The new year is just a few days old and already the war on women continues. Aside from the refusal of Congress to renew the violence Against Women Act, the courts have been attacking women. In the new year and shortly before, there have been legal attacks on women in the law. In two separate legal cases, one occurring just days before 2013 and the second one occurring in 2013, two separate courts have attacked women and taken away their rights.
In the final days of December, 2012, a court ruled in an employment case that it was appropriate for a woman’s employer to terminate her for being “too irresistible”. It goes without saying that the case is a first of its kind. It also goes without saying that no man has ever been fired and deemed inappropriate because he was too sexy, too handsome or too irresistible. The Iowa case stemmed from a woman who worked at a dentist’s office for 10 years, did a good job but was viewed as a threat to her boss’ marriage due to her looks. There had never been anything other than a professional relationship between the two. The facts are not in dispute. The only thing in dispute is how a court of law could deem it appropriate for a woman to be fired solely based on her perceived looks by her employer.
Melissa Nelson worked as a dental assistant for her boss for 10 years since 1999. She was fired for being—and I’m not making this up for being too irresistible. She filed suit in court alleging it was a form of sex discrimination. Most lawyers would agree that she made out a good case. Nonetheless, the Iowa Supreme Court said it was appropriate for her employer to fire her and it did not violate her civil rights as a woman. She was fired because according to her employer, she was viewed as a threat to his marriage. And obviously, her sex was the issue. Had she been a man, her heterosexual employer would not have fired her. The employer’s wife demanded that he fire Nelson. So now, if your employer’s wife stops by the office and finds that a female employee is “too irresistible” to be working for her husband, in Iowa, at least, a firing would be legally acceptable. Below is the link to Melissa Nelson describing her case and disappointment in the court’s decision.
Then 2013 ushered in another legal hit against women. 2012 brought some incredible delusional comments about women and rape. In 2012 we had to endure male politicians debating if a woman could “legitimately” become pregnant if raped. Some seem to erroneously believe that a woman’s body could just shut down to avoid a pregnancy if raped. And that was the comment made by former Rep. Todd Aiken while running for an Missouri Senate seat which he lost.
Then 2013 made it worse in California where a rape conviction was overturned due to a loop hole in the law. A woman while asleep started engaging in sexual relations with a man in her bedroom whom she thought was her boyfriend. The boyfriend had left the residence. Immediately upon realizing the man in her bed was not her boyfriend, she resisted and started yelling. The defendant was convicted under a rape statute covering cases in which the victim is asleep, unconscious or unaware of the act due to the perpetrator’s fraud. But the case was overturned this year saying the law only applied if the defendant was impersonating a husband but not a lover or boyfriend. The court ruled the man would have only committed rape if the woman was married and he was impersonating her husband.
I was always taught that sex is sex and rape is rape. But somehow those meanings have changed over the years for men—but not women. And the legal war on women continues to persist in the criminal and employment area of the law. And that’s why we need more women legislators and in the courts as judges.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national, international and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, local NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post and Washington Times among others. She also contributes articles to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.