Thursday, January 10, 2013

Of Cultural Norms and Ridiculous Gender Standards

  Today, I wanted to focus on a particularly ridiculous piece of news I came across recently. A court in Iowa ruled that it was legal for a dentist to fire his dental assistant for being "irresistible." Apparently her clothing and behavior was deemed inappropriate, by the dentist or possibly his wife, and he anticipated that he might experience an infidelity in his marriage if they continued to work together. I find this ruling so typically midwest, and so incredibly offensive to women everywhere.
    First of all, the woman worked there for ten years. If she had been acting or dressing inappropriately, it seems such an issue would have had precedent. A jealous spouse or a wandering spouse are no reason to fire someone who has performed their duties correctly and loyally for such a long time. Granted, I don't know the full details of the case or have photographs or anything to judge whether the woman was actually in the wrong, but I'm going to speak to the principle of the matter.
    It is not the fault of one person for another's insecurities or inability to remain loyal to their partner. If this woman were coming to work in low cut tops or really short skirts, see-through blouses or bending over more obviously than is necessary to pick up a file or a pencil, that would be one thing, but it's a dentist's office. I was under the impression that most dental assistants, as well as hygienists and dentists themselves, wear scrubs. At least they do at my dentist's office. It's the administrative people, the file clerks and receptionists, who are supposed to wear the business professional or business casual attire which might offer more freedom and opportunity to dress inappropriately.
    The frustrating thing is, once again, it's the word of one person in a position of power versus the word of another person who is in a position to be fired. Sexual harassment is supposed be under a strict "no tolerance" policy at pretty much every job in the country. It should make no different whether the harasser is a supervisor or not, and yet, office politics and issues like gender bias seem to always place the blame on the person lowest on the totem pole.
    "Oh, s/he dressed too provocatively, I couldn't help it," the higher up person says. You know what? No. If you have no self-control, that's your problem. You don't get to get away with this just because you can't keep it in your pants. And you know what, spouse/partner of no-self-control person? This won't be the last time this happens. You can demand they fire every good-looking employee in the office and they will always find a way back into the gutter. Firing others doesn't address whatever the real problem is in the relationship, and there usually is a relationship problem if the spouse is requesting the firing.
    Speaking up about harassment in the workplace is important, whether you're a man or woman, though unfortunately, it is often women who experience it. Whether your coworker or boss comments in an offensive or inappropriate way how nicely those jeans fit you, whether they make sexually or otherwise inappropriate jokes, whether they look at porn on their computer when you happen to show up for a meeting--whatever the case may be, it's important to let the right people (HR or whoever is in charge of enforcing the policy) know about it.
    If you put up with it when you're uncomfortable with the words, attention, or actions, even if they're not particularly offensive to you, you're just letting the negative environment propagate. If it makes you a narc, so be it. You have to do what you feel is right, regardless of politics or the ridiculous possibility that you may lose your job in the process. I say "ridiculous" because coming forward with something like this should never cause you concern for your job security. It's ridiculous that things still work that way in the 21st century.
    You are entitled to a safe, harassment-free, and healthy work environment. Your job may still suck, your coworkers still may not pull their weight, and you may never get that ergonomic chair or mouse you requested, but at least you don't have to put up with demeaning or offensive attitudes when you're just trying to earn a living.
Fight for your right
to a healthy work environment.

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