Many years ago, I was at a conference with a happy hour reception in La Jolla, CA. I struck up a conversation with a woman from Los Angeles. In the conversation, I mentioned that I was researching a story on Jack in the Box. The woman spoke of her love for Jack in the Box. At the end of the conversation, she said she was going to take me to a Jack in the Box.
While that wasn't the priciest dinner I've spent with a woman, it was one of the most delightful. She was an attractive older woman but my interest in her was purely Jack in the Box.
I remember another business dinner in Dallas where I dined with two of my female co-workers. It was a good dinner with plenty of great conversation. I remember each of them ordering a dessert and, at their instance, having me finish their desserts for them.
Food and conversation: this is what business dinners are about. No flirting, no innuendo. Even if they are cute, business dinners are about business.
Mike Pence has expressed an extreme view on the topic of dining with women that aren't his wife. This has led to conservative pundits and bloggers defending his practice and average people wondering what is so mysterious about eating with someone from a different gender.
The concern over Pence's extreme stance is that women wouldn't benefit from developing stronger relationships at work from being banned from those lunches, unless somehow their boss was unmarried or gay or widowed or a woman.
By Walsh's logic, if you are a man who has female friends before you get married, you can't eat with them after you get married. You could talk with your female friend to get advice on relationship issues but not if food is involved. If your female friend is a lesbian, does that allow her to stay. And if she does stay, would people assume she was a lesbian?
You could have an eating buddy who will try the unusual restaurants that your wife isn't up for eating or your wife is a vegetarian and you can enjoy a BBQ restaurant with your eating buddy, who happens to be a woman.
In an era of gender fluidity, separating by gender feels even more exclusionary. Restrictions place an unnecessary burden on communicating, much less dining. And business dinners are about communication.
Pence doesn't seem to think women have cooties (we hope) but there is the implication that sex is involved. Or somehow business dinners imply intimacy that has been completely ignored by most people.
Let's look at the less than serious questions involved in this practice:
- Do the restrictions also include gay or bisexual men? If you had a homosexual experience in college but are mostly straight, is that sufficient? Do they need to identify to Pence before or after the food order?
- Would Pence eat with a female impersonator? After all, this person is a man dressed as a woman.
- Communal dining produces a dilemma. The person sitting across from you is a man who you know. But the person next to you at technically a different eating space is a woman who is not your wife. Is it physical proximity or as long as Pence isn't facing the person, then everything is okay to him.
- If you are flying to or from a business trip, can you eat next to each other on an airplane. Is it okay if the other seat is taken? Is it not okay if that seat is empty?
- Is it just women that present this issue? Are girls 17 or younger allowed at the table or do they present a danger? Do we need to check what is inside a diaper before the meal?
If this sounds silly, good. Women are people, about 52% of the people. Women don't eat differently though they are more likely to be better behaved with fewer elbows on the table. If you're worried that a woman will be a vegetarian or a vegan, good news. Some men are vegetarian and vegan, as well.
Business dinners invite communication but, like any other food meal process, can involve communication and learning. Visible and invisible differences among people is a chance for growth as a human being. If you are a straight white male, as your humble narrator is, dining with women, even if you are alone with them, is a chance to learn different perspectives on the world, such as reproductive freedom.
Does food taste better when dining with a woman? Does food somehow tastes better when dining with men? Food can taste better when you are enjoying the company of another human being, regardless of gender. We've had meals with good food but the conversation and interaction was even better.
Exclusion is full of stress, issues, excuses, and downright disrespect. Inclusion is full of happiness, joy, sharing, and improved perspective of the world around them. Food is a gateway to friendship, sharing, and yes, increased communication.
Mike Pence, and those who think like him, life is too short to limit yourself by color, gender, country of origin, country where you live or visit. Think back to what was known as the Beer Summit of 2009 involving the bizarre arrest of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. If food had been served as the Beer Summit, that was have constituted food in a space of learning and better understanding. You are supposed to serve all Americans, not those who pick randomly or selectively. You might learn a lot more about the world, especially over the breaking of bread.
Photo credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo
Twitter capture: Twitter/MattWalshBlog