Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Beauty Is In the Iowa Beholder

This is surely one of the weirdest stories I've read in a while. It sounds like a Seinfeld episode. Come to think of it, it was a Seinfeld episode.

Michael Kimmel writes in the NYT about a case in Iowa where a dentist fired his assistant because she was too beautiful. He -- and his wife, apparently -- said that he couldn't be trusted not to have an affair with the woman.

The fired woman sued, and lost. Twice. Once in a lower court and again on appeal.

Kimmel nicely takes apart the stupidity and discrimination of this case, including pointing out that the man and his wife clearly have problems that have nothing to do with the assistant's beauty, and more importantly, that these actions in the heartland of America are uncomfortably consistent with those of an oft-reviled regime in the far East called . . . um . . . the Taliban.

Mom-and-apple-pie Americans aren't going to like that comparison. Too bad, since it's accurate.

What doesn't get mentioned, though, is another, rather more obvious wrinkle: who says the assistant would want to have an affair with the dentist?

She's beautiful; ergo, she would have to have an affair with Mr. Clean. Because clearly he must be so irresistible. Just as, surely, every white man on those courts -- and 50 bucks says every judge in these proceedings is a white man -- must be equally irresistible. And the woman must have no agency of her own. She can't choose whom to love or with whom to have sex. No, she's an erotic automaton, there for the pleasure of the men around her.

The arrogance of this man -- and of the Iowa courts -- is breathtaking.