By now most of us are familiar or somewhat familiar with dental assistant Melissa Nelson’s story about getting fired because her “beauty was simply too tempting to pass unnoticed” by her boss James Knight. Knight states that Ms. Nelson’s beauty was too “irresistible,” thus it posed a threat to his marriage because he feared that he would have an affair with her. In a later interview, James Knight states:
Let’s analyze this for a bit. First, notice the language he uses. He compares Ms. Nelson to a Lamborghini, to an “it,” to an object. This is a problem that goes unnoticed by many people, men in particular, because women’s objectification has been internalized and normalized by the larger society. It becomes a major problem and threat to women when they are only seen as objects instead of real human beings. Globally, women are commodities that can be exploited and traded for cheap labor, sold for sex, or used for free servitude. All of which are socially and economically dehumanizing and unequal. Second, Ms. Nelson did not get fired because she was too beautiful, for beauty is in the eyes of the beholder thus she is only too “irresistible” in Knight’s perception. And it certainly does NOT justify her job termination. Moreover, Nelson takes it to court and sues on grounds of sex discrimination. However, what she had anticipated out of the court ruling was the complete opposite.
As I researched more in-depth this case, I stumbled upon this online article.
This case supports Catherine MacKinnon’s argument in “Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: Toward Feminist Jurisprudence,” that since the court is mostly made up of men, it is no surprise that Nelson’s case has been dismissed by the Iowa Supreme Court. The court ruled that Knight “did not discriminate against [Melissa Nelson] because of her status as a woman,” according to their analysis “the case simply lacked the facts to establish discrimination.” I strongly believe that because the court is constituted by the majority of men, it was created for men only. Women’s submission and oppression are manifested in more higher and authoritative systems like the justice system.
Frankly, I do not think that Nelson would have been fired if she was a man or an “unattractive” woman per se. Cases like this clearly demonstrate the dominance of men in a patriarchal society and women’s absolute oppression in the eyes of the law.
Furthermore, Nelson’s case is just one of many many cases nationwide and worldwide that clearly illustrate gender/sex discrimination in the workforce. For instance, any type of graph that constitutes differences in earnings, or wages, or discrimination between men and women in the labor market will show bars, typically blue bars to represent men that are higher than the red bars that represent women. The following graphs are examples of what I mean.
Strictly being a woman lowers (but not completely eliminates) your opportunity to obtain higher or equal paying jobs, or a stable one for that matter. However, it is quite true that individual men cannot be blamed for the system of patriarchy. It is like what Professor Breckenridge-Jackson was stating about women and make-up. Women have internalized this notion that they must look attractive or a certain way for men or else they will be ostracized. Equally, men in power will try to maintain their authority even if it means dehumanizing the weaker ones, in this case women, or else they will be deemed the “weaker sex”. Looking strictly on historical statistics, women have gained more rights but unfortunately the journey still continues and will forever persist until men accept that women are just as good as them and just as equal.