Shouldn’t the Iowa Supreme Court – And The Rest of Us – Expect More From Men?

Mark D. White takes the Iowa Supreme Court to task for furthering the myth that men can’t control themselves around attractive women.

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According to a news report quickly making its way around the internet, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a male dentist did not violate employment discrimination law when he fired a female assistant because she represented an “irresistible attraction” that threatened his marriage.

The legality behind the case is fairly straightforward, and hardly the most interesting aspect of the story. The assistant alleged gender-based discrimination only, but since all of the assistants in the dentist’s office are female, it’s difficult to argue that the dentist fired the assistant in question because she was a woman. The opinion contains a brief but insightful discussion of similar precedents, including a federal appeals court case, that came to similar conclusions. But the case itself raises some interesting questions about how we think about men and women in the workplace.

The assistant did not claim sexual harassment on the part of the dentist, but it seems she clearly could have. According to the opinion:

Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing. On another occasion, Dr. Knight texted Nelson saying the shirt she had worn that day was too tight. After Nelson responded that she did not think he was being fair, Dr. Knight replied that it was a good thing Nelson did not wear tight pants too because then he would get it coming and going. Dr. Knight also recalls that after Nelson allegedly made a statement regarding infrequency in her sex life, he responded to her, “[T]hat’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.” Nelson recalls that Dr. Knight once texted her to ask how often she experienced an orgasm. Nelson did not answer the text. However, Nelson does not remember ever telling Dr. Knight not to text her or telling him that she was offended. (Opinion, p. 3)

As the judges write, “the issue before us is not whether a jury could find that Dr. Knight treated Nelson badly” (p.15). Obviously the dentist acted improperly towards her—and the court is not the only body enabling that.

According to the opinion, the firing was instigated by the dentist’s wife, who was concerned about the dentist’s friendship with his assistant, including frequent texts, as well as how the assistant dressed in the office and how she behaved toward the wife. After consulting their pastor, the dentist and his wife agreed to let the assistant go. Was it natural for the wife to be concerned? No doubt. But rather than ask her husband to grow up, she asked him to fire the assistant.

It is the broader message sent by this case, not the legal intricacies, that has people fired up, and justifiably so. Male employers who are attracted to their female subordinates—which in itself is not blameworthy—no longer have to control themselves, but rather can rather dismiss the source of the “distraction” when it becomes “too much” to handle. Women are now responsible for making sure they don’t “arouse” their bosses, rather than the bosses needing to treat their female subordinates with respect as equals. This is like Mad Men with Novocain! And this doesn’t reflect well on the wife either: rather than asking (or demanding) her husband be a professional employer and faithful husband, she chooses to eliminate the “threat” to her marriage. The fact that she sees this threat as the assistant, not her husband who can’t control his impulses, reminds us that these outdated attitudes are present not just among men.

We can’t blame the Iowa Supreme Court for deciding the case on the narrow grounds in which it was presented to them, but it would have been helpful if they had used this opportunity to send a stronger message condemning the problematic behavior of the dentist and his wife toward the assistant. As it stands, this case only reinforces the message that men shouldn’t have to control themselves around attractive women and can instead shift the responsibility for this on women themselves—and we hear that enough without it being echoed by a state supreme court.

 

 

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About Mark D White

Mark D. White is a professor in the Department of Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY, where he teaches courses in economics, philosophy, and law. He has written and edited a number of scholarly and popular books, and blogs at Psychology Today, Economics and Ethics, and The Comics Professor.

Comments

  1. I haven ‘t read the opinion but if you are an at will employee, you can be fired for a dumb reason or no reason, or even a discriminatory reason as long as it is not an UNLAWFUL discriminatory reason. The boss in this case was apparently not discriminating against women in general, he was discriminating against one woman who he felt was a distraction in the workplace because of her attractiveness. He sounds like a cad, but there is no law that protects attractive people from discrimination. In fact its generally unattractive women who suffer the most discrimination in the workplace.

    • I think about the same as what you say here Sarah. Technically speaking I don’t think she was fired for a discriminatory reason. That being said this dentist is a jerk for what he did and if the woman in question protested or tried to urge his patients to take their dental needs elsewhere (and try to urge the remaining female employees to leave, if they can) I’d be all for it.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    There have been one or two reports of such firing–in a bank, iirc–for the reason of being too attractive and not dialing it back in dress.
    I don’t think any one male in the office in question was being distracted.
    Women make a choice when they look at the closet. My wife and my sister and I had high school and college friends who chose to dial it back in college, because it would make their day go a little easier. And who wants to fuss about appearance at an eight o’clock class in January in a Big Ten school? Good for them. Point is, they know/knew the effect of their dress.
    If the dental assistant was choosing to flaunt her looks–not covered in the case, afaik–then it was a deliberate choice with known consequences. Not an accident.
    I should also say that men can control themselves. But it’s an effort in some cases, which means mental energy spent on control. That’s mental energy not spent on something else.
    Lastly, as they say, “others may talk”, and being in a small office with highly attractive member of the opposite sex, with extended hours from time tto time, can cause talk. Which some folks may wish to avoid proactively.
    Tough situation.

    • “It would make their day go a little easier.”

      Why? Cause men can’t help it? They sure as shit can. And if they can’t, why not police them instead of what the women wear? We don’t know what this assistant was wearing, and frankly it doesn’t matter. He was harassing her and his wife blamed the assistant for the issue rather than taking him to task about his treatment of employees.

      Backwards all the way round.

