What Does Mike Pence’s ‘No Girls Allowed’ Rule Have in Common With School Dress Codes and Single-Sex Classrooms? Exclusion, Shaming, and Victim-Blaming.

Of all the shockingly retrograde views about gender that the past year has brought us, a top contender is the revelation of Mike Pence’s policy of refusing to dine with women unless his wife is present.

As commentators have been swift to point out, 
this policy is deeply problematic. It reduces women to the role of temptress, blaming them for male transgressions from marital infidelity to sexual assault, while relying on the equally demeaning assumption that men are incapable of controlling their sexual impulses. It is also discriminatory in the context of the workplace, depriving female employees of critical opportunities for networking, mentoring, and face time.

Discrimination under the guise of chivalry — sometimes called “benign protectionism” — is hardly new. Women have been “protected out” of jobs and educational opportunities … well, pretty much forever. Laws against sex discrimination have eradicated some of the most blatant examples, like policies prohibiting women from entering certain professions or excluding women and girls from educational institutions. But as Pence’s “No Girls Allowed” rule shows, these archaic views about gender persist.

Unfortunately, benign protectionism not only runs deep, it also starts early. Here are some examples of how these attitudes still play out in the school context today, in surprisingly blatant ways.

Perhaps the most common example is the use of school dress codes that impose different standards based on sex. These may sound benign initially, but they rest on some of the exact same attitudes and stereotypes epitomized in Pence’s personal policy.

The ACLU is currently 
challenging a dress code at a K-8 public charter school in North Carolina that requires girls to wear skirts and prohibits them from wearing pants. As the school’s founder, Baker Mitchell, explained, the requirement was instituted “to preserve chivalry and respect among young women and men.” In his deposition, Mitchell elaborated further on the meaning of chivalry in this context: A woman is “regarded as a fragile vessel that men are supposed to take care of and honor.” (Meanwhile, a school board member argued that the requirement would prepare students for a workplace where they might have to follow gendered dress codes, providing as his first example the restaurant chain Hooters — a vision of “respect” that is perhaps more Trumpian than Pencian).

Discrimination under the guise of chivalry — sometimes called “benign protectionism” — is hardly new.

Our clients argue that the skirt requirement leaves them uncomfortably cold in the winter time, distracts them during class for fear of boys looking up their skirts, and inhibits them from engaging in activities during recess like playing soccer, climbing the monkey bars, and doing cartwheels, all for fear of showing their underwear or being reprimanded for being unladylike. That our clients would rather be treated as kids than “fragile vessels” has apparently not swayed the school administration.

Just last week, a federal judge rejected the school’s request to dismiss the case, finding that our clients had valid claims for sex discrimination under both Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in public schools, and the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. This builds on similar victories in ACLU cases challenging gendered dress codes for special events like prom and yearbook photos.

Even when dress codes seem gender-neutral, they are frequently used to police girls’ bodies — sending the message that girls are a “distraction” to boys or men. They are often disparately enforced against girls, students of color, LGBT students, or students of different sizes. And enforcement means students may be sent home from school or forced to “cover up” — in other words, excluded, shamed, and victim-blamed.

Perhaps the most literal reflection of Pence’s policy in action is the current trend of separating boys from girls in coed schools into single-sex classrooms. Despite the lack of valid evidence of efficacy in improving outcomes, this model is presented as a panacea for a host of social woes, from gender-based harassment to high disciplinary incidents to low academic performance to high rates of teenage pregnancy. The justification should sound familiar: Teenage boys simply can’t concentrate on academics when girls are present.

Because this strategy is disproportionately implemented in communities of color, racial stereotypes play a role as well: The implication is that boys and girls of color are uniquely unable to succeed in a coed environment. The proposed solution is not to equip girls and boys to collaborate, learn, and work as equals, but rather it is to exclude the (overly sexualized) girls from the classroom altogether so the (out-of-control) boys can focus.

These stereotyped attitudes violate the law when they play out in schools funded by taxpayer dollars — and we don’t intend to sit idly by. As for Vice President Pence, if his policy of excluding, blaming, and shaming women is reflected in either White House employment practices or educational policy initiatives, we may well see him in court.

