We all rung in the bright, new year some hours ago, and 2013 is still aglow with newfangled optimism and determined resolutions. It certainly started out on a precarious but positive note for Americans – as we survived two years in a row of apocalyptic predictions and, perhaps more importantly, narrowly averted the fiscal cliff, this year isn’t lookin’ too bad.
Therefore, I have a proposition for a New Year’s Resolution that we should all embrace as Americans: fixing workplace inequality. This has, of course, been an issue plaguing women’s rights for decades, and the fact remains that even in 2013, women only make 77 cents to man’s whole dollar, with women of color making considerably less. So, how do we conquer the wage gap and engender an atmosphere of equality in the workplace?
A step in the right direction would be to address an issue that was raised in the Iowa Supreme Court during the 2012 holiday season – can women be fired for simply being “too attractive?” A case involving dentist James Knight and assistant Melissa Nelson was brought to the (all-male) Iowa Supreme Court on the 21st, and they ruled 7-0 that a boss could fire an employee they found to be an “irresistible attraction.” Nelson had been a loyal employee for 10 years, but Knight complained that she wore tight clothing, telling her that his “bulging pants” were a sign that her attire was much too revealing.
The Court sends a dangerous and lazy message to both men and women in a decision that upholds rape culture – that it is the woman’s fault for being too attractive, for tempting her boss, and that it is her responsibility to curb and control his sexual appetite. Why do we continue to teach women to be careful, to cover themselves up, to fear men’s advances, instead of creating a culture where men are held responsible for their desires and cannot act on them with impunity?
Nelson, who claims she always saw Knight as a father figure, was shocked by her termination, and filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer. However, the courts supported Knight’s claim that firing Nelson had nothing to do with her gender, but was because she posed a significant threat to his marriage. However, this ruling is inextricably linked with gender – because of the wage gap, because women still are not employed in nearly as many executive positions as men are.
So, as we move forward with 2013, after the ball has dropped and the glitter has settled, let us stick true to our resolutions for once, and work towards equity in the workplace. All of us, including Nelson and Knight, deserve to live in a place where we are held accountable for our own actions, but not for the way that we look.
Photos via Google Images