Sisterhood Blog

Fired for Being too Pretty

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Screenshot

In the midst of a news month filled with political sex scandals both old and resurrected, you might have missed a bizarre court ruling out of Iowa.

The decision basically said: You can be fired for being too attractive, if you are a lady, because your attractiveness has nothing to do with your gender.

A young woman, Melissa Nelson, working as a dental assistant, was fired by her boss, James Knight, because he and his wife basically saw her as a seductive threat to the sanctity of their marriage. From pretty women to gays, there are so many threats to the sanctity of marriage, isn’t it funny how ego and poor self-management is never listed?

A great column by Michael Kimmel goes over the details of the case, explaining why — as in strict religious societies that demand “modesty” — this decision puts the onus of sexual attraction right on the woman who is its object, absolving the man in question of any self-control or responsibility at all. This plays into a perverse victim-blaming mentality — and as Soraya Chemaly recently noted, there’s been a spate of similar incidents.

After all, the case of Melissa Nelson rests not on her beauty but on Mr. Knight’s perception of her beauty. In his eyes, her beauty was simply too tempting, too potentially injurious. (Ever notice, the writer Timothy Beneke once asked, how the words we use to describe women’s beauty — bombshell, knockout, stunning, femme fatale — are words that connote violence and injury to men?)

What a pathetic commentary on Mr. Knight: his willpower so limp, his commitment to his wife so weak, that he must be shielded from the hot and the beautiful.

I would take Kimmel’s argument further. As I noted when I wrote about Barbie, our entire notion of beauty is tied in to other factors. Beauty is an idea that is already predicated on layers of social discrimination and status: those who are thin, able-bodied, white, cisgender, ultra-feminine — every kind of category that is privileged economically is also coincidentally seen as “more beautiful.” And then, as in this case, extra layers of discrimination reduce those deemed attractive to their sexuality.

Everyone loves to make the argument that beauty is subjective: In the days of Peter Paul Rubens, they’ll tell you, fleshiness was seen as lovely. They will mention that “Twilight Zone” episode, “Eye of the Beholder,” in which the pig-faced future race of people sneer at the ugliness of beautiful Hollywood actors. These comments acknowledge that beauty has often had a socially imposed dimension. And yet people like those Iowa judges are lazy in applying it to our existence, and understanding that attractiveness is connected to so much more than surface appeal and symmetry of features.

So yes, employment discrimination on the basis of beauty — either possession or lack of it —amounts to gender discrimination. It also perpetuates victim blaming. And as Kimmel says, it’s deeply sad and pathetic.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sisterhood, sexuality, jewish women, feminism

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.