Fired for Being Too Pretty?

From Iowa dentists to Boston bombing suspects, is anyone responsible for anything anymore?

A young female, a recent high-school graduate, smiled at the big burly man in the navy blue suit. He sat behind a 3-foot-wide desk. She sat opposite him, on an armless wooden chair.

She had scored high on the typing test, had hopes of becoming a receptionist at Mr. Blue Suit’s accounting firm, and now, she was having her first ever interview.

The man started by saying, “I’m sorry, honey. But you’re just damn pretty for me to give you this job. You’ll be somebody’s wife and popping out babies in less than two years. Plus, I don’t need to explain you to the wife.” With this, he burst into laughter and made a shooing motion toward his office door.

This was Pittsburgh, 1956. The pretty high-school graduate was my mother.

Last week, the Supreme Court in Iowa upheld that Dr. James Knight was within his rights for firing his hygienist, Melissa Nelson, for being too pretty. Plus, his wife told him to. So.

Turns out they hadn’t changed their minds since December, when the all-male court found that bosses can fire employees they see as threats to their marriages, even if the employees have not flirted or encouraged sexual attention in other ways. The issue is not sex discrimination, the court says, because the gender doesn’t matter, just the attraction. James Knight might have been attracted to the spit sink, for example, and had it replaced instead of firing a human being.

The sexism is so obvious, so overt, I don’t even want to give it any more “air time” here. I would like to see the patients of James Knight in Fort Dodge, Iowa, find another dentist. Maybe tell him they have to leave his practice because he’s too good looking and then guffaw, en masse.

Sexism is what this case is balanced on, yes, but the broader issue far too many scenes like this have in common is the constant deflection of blame, the utter refusal of culpability. If we walked around fulfilling our every animalistic urge, sleeping, eating, screwing when we want, the culture wouldn’t function as we need it to (though it might be kinda fun). If we were to take away every temptation so that we can’t act on our urges, life would be a lot less fun. So what are we to do? Um… maybe take responsibility for our actions, which is kinda, sorta, a basic expectation for adult human beings!

Just as I acknowledge the sexism of the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision, I agree that Rolling Stone’s decision to put Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover was salacious marketing, at best, but I am more aggravated by the text on the cover:

“How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam, and Became a Monster”

This text renders his decisions his family’s fault; he didn’t chose radical Islam, either — he “fell into” it. And OK, “monster” is a tough word, but isn’t an actual monster something most of us over 9 no longer believe in — metaphor for evil, an abstraction, not a concrete image.

Those rubber fund-raising bracelets people wear now seem to function like Wonder Woman’s indestructible deflecting bracelets: Don’t blame me, it’s ADD, or any one-of-many-isms, or sex addiction.

The dentist is not culpable for his attraction, sure, I’ll even go that far, but isn’t he responsible for it? And he surrendered control to who? To what? When he sent texts asking his too-pretty hygienist how often she experienced orgasms (to which she did not reply) and told her that if she saw his pants bulging, take it as a sign her clothes were too revealing? Sounds like he was just hoping she would glance at his crotch.

Sounds like Mrs. Dr. James Knight needs to keep up her diligence. She already works with her husband, but this is a man who has just been told by the Supreme Court — twice — that he is not responsible for controlling threats to his marriage. And temptation abounds: Who does he buy his coffee from? Who is making deliveries? Doing the landscaping? Are there are any especially cute rubber gloves laying around?

Anthony Weiner’s recent “stepping up” and admitting he continued sexting after saying he wasn’t makes me so concerned. Are we supposed respect that he’s admitting it earlier this go around? Or are we really going to create a new way to take away his culpability and call it “Sext Addiction?” This all just reminds me of little kids getting in scrabbles and then pointing fingers at one another’s shouting, “He did it!”

When did this infantilization of America start? I think I’ll blame our incessant need to carry around (water) bottles and be tethered to home (via cell phones). It’s Dasani and Verizon’s fault.