      If I had a male employee and harassed him, called him out for his jeans or whatever and my husband blamed the man for the issue not me, it would be appalling. I as the employer and the spouse need to take real responsibility for my actions and not blame them on someone else’s butt or chest.

      This is ridiculous.

      FWIW if covering up stopped assault then there would be none in countries that make women wear the veil. Rape happens there, so….

      • Do you think the fact that wearing a tight shirt made her more attractive to men had anything to do with her decision to wear it?

        • In most cases, I’d call bullshit on that kind of remark. Sounds eerily similar to the “she was asking for it” argument, though I’m sure you weren’t trying to imply that. Women enjoy feeling pretty and fashionable; there’s nothing wrong with that.
          Though the fact that, even when she was being blatantly harassed, she chose not to discourage him suggests to me that she might have enjoyed the attention a bit. She should have reported him the moment he started sending those texts.

          In these kinds of situations, both parties need to be adult about it. Dr. Knight should have more self control and Ms. Nelson should take some responsibility for her own safety in her workspace.

          • I agree both parties should be adult about it. The adult thing for him to do is maintain a strictly professional relationship, and, if he thinks the clothes she’s wearing are too tight or revealing to be considered appropriate workplace attire, respectfully ask her to wear more appropriate clothing.

          • “Though the fact that, even when she was being blatantly harassed, she chose not to discourage him suggests to me that she might have enjoyed the attention a bit.”

            But, see, this idea is in total opposition to Joanna’s claim that “IT’S NOT ABOUT HIM.”

            If she’s doing it because she enjoys getting attention from him, then it very much is about him, isn’t it?

          • “Though the fact that, even when she was being blatantly harassed, she chose not to discourage him suggests to me that she might have enjoyed the attention a bit.”

            If that is true, how can it also be true that the way she dressed had nothing to do with him?

            • Sorry for the double comment. My first was in moderation for a while – I assumed that it hadn’t passed moderation and decided to alter it to be more appropriate.

            • I made my comment before Joanna. I wasn’t trying to prove her right. Like I said: in this particular case, considering the information I’ve been given, I’m inclined to believe that the woman in question might have enjoyed the attention.

              But please keep in mind that dressing in clothes that can be seen as provocative does not give a man the right to do or say whatever he wants.

            • I made my comment before Joanna. I wasn’t trying to prove her right or wrong.

              Though I would be inclined to agree with her if the article stated that the woman made an effort to defend her choice of clothing/ reported the doctor’s behavior. But like I said: the fact that she chose to do nothing suggests to me that she probably recognized how provocative her clothing was and just didn’t care. Maybe even enjoying the attention (though we shouldn’t assume).

              Keep in mind that just because a woman wears clothing that can be seen as provocative, a man is not allowed to do whatever he wants. As long as the clothing is deemed work-appropriate by the people who regulate the dress code, the woman should not automatically be antagonized.

            • Haha now I’m double-commenting. Second comment is better-worded, though.

            • “Keep in mind that just because a woman wears clothing that can be seen as provocative, a man is not allowed to do whatever he wants. As long as the clothing is deemed work-appropriate by the people who regulate the dress code, the woman should not automatically be antagonized.”

              I agree, I never defended him harassing her. In fact, I’ve been saying “If he thought her clothing was inappropriate, he should have respectfully asked her to wear more appropriate work attire.” That would have been the mature, adult way to handle it.

            • That wasn’t exactly what I was getting at. Rather, I should have said “just because a women wears clothing that can be seen as provocative, a man does not have the right to harass her or make ridiculous blanket -statements about women and their motives for fashion choices as a whole.”

              Don’t antagonize all of women and their clothing choices just because your ex girlfriend or sister or coworker fits a stereotype. It’s tough to understand women. I empathize. But have some respect. We’re not all as bad as you want us to be.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        This is a funny thing that I hear people say.

        There are any number of reasons that a woman might wear a tight shirt. Just like there are any number of reasons a man might wear his second shirt button open. I know lots of those men. I don’t think it’s for women to be so overwhelmed by them that they can’t work and then the man gets fired.

        Here are some reasons: Maybe her husband likes the shirts and thinks it’s awesome when she wears them, maybe she feels like she looks better in them and wants to look good for the same reasons that I want to get my dark tooth (root canal) fixed. Maybe she is single and wants to meet a guy and thinks that a tight shirt might do that for her.

        Regardless of any of those reasons, he has no right to be offended by it. BECAUSE IT’S NOT ABOUT HIM.

        When I’m wearing cutoffs and a bikini top, It’s not about men. I have no interest in men other than my husband. I don’t care if I get whistled at, in fact it’s irritating and offensive.

        She can wear whatever she wants. It’s up to him not to be a cheating shitbox.

        • Sure, it’s not about men. Being an attractive woman is never about the benefits and advantages you get from men. Tell us again about that time a male judge let you out of a traffic ticket when you “smiled sweetly” at him?

          • Okay, now you just sound bitter.

            • Because I’m expected to believe that somehow, even though being attractive results in a laundry list of perks and amenities, someone dressing in a way that makes them as attractive as possible has *nothing* to do with said perks and amenities?

            • Yes.
              I’m going to let you in on a secret: girl’s love their bodies just as much as men do. No, really. If there were zero men on this earth, I’d still wear heels and dresses. Why? Because I feel fantastic in them. To be frank, it’s pretty insulting and more than a little conceited to assume that a woman’s attractiveness only has value in the eyes of a straight male.

              Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that there aren’t women who take pleasure in flaunting their assets to play around with men. It happens.
              But more often than not, we just love the way our breasts look. Breasts are amazing.

