Unpacking the Billy Graham Rule, Especially for Political Candidates

Last week news broke that Rep. Robert Foster, who is running for governor in Mississippi, denied ride-along access on the campaign trail to a female reporter, Larrison Campbell, unless she had a male colleague join her. Foster based his refusal on a promise he made to his wife that he would “never be alone with another woman he wasn’t related to under any circumstance, be it in an office, a farm or a truck.”

Rep. Foster is not the first politician to reference such promises, also known as “Billy Graham rule,” named for the evangelical leader who was a strong proponent of this vow never to spend time alone with a woman other than his wife. A couple of years ago, news circulated about how Vice President Mike Pence had similar practices of not eating a meal alone with a woman other than his wife.

At first glance, it may seem noble and an act of loving commitment that a husband would respect his wife by honoring wishes that he never be alone with another woman. Yet the basis of such an agreement illustrates rape culture and its continual use perpetuates dangerous premises that contribute to violence in our society. Moreover, its use by political candidates and others in the workplace reinforces gender inequality and discrimination.

The notion that men and women cannot exist in a space without a sexual encounter occurring continues false narratives of women as sexually-charged vixen who constantly seduce men. It also perpetuates the idea of men as powerless and unable to control themselves as they “fall victim” to the wiles of sexually-charged women. Moreover, an agreement between husband and wife suggests a lack of trust between the two individuals. No part of these stereotypes illustrates a healthy relationship.

At 2017 Women’s March in Los Angeles, group of men holding a sign that says, “Men of quality respect women's equality.”

At 2017 Women’s March in Los Angeles, group of men holding a sign that says, “Men of quality respect women’s equality.” Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Foster also rationalized that in the age of the #MeToo movement, it is “safer” to keep to his promise so that he cannot be falsely accused of sexual assault because his opponents are looking for any signs of impropriety to use against him in the campaign. False accusations are exceedingly rare although the idea get lots of media attention. It’s far more common that sexual violence goes unreported than it is that false accusations of violence are lodged.

It’s time that we shift from a culture in which (potential) victims are told to watch out for themselves and take precautions to avoid violence to a culture in which we focus on correcting the conditions that prompt perpetrators to commit violence. The onus should not be on the would-be victim to act or dress a certain way as they move around in society. Rather, would-be perpetrators should have the tools needed to control their actions.

Beyond these personal relationships and whatever agreements Foster and his wife have, Foster is running for public office. Excluding women from participating in the work around him is detrimental to gender equality. Women will be left out of important conversations, unable to seek or possibly even know about job opportunities, excluded from positions of power, and face reduced earning potential. All of this repeats the cycle of gender injustice.

Excluding women from participating in the work around him is detrimental to gender equality. Women will be left out of important conversations, unable to seek or possibly even know about job opportunities, excluded from positions of power, and face reduced earning potential. All of this repeats the cycle of gender injustice.

The Action Alliance envisions a world filled with healthy relationships and free of violence. To move closer to this vision, we’re calling out and correcting faulty assumptions society holds of how people exist and interact, and we’re working to help breakdown rigid gender norms. Learn more about primary prevention at: http://vsdvalliance.org/prevention/about-primary-prevention

Feature image: At 2017 Women’s March in Los Angeles, group of men holding a sign that says, “Men of quality respect women’s equality.” Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash


Elizabeth Wong is the Coalition Development Director for the Action Alliance. She is committed to building relationships that advance social justice and equality.

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