If you or your child has been targeted by a discriminatory dress code or separated from their peers in a single-sex classroom, we want to hear from you.  Tell us your story

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Anon A. Mouse

Are Pence's actions discriminatory? Absolutely. However, as a woman I'm going to cut him some slack and say it's probably not a bad idea considering who's Commander-in-Chief. Maybe, just maybe, he's doing it as a CYA.

Also, I'm all about doing what it takes to reinforce to some of these girls that having shorts or skirts so short your butt cheeks are showing or shirts so tight and low that their breasts are hanging out is not an acceptable way to dress. If their parents aren't capable of instilling some type of self-worth, then it's good if the schools are stepping into the equation.


You don't seem to get the point of the article. Pence's behavior is discriminatory. It eliminates opportunities for the women on his staff that are provided to the male members of his staff. It is also ridiculously immature and unprofessional. He is not able to meet alone with a woman over a meal or be at any place without his wife is alcohol is served. Is he a teenager who has yet to learn to control himself or does he fancy himself so irresistible that all women will want to be engaged sexually with him and he must protect himself from those aims? If that is the requirement of his beliefs he needs to get out of public service, since half of the people he serves are women and his illogical and discriminatory thinking has no place in creating policy.
Your attitude towards girls in relation to dress code says quite a bit about why you wouldn't have a problem with Pence's behavior. Dress codes directed towards females only is wrong and have no place in schools. Girls should be allowed to wear shorts, fitted tops, or any other article of clothing that is comfortable that is also allowed for boys.

Bill Ebben

The attitudes that underlie these regulations aren't really any different than the attitudes of men in some Muslim countries where "religious police" prowl the streets looking for women without the appropriate amount of skin covered. These guys and the overly zealous Muslims want to blame their "impure thoughts" on the women when it is these guys who don't have the discipline to control their thoughts. The bible says, "If thine eyes offend thee, pluck them out". There is probably a similar suggestion in the Koran since boot books developed from different branches of the religion of Abraham. .


And, of course, the ultimate extreme of all of this is...the burka.


Absolutely no burkas at public schools!


What if it's his wife that's insisting that Pence not be alone with another woman? Or maybe they decided together. The fact that the writer of this article assumes Mrs. Pence is powerless in her marriage is sexist.


Whether Mrs Pence has any willful part in this is honestly irrelevant. Mrs Pence was not elected as VP and has no obligation to meet with members of congress or constituents. Also I think it a rather reasonable assumption that any man, such as Pence, who is so discriminatory against women, particularly in any areas where they might make thier own decisions about their own bodies and lives, would not allow his wife to have any say in this matter.


Reading down through the article for me it seems the author takes great liberties skewing the topic toward expressing her own desired opinions. I mean the primary basis of the title is about VP Pence and what the author describes as his "no girls allowed" policy, but the author doesn't even dedicate a paragraph to define what specifically is the actual policy.

I think anyone who has had to formulate their own personal essay knows that it should not be so easy to flesh out an argument without first establishing a basis for opinion. Am I supposed to be made to feel that I should be "in the know" about the topic and be subjected to feelings that I should just nod my head in agreement? I scanned through the whole article, but without a basis of the topic I felt the need to look for another article to clear this up for me. I found the following that I found to be much more clear and level-headed:


This article to me is much better written as it keeps the topic at the center of the discussion instead of just a jumping off point to a cascade of what can basically only be substantiated as personal opinion.


I will say that women's only education can be beneficial for women and girls, as women as often called on less, blamed for boys' behaviors, and treated as academic inferiors when male students are in the room. Many of the wealthiest Americans choose single-gender education for their daughters (look up all-girls boarding schools) for the empowerment, focus on women's learning, and support that women and girls often do not receive in co-ed schools where most time, attention, and resources go to male students. Gender-based discrimination is wrong, and dress codes unfairly target women, but women's only education can help combat the discrimination women experience in the classroom and provide a superior education.


Alright quit treating women like ladies and start treating them like my guy friends. Gotcha this ought to go over well. I mean my wife hates being called girly things like beautiful and pretty I mean I should start saying handsome right? I mean I should just go out to eat dinner with my coworker that's really a handsome lady and just tell my wife who probably will get jealous to ignore it it's the new thing to do. The only thing i agree with is those skirts but then put then in the boys outfit then.


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