Whatever the real motivation behind the act, the result is clear – women lobbyists already disadvantaged in the male-dominated world of the federal government will be put at an even greater disadvantage.  Ironically, a group of women publicly supports this blatantly sexist act. Concerned Women for America (CWA) essentially puts the entire responsibility for preserving the family on the female lobbyist – even when it’s someone else's family.  Is it not the responsibility of the male legislator to not cheat on his wife?  This policy essentially paints the female lobbyist as the temptress and, by applauding his decision to remove the temptation entirely, forgives the male legislator's behavior entirely, as if he is unable to resist her allure.

Rep. John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThe two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery One year later, neither party can get past last year's election White House strikes back at Bushes over legacy MORE’s directive places the entire responsibility on the woman in these situations, as women legislators have not been told to avoid private meetings with male lobbyists.  It implies that the women, whether lawmakers or lobbyists, do not need to avoid temptation, as they are the temptation.  Whether the interaction remains professional seems to be entirely under the woman's control, and therefore responsibility.  Additionally, this policy maintains traditional stereotypes about sex and gender further by completely ignoring the possibility of homosexual lobbyists or lawmakers.  Also, how common are unprofessional interactions between lobbyists and lawmakers?  Are they really suggesting that appearances alone are enough to justify discrimination against one class of lobbyists?

How would male lobbyists have reacted if the women in Congress were giving male lobbyists the same cold shoulder?  It’s likely that these female Members of Congress would be dismissed as overreacting to a minor concern instead of being held up as models of moral behavior.  This scenario would still be much more detrimental for female lobbyists, since women still only make up about 17% of both the House and Senate.   In either case, female lobbyists are the ones who are cut off from the majority of lawmakers, while male lobbyists are hardly affected.

Boehner’s policy could have the negative effect of essentially keeping women out of the lobbying profession entirely, though about 1/3 of lobbyists currently are women and their share of the profession has been increasing rapidly in recent years.  Lobbying firms primarily made up of women would of course then be at a distinct disadvantage and could be forced to close down or begin hiring more men in order to continue to be effective.  Are we really suggesting in this day and age that there are certain jobs that should be considered inappropriate for women?  

Given the extremely low percentage of women in Congress and the historical dominance of men in lobbying, women lobbyists have always been forced to play by the rules determined by men long ago in order to have a chance of being taken seriously.  Shouldn't we be looking at changing the rules instead of blaming women for not fitting neatly into the mold?  It seems very hard to justify in 2010 maintaining a system where lobbying a lawmaker for a certain position on an issue must include “drinking and partying.”  Creating a system by which lobbyists have access to lawmakers while maintaining integrity and professionalism at all times would benefit all parties involved and not require any discrimination against women.

Erin Radford is president of the DC chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).