I’m sure you’ve heard about the Iowa court case that decided it’s not against the law to fire someone your wife suspects you’re sexually attracted to. The actual decision is here (PDF), though I can’t recommend it as holiday reading. The court was trying to answer a specific question:
Can a male employer terminate a female employee because the employer’s wife, due to no fault of the employee, is concerned about the nature of the relationship between the employer and the employee?
Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing. On another occasion, Dr. Knight texted Nelson saying the shirt she had worn that day was too tight. After Nelson responded that she did not think he was being fair, Dr. Knight replied that it was a good thing Nelson did not wear tight pants too because then he would get it coming and going. Dr. Knight also recalls that after Nelson allegedly made a statement regarding infrequency in her sex life, he responded to her, “[T]hat’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.” Nelson recalls that Dr. Knight once texted her to ask how often she experienced an orgasm. Nelson did not answer the text. However, Nelson does not remember ever telling Dr. Knight not to text her or telling him that she was offended.
(Don’t get me started on that last sentence.)
On the counsel of their pastor, Dr Knight agreed to his wife’s request to fire his employee; a pastor was present when he did the firing, and he READ FROM A STATEMENT to fire her.
I’m not a lawyer; I can’t give an informed opinion about the legal arguments and the precedents and all that. My best understanding of the legal argument is that the court decided this was an “isolated case,” caused not by her gender but by his FEELINGS about her, and you’re allowed to fire people you don’t work well with. They decided it was not her gender because the dentist only hires women – indeed he replaced her with another woman – and has never done anything similar.
So she wasn’t fired because she was a WOMAN, she was fired because he was sexually attracted to her. Which is not related to her being a woman. Apparently.
So much for the legal angle. Can we get to what this case is really about, when you peel away the law and look at the culture underneath?
It’s about a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of sex.
It’s about people believing that sex is a drive – and a dangerous, uncontrollable drive, like an ADDICTION – that has to be carefully controlled or it will run wild.
The dentist is quoted in the decision as saying, “I don’t think it’s good for me to see her wearing things that accentuate her body.”
Let’s think about that. Under what circumstances could it be bad for someone to see another person wearing clothes that show the shape of their body?
When that body matches the kind of body that activates sexual arousal, it seems.
Okay, so what’s bad about the activation of sexual arousal?
Answer: It’s a threat to his marriage. His sexual arousal, activated by a person outside his marriage, is a threat to the marriage. It made him feel like he wanted things he and his wife and his pastor all believe he’s not supposed to want. And wanting things you’re not supposed to want is the first step toward doing things you’re Not Supposed to Do. The only way he could avoid not doing those disallowed things was, like an alcoholic pouring his booze down the drain, to eliminate the source of “temptation.”
Instead of breaking this down piece by piece, in all its screwed up glory, let’s imagine a different scenario, a different couple, a different pastor, a different culture:
A dentist has a dental assistant whose body arouses him. He just looks over one day and there is her cleavage and WOW chubby, right there, woops!
He goes home to his wife and tells her, “The craziest thing happened today. I was in the middle of a filling and my assistant’s breasts all of a sudden just filled my vision, so I’m there with a patient in the chair and a hard-on in my pants!” And they laugh together over how awkward that was, and then they make dinner.
Or how about this:
He goes home to his wife and tells her what happened, and she feels a little sad and frustrated and anxious because she doesn’t feel great about her body these days, so they spend the evening with his worshipping her breasts, giving her a long, quiet, loving massage, and showing her just how much of a boner he gets for HER.
He goes home to his wife and tells her what happened, and she grins and starts to spin a fantasy where the three of them get together and he gets to watch while his wife and the assistant brush their nipples against each other and then against his cock, through his straining pants. They fuck, panting, in the living room.
He goes home and tells his wife what happened, and she feels threatened, afraid that his arousal in response to his assistant means he’s less interested in her. Nothing he says can allay her fears, so they go talk to their pastor, who tells them both that arousal is not desire, it’s just a reflex in response to sexually relevant stimuli. He goes on to notice that the wife’s anxiety seems to be about some deeper insecurity that existed before, and the unwanted erection brought that insecurity to the surface, and how about they work on that?
He goes home and doesn’t tell his wife what happens, because he knows it doesn’t mean anything. Instead he lets that little extra jolt of arousal fuel his lifelong, exclusive courtship of her: he takes her out to dinner, tells her how beautiful she is, how much he loves her, how hot she makes him. He takes her to the movies and makes out with her in the back of the theater, putting his tongue in her mouth, right there, out in public, his hand wandering over her breasts and her knees. They barely make it home, where he strips off her pants and goes down on her until she’s writhing, then plants a vibrator between their two pubic bones and fucks her while she comes.
But because the couple, their pastor, and the entire culture in which they all live FUNDAMENTALLY MISUNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF SEX, they miss out on every one of these options. All they get is a lawsuit and mistrust and probably a lot of damage to his business and I’m guessing eventually an ugly divorce.