              In this particular scenario, though, the way everyone went about the issue was really stupid.

            • So there’s no connection between you dressing sexy and the fact that dressing sexy might get you a cab a little quicker, or someone might hold an elevator door a little longer, or someone might buy you a drink or offer to help you carry something or treat you to a meal or do you some other kind of favor? It has *nothing* to do with how other people treat you?

              I simply find that hard to believe, in the same way I find it hard to believe that guys hit the gym or drive flashy sports cars with no understanding of how six pack abs or a nice car is going to affect how others see them and, as a result, treat them.

            • How is that so hard to understand? You must be surrounded by superficial women or just don’t get to know enough of them to believe that their choice of clothing is made based on how many unfair benefits they can get for it.

              But let me make a distinction here. I do care how others treat me and dress accordingly to make sure I’m not seen as someone I’m not. But I never use it with the intent to manipulate and get what I want unfairly.

              I’m pretty sure that a great number of people (shall I say most people) dress a certain way/work out/drive flashy cars for their own enjoyment and self-image. Of course a major benefit is how others perceive you and how you are treated, but only an insecure, shallow person would make those decisions just to get the attention and respect of others. It comes down to integrity and self respect. If you don’t have it, you’ll use any means to further your own gains.

              This debate has gone so long, I’m unclear whether we’re misunderstanding each other: I’m not trying to defend this particular woman or the many women who do want to manipulate others. But I think maybe your judgement concerning womens’ motives for their fashion choices is a bit far off. Try to get to know someone before you make those kinds of judgements so quickly. Usually you can tell by their behavior whether their intention is to bat their eyelids through life and get whatever they want.

              Or are you misogynic? It’s okay if you are. Just wondering if your judgement is coming from resentment rather than logic, as many mens’ are.

            • “Or are you misogynic? It’s okay if you are.”

              Awwww, how cute! You decided to passive-aggressively call me a misogynist by framing the accusation as a question! And then you gave me a big pat on the head and condescendingly told me it’s okay if I am! Gee whiz, thanks!

              And with that, I am done with you.

            • Drew, your reply made me laugh.

            • John Anderson says:

              @ Kimberly

              “Or are you misogynic? It’s okay if you are.”

              It’s a bit off topic, but I’ve wondered about this. Many MRAs hold feminists to the standard of perfection. I’ve been guilty of that. People aren’t perfect so that standard is unfair. I’ve been thinking about how some of my behaviors have supported the gender norms I know aren’t good. I know media images have given girls unreasonable expectations of how they should look and it’s harmful.

              It’s given boys and men unreasonable expectations of how women should look also. I’m probably already indoctrinated as I prefer conventionally attractive women. Objectifying women isn’t helpful, but I like porn. I try not to be hypocritical so didn’t criticize any of the women who went to see Magic Mike. It’s good for them to get their freak on every once in a while.

              I’m just wondering what level of misogyny or human failing is acceptable in a good man in your opinion.

            • Personally, I love to feel pretty. It doesn’t matter who it’s for often. When I’m wearing heels, nice clothes, having a good hair day, and makeup…I feel like I can take on the world. I walk taller, prouder, and feel more uplifted. I feel like shit when I feel ugly and MY work suffers. I’m more productive when I feel beautiful. Sure, sometimes I’m trying to get the attention of a man, but don’t always assume that that man is YOU or that it gives you free reign to harass.

            • @Aya, do you wear your cleavage out and increase your sexual attraction greatly in areas which require a lot of focus? DO you complain when men look at you (or women)? Dress as beautiful as you want but in some settings it’s inappropriate as it’s a distraction. Looking like a supermodel dressed to the nines whilst everyone else at work is in casual wear is also a bit strange:P. I think they should just set a uniform if it bothers them that much.

              And of course, don’t’ harass but there’s no indication he harassed her at work that I see (I may have overlooked something?) or that the comments were unwelcome, inappropriate talk for work yes but were they made at work or after hours?

            • Joanna Schroeder says:

              I will say for the record that if I am ever dressed “sexy” (which for me would mean cutoffs and a tank with a bikini top), and someone bought me a drink (or for me, a coffee) or offered to carry something for me, I’d say “no”. I don’t have guys carry things for me unless they are employees of stores and that’s their job.

              I don’t take cabs, because I live in a suburb of Los Angeles, so that doesn’t count. I take care of my own shit and I don’t get freebies. When the judge let me off that day, I’m sure part of it had to do with being attractive, but it had nothing to do with how I was dressed.

              I’m not looking for anything as a result of anything I wear – ever – except maybe for one of my friends to say, “That’s a cute outfit” or “cool boots” but not even then.

              Sure, some women do, and I liked the compliments when I was young and single. But to think that all women dress sexy or pretty in order to get something is absurd.

            • I certainly didn’t mean to say that getting something is the only reason women ever dress sexy or pretty.

              But it just seems as ridiculous, to me, to say that a) attractive people get privilege in our society, b) people dress in ways that make them more attractive, but c) them dressing in ways that make them more attractive has *nothing* to do with that privilege.

              And of course men do it too. Its just less often with clothing and more with things like power and wealth. Like I said before, I don’t believe that guys buy sports cars *just* because they like them, with no thought or consideration to how people are going to see them. I don’t think the guy who goes to the gym to get muscular and walks around in a TapOut shirt has no idea that looking strong and intimidating will affect how others see and treat him.

              Also, returning to the issue of women and appearance, I’ve never, not in my life or a book or movie or TV show or reference, heard of a woman spending an hour getting ready to sit around at home. I’ve never heard of a woman putting on high heels and a dress when she isn’t planning on leaving the house or having anyone over.

              Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle – that there is some amount of personal and social reasons that account for the things people do, including how they dress?

        • “Maybe she is single and wants to meet a guy and thinks that a tight shirt might do that for her.”

          Because it’s appropriate to try to be picking up guys at work? Because that screams professionalism?

          • This is in response to your latest comment in response to me. Believe it or not, that was a sincere question. Many men ARE misogynic and it taints their judgement. I can see how that seemed like I was being condescending and in retrospect I should have worded that differently, but I was only trying to get an understanding of where you’re coming from. I really want to apologize since I recognize how condescending that sounded.
            But it seems now that you’re probably too heated to argue rationally and now everything I say will be of no consequence. It’s really unfortunate because I felt we were getting somewhere with the debate, but I understand your anger. Sorry.

            • Many women are misandrist too, tainting their judgment, he could easily claim the same for you and thus both your views overlook each others gender.

              Loving how your breasts look is fine, but showing them WILL mean people will look, get distracted, etc. We live in a culture which covers them for the most part and there’s probably a lot of biological instinct at play governing the sexual response to breasts in most men for instance (and some women). Some people like how they look nude but going outside naked isn’t seen as appropriate by society especially in most workplaces. Revealing part of your body which has major links to sexuality in most workplaces will be seen as inappropriate and distracting for high-concentration tasks.

              Looking good is often unavoidable so can’t be controlled, nor should it but showing off areas which are known for a fact to cause many people attracted to them and you to be aroused can be very distracting and in a work setting for certain jobs isn’t advisable (though in other jobs it’s a requirement). When I am at a recreational club activity I don’t mind if they wear cleavage revealing tops since I don’t need 100% focus but if I was doing dental surgery I’d not want to have any distractions at all where possible.

              Getting a glimpse of breasts when you’re dealing with a patient would be annoying enough, hopefully most if not all would normalize to it and not care where they could tune it out but given this is an employee you regularly see it creates a trickier dynamic especially if you have a crush on them since you have that time with them to build such feelings(which pretty much always is uncontrollable to when/who they occur with). Of course this can happen regardless of clothing but clothing can be controlled and in some workplaces cleavage isn’t needed, nor is it a good idea to have on display when you have a person who is meant to be focused 100% with you that is attracted to your gender.

        • I totally Agree. Did I say otherwise?

        • Possibilities time.

          You’ve been to a dentist recently right? The assistant sits across the chair so it’s basically Dentist patient dental assistant/technician facing like this > | <. Because the patient is around chest height when in a seat this dentist's view will include part of her chest for quite some time most likely. Having a revealing top can be very distracting in such circumstances since a lot of sexual attraction is automatic and not consciously controllable (otherwise we could change gay people straight). Do you understand how fucking annoying it is to have instinct make you want to look whilst you're constantly controlling yourself to not look? It's like a magnet to the eyes, having to expend mental energy to avoid looking is a pain in the ass. Imagine if people in your office left their dick hanging out when you were sitting in a seat, they were standing so your field of vision includes their crotch, could you avoid looking?

          Now it doesn't say anything about what she is wearing, but if this is the case then she is not wearign professional attire. But most dental technicians I've seen in Australia usually wear a certain kinda coat top covering their chest completely so this may not even apply. Not to mention he was hitting on her apparently.

          Human feelings also come into play, if he developed a crush on her then his feelings are compromised and since he is the boss should he not have the ability to fire her to keep the peace? It sucks but at least as friends you can choose not to be friends with someone who your feelings get in the way too much with, but bosses should also be afforded this too. Human feelings can be funny like that and if he did have a crush on her then it very much will threaten his marriage, it's his problem of course but having her around won't be good if he cannot control how he feels (which is a tall ask for many people).

          Other possibility is simply his wife wanted her fired as seeing her as a threat after seeing his behaviour towards her.

          Acting professional is how people should act but it can take quite a lot of effort to neutralize your sex drive, especially if it's very active. I'm lucky that for the most part I can ignore my sex drive but at times it gets very annoying to never look, it's temptation and in a professional setting temptation should NOT BE ENCOURAGED by your outfit unless you want people to be distracted and see you sexually at times. What you wear will have an effect on others, we're not monks with epic levels of self-control where we can just turn off our sex drive, we're humans who will naturally look at what is attractive to us, both genders do this, so purposely elevating your sexual attractiveness through attire will draw more attention. I don't even know why people would not realize this these days, it's the human brain's lil system of attraction for which billions of $ are spent to try make a person noticeable in that way.

          If I had an employee wearing revealing clothes which was distracting others, I'd be asking them to try a more professional outfit. If you wanna attract a mate, do it after work unless you're workplace allows it. I'd also love to meet all these people who never ever look, who have "self control" and have zero looks at cleavage/crotch/ass/chest in their entire working history.

        • If you wear cutoff’s and a bikini to work in a professional setting where it’s not common nor expected then yes he has a right to be offended, he is the boss, he sets the rules for what you wear. Not to mention the sheer level of distraction that an attractive person in a bikini would draw from another person who is attracted to them. Being on the street/at beach wearing that is one thing, but in a place of business and especially one that requires absolute concentration it’s a terrible thing to do. I’d want my dentist 100% focused on my teeth and not the breasts that are 60% exposed in a bikini, nor the attractive abs, thighs, hell the whole body sans like 5% in a culture where nudity increases sexual attractive massively. If we lived in a society where people walked around nearly naked all day it’d be a different story.

