Or is it?
Dental assistant Melissa Nelson was fired from her job back in December as a dental assistant after 10 years of service for the unspeakable crime of being “irresistible.” She was fired by James Knight, the dentist and her boss. Of course the story goes a bit deeper, as Knight had made several sexually suggestive statements that seem like an impending open-shut sexual harassment lawsuit. And although they never had a sexual relationship, Knight’s wife and pastor decided with him that they must fire her to save his marriage. This month an Iowa court upheld Knight’s decision and claim that he was within his rights to fire her.
This sets a dangerous and despicable precedent in this country when an employer is able to single out a gender and fire them because of having sexualized the employee. It is a level of discrimination that makes us sound too much like some other countries, you know, the ones where they force women to cover themselves up and stone them for being raped. The case also speaks to the very imbalance in this country concerning male sexual standing, as the courts say it’s legal for a man to fire a woman because he is tempted by her. An act that makes it her fault rather than his.
It needs to be said loud, clear, and over and over again until this country and its male population gets it: It is not the job of women to make sure that you are not sexually attracted to them or tempted by them or distracting to them. Mr. Knight’s inability to treat a woman, even a beautiful woman as a professional is a result of his sexist mentality and not a the fault of Ms. Nelson. But what if she was dressing inappropriate, some shout! Of course there are instances involving both genders where a person is reprimanded for not dressing appropriately for their work environment according to office policy and dress code. But these circumstances involve proper handling through professional channels. Mr. Knight gave up all ability to claim this was ever the case when he admitted to saying that her clothing could cause her to see “his pants bulging.” He sexually harassed her, and Iowa courts failed not just Ms. Nelson but her entire gender by allowing his behavior. He has fired a woman to cover up his own transgression against his wife and his business, and owes Ms. Nelson a lot more than her job back for the inappropriately sexual behavior towards his employee.
This is a story of a man caught with his hand half-way in the cookie jar, that when caught decided to blame the Eve in the room. It is a simple fact of adult life that we come across and at times work with attractive people. However, a person being attractive and being sexualized are two different things. Sexualizing someone officially means “to make sexual in character or quality.” It morphs a person, whether male or female, into a thing and a sex object rather than a professional human being. And it is expressly against the law in the workplace.
So I address men of the world directly on behalf of Ms. Nelson. Women are not your masturbatory material. They are professionals and laborers of every class and position that do not need to be rated on their attractiveness in order to do their job. It is YOU that is responsible to see a woman as a person first. The workplace is just that, the workplace. How you respond to or engage others around you is your own responsibility whether it be to resist engaging in inappropriate behavior or removing yourself from it. It all comes back to what a kindergarten teacher probably told you once, “You are responsible for yourself.” Women are not “things” for you to sexually categorize. The battle against sexism has a long and difficult road ahead of it, but the workplace should be without question a safe zone where sexism is cut first. This is not Mad Men, it’s 2013. Women at work are employees trying to work, and not there for your gratification.
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