippi Today. Needless to say, the ride-along didn’t happen.
After Campbell wrote a story about the incident, it blew up into a national affair, with critics charging Foster with sexism and Foster in turn attempting to turn the spotlight into a fundraising opportunity.
“I am a God-fearing man devoted to my wife and even though having a ride along with me wouldn’t be in itself immoral, the Bible teaches us to refrain from the appearance of impropriety. That’s what I did, and I’m sticking to my guns,” he told Mississippi Today on Wednesday.
Foster’s decision, however, doesn’t appear simply to be about avoiding “impropriety.”
For one, Campbell is a lesbian, and she wrote in 2018 about her wife. Foster didn’t say he personally had a problem with meeting Campbell; he said he was worried about how it would look.
The irony is that his refusal now looks quite bad.
“If only men who use the Billy Graham rule in professional settings were as concerned about the perception that they were discriminating against women as they were about the perception that they are seducing or harassing us,” wrote Alyssa Rosenberg and Robert Gebelhoff for the Washington Post.
Theoretically, there doesn’t have to be anything wrong with men choosing to avoid one-on-one professional contact with women, following the “Billy Graham rule” and the “Pence rule,” if they can do so without causing any inconvenience. Foster could easily have suggested that he bring a campaign staffer along with him.
Instead, he chose to impose a burden on a female reporter. In the #MeToo era, it makes sense that men should be careful to “refrain from the appearance of impropriety,” but doing so is possible without withholding opportunities from women or imposing extra burdens on them.
Foster showed sexism not in his rules about associating with women, but in his unwillingness to bear the burden of his rule, and instead imposing on a woman a burden he never would have imposed on a man.
The bottom line for Foster and figures such as him is this: If you want to follow a restrictive standard, it’s your responsibility to make it work.