          It’s a bit of an asshole move to do to your fellow workers when such high levels of concentration are needed. This isn’t a retail store for clothing, it’s a job which involves injections and work with your hands accurate to 1mm or less, a high level of knowledge and concentration. Do you dance naked at intersections and expect drivers to never have an accident too? All I’m seeing here is an entitlement to wear whatever you want with no care for your fellow employee’s WHO REQUIRE A LOT OF CONCENTRATION on very difficult work. The dentist doesn’t need to be distracted unnecessarily, although he should probably hire a male for that role if it’s so distracting. This would be even harder should he develop a crush on the assistant, ever tried to focus on a task when you’re WITH your crush?

          There are so many variables in these situations, it’s great to think humans can control themselves in what they look at or think but that requires mental effort which is already is needed elsewhere.

        • Bay Area Guy says:

          She can wear whatever she wants.

          I find it so amusing when feminists complain about unwanted male attention on the one hand, but also have no problem with women dressing as sexy as they want.

          If you’re going to wear a revealing outfit, expect your average heterosexual male to be turned on by it, maybe even ogle you a bit. You have every right to wear it, but you do not have the right to police (non-criminal) male reactions to it.

      • Jonathan G says:

        Julie, Drew, Kimberly:

        Read this as if I’m saying it with a resigned sigh: Read the damn opinion.

        It’s right there in plain, black and white letters: The real issue was that Dr. Knight and Ms. Nelson were carrying on some sort of non-work relationship outside of work, one that Ms. Nelson participated in as a co-equal party, one in which she felt comfortable discussing her sex life with him, and one that both Dr. and Ms. Knight feared might turn into an affair. Ms. Nelson did not allege harassment at the time, nor later in court. The incidents involving tight clothes were few, and appear incidental to the eventual outcome.

        It would appear that this “issue” is another manufactured affront for Internet rage-oholics to get their buzz on.

        • Here’s the link to the Opinion, approx. 16 pages (PDF version): http://www.iowacourts.gov/Supreme_Court/Recent_Opinions/20121221/11-1857.pdf

          I just read it, and I think the feminist blogosphere version of what it said is very different from what it actually said. It has nothing to do with what’s expected of men, or whether it’s okay to fire a woman for being “too attractive”. Firing someone because a jealous spouse forces a choice between an employee and the marriage does not count as gender discrimination, in either this case, or in the many cases the court cited in support of their reasoning.

          If you read the opinion looking for examples of objectionable gender stereotypes, here’s the worst one I saw:

          “[The assistant] liked to hang around after work when it would be just her and [the dentist] there. I thought it was strange that after being at work all day and away from her kids and husband that she would not be anxious to get home like the other [women] in the office.”

          Guess who said it. I don’t want to spoil the suspense, so you can find it on pg. 4 of the Opinion. (Here’s a hint: it was someone with a vagina.)

  3. I think this discussion exposes a double-standard in progressive thought.

    Usually, when the victim of discrimination is a member of a class that holds a great deal of privilege, there are efforts made to hide the discrimination. I have read arguments (by editors of this site, no less) that it’s not “racism” when the victim is white, and that there’s really no such thing as “misandry.”

    Yet here we have an interesting case because the supposed victim was simultaneously privileged and yet also a member of a designated “underprivileged group.”

    Study after study, across decades of research, has shown that more attractive people get hired more often, receive better performance reviews for the same work product, and are promoted more often and more quickly than their homely counterparts. There is no denying the privilege of being attractive.

    Now we see, however, that because this person was female, the usual privilege analysis goes out the window in favor of a narrative that returns the blame to men. There is no discussion of the usual benefits that accrue to the attractive, nor does anyone point out the lack of institutionalized discrimination against attractive people (butch of which are favorite tropes for downplaying misandry and anti-white racism). Instead we’re given a narrative that says this is just a woman being mistreated by a man.

    It’s a double standard and I’m tired of it.

    • That should be “both” not “butch,” sorry for the auto-correct.

    • “tudy after study, across decades of research, has shown that more attractive people get hired more often, receive better performance reviews for the same work product, and are promoted more often and more quickly than their homely counterparts. There is no denying the privilege of being attractive.”

      This.
      It’s entirely BS for women to attempt to capitalize on that privilege as much as possible, and then turn around and scream “IT ISN’T ABOUT MEN!”. Especially when the same person saying that the way women dress has nothing to do with men being attracted to her then posits “Maybe she is single and wants to meet a guy and thinks that a tight shirt might do that for her.” So it’s not about men, its just maybe about attracting men? What?

      I don’t have a problem with people saying a woman shouldn’t be harassed for how she dresses. I totally agree. However, the claim isn’t simply “He shouldn’t have harassed her.” The claim is “The way she was dressed has nothing to do with men!” It’s an entirely dishonest argument.

  4. And this doesn’t reflect well on the wife either: rather than asking (or demanding) her husband be a professional employer and faithful husband, she chooses to eliminate the “threat” to her marriage. The fact that she sees this threat as the assistant, not her husband who can’t control his impulses, reminds us that these outdated attitudes are present not just among men. [Emphasis added.]

    I think the emphasized part is an understatement. It’s more than a poor reflection on the wife, since she was not just a bystander in the decision, but the driving force behind it. If there’s gender discrimination going on here, the wife shoulders as much or more responsibility as her dentist husband, not just a reflected bit for being jealous. The dentist sounds like a jerk, to be sure, but firing the “too attractive” assistant sounds like her idea, not his. From the above summary, it sounds like there might have been a case for sexual harassment, independent of the wife’s involvement or firing, but that wasn’t the case before the court.

