Bosses in Iowa can now “fire irresistible workers” legally, as we reported earlier, in a revealing ruling that legally codifies sex shaming as a career-jeopardizing thing about which we officially have to worry, now. Thanks, Iowa.
The all-male Iowa supreme court that decreed it was legally sound to fire “irresistible workers” did, of course, suggest there was no specific bias against women in their decision — after all, males can be considered threateningly attractive, too, right?
It should further be noted that in much of America you can be fired for any reason, particularly in right-to-work states where worker protections tend to be even weaker. So it would seem this legal acknowledgement of slut shaming is not one that allows a practice that previously didn’t happen to occur — it just throws legal weight behind the idea that it’s okay to speculate upon a woman’s moral character based upon the way she appears, to you.
The case at the heart of the Iowa decision to allow firing of “irresistible workers” is perhaps not surprisingly one fraught with “family values” and moral judgment, involving a dentist, 53, who admits openly that his 32-year-old assistant was exceedingly competent at her job — in fact, Melissa Nelson was the best dental assistant with whom he has ever worked, he says.
But James Knight, DDS’s wife did not like the fact that Nelson was attractive near her husband, and she was displeased to learn the pair shared platonic but unrelated to work text messages. Knight consulted with his pastor, and subsequently fired Nelson for reasons unrelated to her performance — simply because she was born looking a certain way and didn’t wear a burlap sack to work.
An Associated Press article about the case indicates that Knight worked with Nelson for ten years, but his increasing inability not to be a dirty old man began to strain the workplace. The newswire reports:
” … in the final months of her employment, he complained that her tight clothing was distracting, once telling her that if his pants were bulging that was a sign her clothes were too revealing, according to the opinion. He also once allegedly remarked about her infrequent sex life by saying, ‘that’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.'”
If you think for a minute such a situation “necessitating” a boss to fire an irresistible worker would occur with genders reversed, think again — the dated and harmful concept of temptation-bearing women “asking for it” by merit of being female and attractive is starkly in highlight here, and men are simply not held accountable for the feelings and attractions they provoke in women the same way.
What’s troubling about this case, of course, is not just that one Iowa woman lost her job unfairly or that these ideas are still so pervasive in 2012. The larger implications are chilling. Lawyer for Nelson, Paige Fielder, commented:
“These judges sent a message to Iowa women that they don’t think men can be held responsible for their sexual desires and that Iowa women are the ones who have to monitor and control their bosses’ sexual desires … If they get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it.”
In Iowa, this week, not only was it decided that men are not responsible for their sexual impulses, but the women on whom they project these impulses are indeed at fault. What’s to say the next rape case in Iowa during which a perpetrator suggests a female victim’s apparent willingness to be raped won’t refer back to the recent ruling that Nelson was fired justly for her looks?
After all, if we can’t expect a dentist to control himself sexually in the workplace, how can we possibly hold men in bars, on dates and in dorms to adhere to the same standard? If Iowa’s ruling about firing “irresistible workers” is any legal benchmark, can we really?