Mike Pence, the 48th and current Vice President of the United States (U.S.), revealed in an interview with The Hill in 2002 that he would not have dinner alone with any woman other than his wife, Karen Pence. Further, he declared that he does not attend events in which alcohol is served unless Karen is with him by his side. With his inauguration as the Vice President of U.S. in March last year and a series of sexual scandals arising from the Me Too movement, the rule has been spotlighted in Korea and has provoked much controversy. While some in Korea are adopting a modified form of this rule, it is time to ask whether the so-called Korean Pence rule is truly necessary.
Beginning in February with the disclosure by female prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun, sexual perpetrators from nearly every sector of Korean society are making headlines with their harassments being revealed by the Me Too movement. Even a powerful and influential figure in Korea like Ahn Hee-jung, former Governor of Chungcheongnamdo Province and promising future presidential candidate, had to resign after being accused of sexually assaulting his secretary Kim Ji-eun. With such huge scandals, the so-called “Korean Pence Rule” arose as a “countermeasure to the Me Too movement” which includes not dining with female workers and excluding them from get-togethers. However, such a rule is far desirable.
It needs to be pointed out that the Korean Pence Rule is not the same rule as the Vice President originally insisted on. Pence adopted such rules to remain faithful in his married life, to refrain from socializing with females in his private life and not to create the occasion for immoral affairs. Having male-only get-togethers and not having personal encounters with female workers at a workplace deviates greatly from the original Pence Rule in that it separates men and women even in public life. It is essential that one be able to tell the difference in context, because Korea’s version of the Pence Rule would exacerbate the current discrimination that exist between men and women at Korean workplaces.
What is more, advocating the Pence Rule as a “countermeasure to the Me Too movement” cannot be justified in the first place. #MeToo is a movement by victims of sexual harassment by their superiors in various sectors of society. However, the Korean Pence Rule does not provide a fundamental and definite solution to such social structural problems. Rather, the rule needs to be criticized in that it could act as refuge for male executives in the hierarchy without addressing the serious problem itself. Considering this, the term “countermeasure to the Me Too movement” cannot come into existence from the very beginning.
One may claim that the Korean Pence Rule should be adopted in order to avoid unintended sexual offence that might occur with female subordinates and colleagues. However, such a claim has a fatal weak point in that it attributes sexual violence to the presence of women, not to the presence of the sexual perpetrators. It is the culprits, not the victims, who should be aware of and be careful in order to prevent sexual crimes from happening. Is it impossible for those who adopted the Korean Pence Rule to face female workers without sexually embarrassing them?
In some aspect, the presence of the Pence Rule can be seen as meaningful in that it made male executives reflect on their behaviors which could be considered as sexual violence. However, it would be important that such consciousness should not lead to ostracizing female employees around them to prevent sexual crimes, thus inciting gender conflict even more. Rather, what is truly needed is more communication between men and women, to change the deep-rooted perception of treating female employees not as colleagues but rather as sexual objects. Without communication, the Korean Pence Rule could lead to greater violence against female workers by male superiors.