    We can’t blame the Iowa Supreme Court for deciding the case on the narrow grounds in which it was presented to them, but it would have been helpful if they had used this opportunity to send a stronger message condemning the problematic behavior of the dentist and his wife toward the assistant.

    IANAL, but I think the state SC acted properly by deciding the case on the legal grounds presented them. It’s not the court’s duty, at least in theory, to send messages about how men and women should handle jealousy in the workplace, or to otherwise leverage the cases before them into broad social messages. That sort of thing is known to happen, but it often gets people complaining about “activist judges” when it does.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      The wife may be as much of an asswipe as the husband, but he was the employer, so has the responsibility to be a responsible employer.

      • I think it’s safe to stipulate the best solution would have been to avoid any problem in the first place, by not harrassing the assistant, including sending texts that his wife would discover and object to. We can agree on that, right?

        Next best, in my opinion, would be for the dentist to acknowledge he’d crossed a line when the assistant or his wife raised objections, apologize, and change his behavior. That didn’t happen. We don’t know much (from this account) about the particulars of who objected when and so on, but it appears that the end result of this fucking up by the dentist was an ultimatum by his wife, forcing a choice between “good employer” (employee keeps her job, but husband loses trust of his wife), or “good husband” (fire employee to restore wife’s trust). I’m not denying that such an ultimatum and what led to it is all sorts of screwed up, but as a married woman, if you think your husband is confronted with a difficult choice pitting his role as an employer against his role as your husband, which do *you* want him to choose?

        From the post:

        According to the opinion, the firing was instigated by the dentist’s wife, who was concerned about the dentist’s friendship with his assistant, including frequent texts, as well as how the assistant dressed in the office and how she behaved toward the wife. [Emphasis added.]

        It wasn’t seven white guys on the Iowa Supreme Court or the dentist himself who though a man couldn’t control himself around an attractive woman so it was a good idea to fire her. That idea came from the wife. In this story, it was the woman who screwed another woman out of her job based on a belief that men (or her man, at least) could not control themselves. That sure looks like some woman-on-woman slut shaming to me. Whatever ass-wipery the dentist was guilty of – and there was plenty – the assistant lost her job because of the asswipe wife.

  5. No one has yet addressed the elephant in the room…the deeper issue of what is drivings the wife’s jealousy of her husband’s assistant.

    Why, instead of addressing the issues at the heart of their marital issues, does she instead lash out at the external manifestations of these failures?

    It’s unfortunate the assistant was caught in the crosshairs off a marriage heading south but shame on a few people here:

    The pastor for not encouraging thoughtful introspection, the wife for not owning her own insecurities and allowing her own sense of self & her marriage to be threatened by another woman, and the dentist for the same thing. The assistant is not completely faultless either as she doesn’t bring up the issue of harassment in her suit, thereby leading anyone to conclude she may have been somewhat complacent in the development of attraction between herself & the dentist.

    This case is murky at best with several unaddressed underlying issues.

    • If your husband developed an obvious crush on your nanny, would you find a new nanny? Because I’ve heard of that happening all the time.

      • Here’s the thing – if I’m fulfilling my role properly as a wife and there aren’t any underlying issues, that wouldn’t happen. Partners stray because there are issues –either with themselves or within the relationship. Not because they are suddenly attracted to someone else – desire to look elsewhere is a symptom of deeper failures within the relationship and that’s what must be examined and blamed, not the external attraction.

        • I disagree, I think people can stray simply because someone more appealing comes along. I don’t think it necessarily reflects issues in the relationship. I kind of feel sorry for the wife here, maybe the husband has a pattern of developing crushes on other women, but she’s stuck with him because of the kids or whatever. So what is she going to do, turn a blind eye to it? Of course it’s also possible she’s a jealous shrew, I’m just speculating.

          • Then we’re at an impasse it seems because frankly, if you’re happy with what you have, anything that comes along won’t be more appealing.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Well, that was easy.
    So women shouldn’t have to dial it back. We should police the men? See the DoJ’s “dear colleague” letter to colleges demanding they drop due process. That’s policing. Even unconstitutional policing.
    But the fact is that young men will, some of them, do things they shouldn’t. Until that stops, women have a choice. Which everybody knows. And the women I refer to made that choice.
    Also, not talking about rape.
    Now, if a guy in fantastic shape, good tan, body hair or not according to local fashion, showed up for work in tight jeans and a skin-tight wife-beater and the women got all giggly and kept going past his work station and so forth, nobody would suggest women have a responsiblity to control themselves. Goes only one way.
    As I said, that was easy and fast.

    • John Anderson says:

      I think the reason you see this is that women don’t in general believe that there is a realistic likelihood that a man can dress in a manner provocatively enough to distract them. They feel comfortable with saying that women should be able to dress as they want and feel justified by saying that a man in the same situation should be treated the same as they don’t envision that as a likely scenario.

      That’s not the only way men can dress though. When I wore my taekwondo jacket, I made a lot of people nervous especially when I wore sun glasses and they couldn’t see my eyes and I’m sure I was distracting to an extent. Small movements were interpreted as threatening. Once I paused after entering a door to a diner, I scanned the room looking for an open table. As I walked toward the table,, I passed two women wondering why I just looked the room over. Is it my fault that some people misinterpret proficiency at violence with propensity for violence? Should I be aware of the effect that my dress has on people and adjust my behavior to make them more comfortable? Should I refrain from wearing martial arts garb unless watching a tournament or something specifically martial arts related?

