OPINION: A dangerous precedent: the “Kavanaugh Effect”

Published 8:00 am Sunday, July 14, 2019

This hasn’t exactly been a banner week for female reporters or politicians in Mississippi.  

After reading about the state’s lowest-fundraising gubernatorial candidate (who shall remain nameless because, frankly, I don’t want to give him any more publicity in my editorial than he’s already gotten nationwide) rejecting an interview request based on the reporter’s gender, I was deeply troubled. 

At first, I was outraged. As a female journalist who’s faced her fair share of rejection, I was shocked that this candidate displayed such disrespect. Essentially, the candidate told Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell that he wouldn’t consent to an interview unless she brought along a male colleague as a chaperone. 

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Here’s the thing about Larrison Campbell: she’s brilliant at what she does. She’s one of those writers with a true story telling gift and has the credentials to show for it. She also made an active choice to live in her native Mississippi, along with her wife and children. 

Once he was exposed, the candidate later said he followed the “Billy Graham Rule,” stating that he refused to be alone with a woman other than his wife, out of respect for their marriage and as a preventative measure to ward of so-called “smear campaigns.” It’s also a policy he and his wife didn’t implement before his campaign started.  

I don’t want to believe the candidate kept this policy out of a lack of self-control. I’ve seen Facebook comments alleging that he was some kind of predator, that his wife was insecure in their relationship and worse. I don’t think that’s the case. 

Once my outrage subsided, I began to analyze how we got to this point.  

Is this situation part of the “Kavanaugh Effect”? Is this just the wake of the worst of the “Me Too” movement? When many men, like Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, were accused of sexual assault and even worse crimes without evidence and on hearsay alone, is this a byproduct? It seemed like women were all of a sudden given this omnipotent power to accuse any man of sexual assault, effectively ruining the man’s life – regardless of whether it was true or not.  

Don’t be confused: I am in no way victim-blaming. I am, however, placing some blame on those who abused that power, knowing full well what they were doing was wrong, but still feeding on the attention gained through the victim mentality.  

Has our society gotten to the point where men are so afraid of women, and the accusatory power they wield, that they refuse to work with them? For this candidate, that seems to be the case.  

From the standpoint of someone who’s had people close to me be falsely accused, I kind of understand the candidate’s caution. But from the standpoint of a reporter who prides herself on professionalism, I’m still appalled and insulted that a man made a blanket decision to exclude all women from his professional circle – unless they have a male babysitter.  

How can a man who is trying to earn the trust and the votes of an entire state expect to succeed if he can’t be in a room alone with half its population? 

Perhaps what concerns me most about this incident is the precedent it sets for male politicians, or any man in a position of power, and the way they interact with women. 

While the way this candidate handled this situation displays one instance of blatant sexism, I’m not entirely sold on the idea that this man is a sexist pig.  

However, I do believe this incident could lead “Joe Sexist Candidate” to use the “Billy Graham Rule” or a similar policy as a means to refuse to work with women, therefore putting female professionals at a disadvantage. And that’s not right.  

The Pandora’s Box of this issue has now been opened. And it’s up to women – and all of us, for that matter, to speak up and stop more situations like this.