Editor's note: Pepper Schwartz is professor of sociology at the University of Washington and the author or co-author of 17 books, the latest of which is "The Normal Bar." She is the AARP love and relationship ambassador and writes the Naked Truth column for AARP.org. She is a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit organization that gathers research on American families, and chief expert for perfectmatch.com.
(CNN) -- Just when you think we're becoming civilized and smarter about our knowledge of gender, you get a stupid decision such as the one from the Iowa Supreme Court and you wonder whether sanity will ever reign.
I thought we had decided the issue that men's "uncontrollable lust" was indeed controllable, and if they didn't control it, they were going to be charged and convicted of sexual harassment, rape, frottage -- well you get the idea.
So now the all-male Iowa Supreme Court has said, albeit in a new way, that men are so controlled by their gonads that they can fire an employee at will for being able to incite attraction, sex, love, whatever. No matter that she is just going about her job or being a stellar employee; if she's got a cute butt or a nicely turned nose, her job is history.
If you haven't heard, the court stood by an earlier ruling that a Fort Dodge dentist acted legally when he fired his dental assistant -- even while acknowledging she had been an excellent employee for 10 years -- because he and his wife were afraid he would try to start an affair with her and ruin their marriage. The employee had sued for sex discrimination. But the court said firing an employee for being too attractive, despite no inappropriate behavior on her part, is not sex discrimination because gender is not the issue. Feelings are.
Don't tell me this has nothing to do with gender.
I don't see women firing men because they can't control themselves. Is this because they don't have manly kind of urges? Or is it because they don't have access to the same excuses, such as uncontrollable attraction and desire? Either way, it's a gender issue. And if a woman is denied employment because of her gender, that is a protected legal status.
But the Iowa Supreme Court guys didn't see it that way. By the way, Iowa women: Is this enough to motivate you to get some women on your Supreme Court? The guys saw the issue, at least in part, as protecting the institution of marriage rather than an infringement on a woman's right to work.
Let's be real honest here: If the only way this man and woman could protect their marriage is to remove an attractive woman from their midst, then I'd say this marriage has a lot more problems than just an attractive dental assistant.
What is this dentist's wife going to do -- put blinders on her husband like a race horse? Do employees have to pass an ugliness test? Do they pick the couples in their extended friendship network according to whether the wife is curvaceous?
Women have been at risk because of their looks for a long time. There are online sites where women are evaluated like so many heifers on whether they are " Hot or Not?" Words such as "dog" "sow" "and needing a "paper bag over her head" have been thrown at us as a part of male bravado.
Beautiful women get cat-calls, sometimes really rude and threatening gestures and unwanted commentary on their looks. Talk about women being between a rock and a hard place. Insulted and not hired if they aren't attractive, fired if they are too attractive.
Could someone tell us just exactly how we should look?
More important, could we have some continuing education for the courts around the nation so that they realize looks are a gender issue -- and therefore protecting women from being fired because of them is appropriate.
If another case like this goes through the judicial system, I hope a very different conclusion will be reached. Otherwise, all kinds of firings may arise that use this excuse to get rid of women employees.
Why, this could even spread to the courts -- male judges might ban some women lawyers from presenting cases because, gosh darn it, they are just too lovely.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Pepper Schwartz.