      How many women would say the fact that you’re a man and larger than us makes us scared especially at night in isolated places so you need to adjust your behavior to make us comfortable?

  7. I agree with the title of the article. I think we should expect more from men in how we handle our attraction to women. I don’t think it’s unreasonable, however, to ask women to be considerate of that attraction as well, though.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      So should the same go for men?

      Please, then – no tight shirts, tight pants, skinny jeans, shirts unbuttoned below the first button (or all the way up? what do you think?). Personally, I have a thing for guys with glasses and high intellect. Please, if anyone is applying to work under my command, understand that glasses and a high intellect will disqualify you from this job. Okay? Because I think it’s hot. And I can’t control myself.

      It’s so rude when smart guys wear glasses and skinny jeans. It really distracts me. So inconsiderate.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        Stating for the record that I actually *can* control myself, even around men wearing glasses.

        It was a little thought experiment to try on for size.

      • I don’t know, are they wearing glasses because wearing glasses will make you more likely to hire and promote them? Are they wearing glasses because you’ll give them better reviews for the same work they would have done if they weren’t wearing glasses?

        Are they wearing skinny jeans so they can get advantages over the guy not wearing skinny jeans?

      • If your job requires high levels of concentration, sure, change the uniform policy or make them wear a uniform even. If it’s a less intense job then the clothing can also be more relaxed. We should unnecessarily distract people from their work. Having your tits half out, or your chest/abs for the guys is pretty distracting to many people. Is there a need to dress so sexy at work anyway? What you wear affects other people, some seem to fail to grasp this.

        And are they wearing glasses because they’re trying to attract someone sexually? Tight jeans I’ll give you that, but glasses? Glasses main purpose is to overcome a disability, I don’t wear mine to be mr sexy, I wear them because I can’t see shit without them. At most I choose stylish frames to look somewhat good but they aren’t sexually appealing. Stick to comparing to things done purposely to invoke sexual attraction, such as wearing buttons open (unless it’s very hot), tight fitting clothing purposely and not because someone put on a few lbs, cleavage tops, etc. Of the business people I’ve seen, I see far far far more men wearing professional attire whilst women are more flexible but some will dress sexy. There’s no need to show your cleavage in a professional setting, nor pants so tight your tackle is visible ;)

  8. Jack Skellington says:

    One of my friends said it best (I think) yesterday after reading about this. She said that Employment Non-discrimination laws should read to the effect that if a person if denied/fired from a job for any trait (gender, sex, religion, race ect) that does not influence their ability to do that job, it should qualify as discrimination.

    • John Anderson says:

      There is a difference between discrimination and wrongful termination. If I was fired for whistle blowing or union organizing, that would be wrongful termination, but I don’t think that falls under the discrimination laws. I think the employer treated her unfairly and maybe there should be a modification in the law for unfair termination.

  9. The article is correct about the Dentist being immature & unprofessional. And the wife, who worked in the office shared those traits. But as a legal matter this case is not about discrimination against a protected class. The underlying facts are unusual only in that most discrimination cases involve an employee claiming discrimination while the employer alleges deficiencies in performance. Here it is acknowledged that Ms. Nelson was proficient at her job. The reality is that employers discriminate constantly in their decision-making, basing decisions on personality, intelligence, and appearance (among other factors). The law must necessarily be narrow in these cases; it doesn’t excuse the conduct.

  10. Can we all agree that it’s easier to maintain a professional relationship with someone you are not attracted to?

  11. John Anderson says:

    I’m wondering why he never got over it. I know she didn’t dissuade it, but still after a while you get used to it and you get to know people and hopefully start caring about them. There’s a woman I’ve gone to school with and I work with. I’ve had the biggest crush on her for the past 2 or so years. She’s beautiful and gorgeous (she actually runs marathons), but she’s also feisty, independent, smart, ambitious, funny, and articulate. My heart broke when I learned she found a boyfriend, but she’s my friend and I’m happy she found someone she thinks she’d like to spend her life with.

    Do I still take a peek when she’s wearing a short skirt or tight blouse and she’s looking in a different direction? Hell yeah, but my eyes also don’t wander very often when I’m talking to her. She doesn’t stare at me like other women do and as long as one of us looks away every few minutes, I’m good. Is she distracting? She can’t help it. She looks hot in a pantsuit. Am I distracted? Somewhat, but I’ve been in the field for 25 years and in IT you’re regularly multi-tasking so that’s just another task.

    It seems he never got beyond her body to understand that there is a person there.

  12. Jonathan G says:

    Now hold on a minute, here, I see a lot of knees jerking. I present you two scenarios based on the facts laid out in the Supreme Court opinion and ask you, which seems more likely?

    Scenario #1: Dr. Knight is a puerile jerk who can really only think with his penis, who waged a campaign of sexual harassment against his innocent employee, consisting of a handful of questionable statements, which she curiously did not object to at the time. His wife is a jealous shrew who saw her husband pushing inappropriate interest on one particular female employee (out of ten or so in the office) and went all alpha-female to force her rival out. The Knights consulted their pastor, an unreconstructed chauvinist, who agreed that the best solution was to force the woman out because she’s just a woman. Ms. Nelson–hard done by–files an employment discrimination complaint which sets forth a fully-complete and neutral account of the facts of the situation.

    Scenario #2: After nearly 10 years of working together, Dr. Knight and Ms. Nelson develop a little mutual admiration society, and they spend a lot of time texting each other back and forth. Dr. Knight falls for the heady charms of attention from a younger, attractive woman, even though he’s married and knows he can’t act on it. Ms. Nelson enjoys the attention from him as an attractive (wealthy, in a position of authority, married) man, even though she doesn’t intend to flirt or pursue a relationship. Ms. Knight sees what’s going on, is hurt by it, and objects. The Knights go to their pastor, who suggests that maybe Dr. Knight and Ms. Nelson should not continue to work in close association to avoid the problem. It’s Dr. Knight’s practice–he’s the indispensable one–so Ms. Nelson has to go. The pastor comes along to help support them in the difficult, emotional firing process. Ms. Nelson–hard done by–files an employment discrimination complaint and her lawyers write the complaint to lay out selected facts in a manner as prejudicial as possible to the defendants, one which looks a lot like Scenario #1 above, which is exactly what good lawyers are supposed to do!

    Scenario #1 requires three basically nasty people to conspire to inflict harm on an innocent victim, whereas Scenario #2 just requires that we believe that two people with normal human longings and common, forgivable human failings got mixed up in an intractable situation that unfortunately ended up with Ms. Nelson getting fired. Again, which is more likely: The convergence of three awful people and an innocent victim, or the interaction of four normal people?

    (In either case, by hundreds of years of tradition and precedent, the role of the court is to decide upon the issue(s) presented to it, not to search for issues to adjudicate.)

    • John Anderson says:

      Let’s look at scenario #2. I still don’t get why he hadn’t moved past that she’s got a great body thing. Couldn’t he have just told his wife that it went too far and he’ll knock it off? You’d think he would have gone to his assistant and said my wife found our texts, we need to knock it off. It took him a while to come to the decision to let her go so you almost have to wonder why they couldn’t work it out. I’m not sure what to make of the month severance. He either knew what he was doing was wrong or he was trying to be decent.

      • Jonathan G says:

        Read the opinion. The sexual comments were incidental to the firing, and even then, only a small handful of such comments in over 10 years of working together.

  13. I really feel like we have only had a small piece of the story with this one. It’s usually a leap for me to go from talking to my boss at work to texting stuff of a personal nature to him at home during off work hours. And where I am it’s not unusual for supervisors and employees to socialize together and still that would be universally frowned upon.

    When I started working with people in direct care one of the big things that was pounded into us was dress appropriately. You’ll be bending over people (similar to hygienist) and have your chest area in everyone’s business. If the dentist has simply fired her for dressing in a way inappropriate for work without expounding he would not be in this position in general. I love my boobs but there is a time and place. When I waitressed at a seedy place that was the time and place. Flaunting my body for tips. When I started to work in a professional environment the boobs got put away.

    While I think yeah he could have been more tactful about this… as a feminist one of my pet peeves is that women seem to think they can dress anyway they want to regardless of the forum they’re in instead of having to behave like adults and dress in away that is appropriate for the setting. So generally speaking aside from her I do believe women have a choice every day when they get dressed and the responsibility to not be inappropriate in their dress just like men do.

  14. If a man was terminated for the same reason, the same judges would rule the same way.
    It’s an “at will” state and as someone said, people can be terminated for the dumbest reasons
    She could have files sexual harassment prior to this (as many women do) … he simply beat her to the punch. With the millions who are still unemployed/under employed, this is nothing in the big scheme.

  15. It sounds to me like they had some sort of flirty relationship. The wife didn’t like it. He fired her to just be rid of the workplace issue and to appease his wife. Iowa is an at-will employment state. He can fire her for pretty much anything he wants. He was an idiot for saying that it was for being irresistible because that makes it seem borderline discriminatory.

  16. So remind me what century we are living in?

    I have been harassed while wearing a long white coat (no cleavage issues at all)…I’m sure I would get harassed wearing a long black robe (like the judges)….the real issue is misogyny….or the dentist in question….

    What if the dentist was secretly gay and the target of attraction was a hot guy…should he fire the attractive guy because he is secretly attracted to him?

    • How is it misogyny when he has a staff full of women and none of the others were fired? Ladies, when a man doesn’t get along with you in particular, IT IS NOT MISOGYNY. If the dentist had a third wheel male employee that was causing ruckus for a marriage, the same result would probably happen. This has nothing to do with her gender but all to do with her and him and his wife. Nor does it say she was harassed.

      If the same thing happened with a guy, yes, fire the guy n save your marriage. The dentist, his wife are mainly to blame here and unfortunately the third wheel became an issue, seeing as it’s the dentist’s business he can’t just up n leave so she had to go since it was deemed irreconcilable.

    • The question before the court was not whether the dentist should fire the object of his attraction, but whether doing so at the jealous wife’s behest constituted gender discrimination. They concluded that it did not, which I agree with. If you presume that the wife would have been jealous to discover a secret gay crush and demand a male assistant be fired, then my guess is he would have done the same thing, which supports the idea that this firing was over jealousy and marital peace, not gender. According to the Opinion, this dentist’s entire staff is women, and he hired another woman to replace the one he fired. So, if there’s gender discrimination in his hiring practices, which candidates does it look to you like he automatically rejects on the basis of gender?

  17. Richard Aubrey says:

    This guy has too small a business to have an HR department which would prescribe “professional” clothing without being excessively personal about it.
    Thing is, for guys, “professional” could mean no jeans, add a dress shirt. For women, with so many variables in styles, more detail is necessary, or prescribe a uni.
    Given the facts–him, her, the wife–this was the right decision. Unless there were some kind of mind-fixing thing, which there isn’t, the friction would continue. Better for all, conceding at least two of them could do better in the maturity department. But you work with what you have.

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