February 2013

Female outrage: The outtakes

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

Suppose a man slides between the sheets and starts getting it on with you in a dark room, before you realize he isn’t your boyfriend. You file a rape report — someone sexually assaulted you, after all.

But if you’re in California, this sort of “rape by impersonation” doesn’t count as a crime, unless you are married and the rapist is impersonating your husband. Until lawmakers there fix what the Second Court of Appeals sees as a “loophole” — an 1872 law that addresses rapists mistaken for husbands, but not boyfriends — it won’t do you any good to try to hold your rapist accountable.

Citing this archaic law, appeals court judges overturned the conviction of a man who had allegedly climbed into bed with a buddy’s girlfriend while she slept and began having sex with her. She woke up, saw it wasn’t her boyfriend, screamed, and pushed him off, Reuters reports.

The appellate ruling, issued before the New Year had toddled completely through its first week, heads my list of fresh outrages. Forget about year-end roundups of gob-smacking news. Any more, we seem to require monthly or even weekly listings.

In case anyone wondered, I do not contend that the list of outrages in this column comes anywhere near the outrages of the heartbreakingly awful variety to which we have been subjected of late. They pale next to the murders of 27 people (remember, the shooter’s mother is a victim, too) in Newtown, Conn. — and pale next to the way we seem incapable of having a rational conversation about gun rights and gun-control. Now, back to the “it’s not really rape if…” ruling.

“Because of historical anomalies in the law and the statutory definition of rape, [paraphrase: the appellant did not commit rape], even though, if the woman had been married and the man had impersonated her husband, the answer would be yes,” the appeals- court justices wrote.

How the victim’s relationship status changes by one iota the substance of the allegations — that a man climbed into bed and began having sex with a woman uninvited — is beyond me, as well as my jaw, which appears to have taken up permanent residence on the floor. Yet according to Reuters, the justices said they couldn’t be sure a jury had convicted the defendant on a sound legal basis, so now, the state must decide whether to retry this alleged weasel.

Republican legislator Katcho Achadijan has made addressing this “loophole” his top priority; he had already tried once before, according to Reuters. Until there’s a fix, though, in the eyes of the law, single women don’t count as much as married women. Excuse me while I go check a calendar — could’ve sworn it’s the 21st Century, not the 12th.

But apparently, I am dyslexic. Outrage No. 2 comes to us from November 2012, when the Iowa Supreme Court said a dentist who fired an office worker because she was sexually appealing to him wasn’t sexist.

Can you fathom it? James Knight had employed Melissa Nelson for a decade. He was the one bringing up her clothing — too tight and revealing, in his mind. He was the one sending her inappropriate text messages begging for details about her orgasms, which she did not provide.

Nelson was fired after Knight’s wife laid down the law to him. He didn’t fire Nelson because she is a woman, but because she threatened his marriage, he said. The allmale Iowa high court bought it.

Excuse me, James “Sleazebag” Knight, DDS? Excuse me, esteemed Iowa jurists? Everything about this, from Knight’s disgusting behavior, to the idiotic ruling, reeks of institutionalized sexism, as well as “singlism.” Nelson would not have been fired had she been a man, because her weakwilled hypocrite of a boss would not have been obsessed with her. A heterosexual horn dog would not have treated a man the way Knight treated Nelson; it doesn’t matter whether he treated his other female employees that way or not. (Maybe they weren’t ”hot” enough for him.)

Sadly, it has long been acceptable to fire women for not being attractive enough; what we see here is the flip side of the same appalling coin. Using a woman’s appearance to decide on her employment is sexist on its face, yet the Iowa Supreme Court — a supreme court! — can’t see that.

Oh, and the “threat” to Knight’s fabulous marriage is standing in Knight’s mirror every morning. He is the one who is weak; Nelson doesn’t “threaten” anything merely by existing in tandem with his line of vision and dirty thoughts.

I am weary of this. In California, we see greater protections against sexual assault for married women than for unmarried women. In Iowa, we see the claptrap myth of “singlewoman temptress in the workplace” elevated to the status of legal precedent.

But turning my eyes from headlines that scream misogyny only affords other opportunities for heartburn.

There’s craft giant Hobby Lobby’s continual beating of the drums of religious warfare. The business seems blissfully unaware that it is a business, not a church or a religious institution, and is similarly unaware that it cannot randomly decide to disobey a law that its owners claim conflicts with their private faith.

Hobby Lobby is fighting the mandate for contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Owner David Green and his family contend that birth control violates their religious beliefs, so they should not have to pay for it for their employees.

I am sensitive to religious resistance to birth control, although I think people frequently confuse mere fertilization (egg plus sperm) with conception (fertilized egg implants into uterine wall, resulting in pregnancy). A pregnancy must actually exist before it can be “terminated.” Put another way: Does condom use to prevent sperm from entering a woman constitute an “abortion”? Is menstruation (or masturbation) “murder by missed opportunity”? Clearly not.

I respect David Green as a savvy, hardworking businessman, who by all accounts pays his employees well, treats them well, donates generously to religious causes, and leads a good Christian life.

Also, I love, love, love Hobby Lobby and would be devastated if it closed. I love it so much, in fact, that I continue shopping there despite my disagreement with Mr. Green on the contraception issue, thereby giving him more money to continue his fight.

But the fact is, my beloved Hobby Lobby is a for-profit business. Mr. Green can argue for an exemption, but he can no more refuse to obey the Affordable Care Act than I can refuse to pay taxes because I disagree with having the money go to fund such moral repugnancies as capital punishment, robber banks or unjustified warfare. He can no more disobey the ACA on the grounds of religious freedom than he can refuse to hire a non-Christian on the same grounds.

As U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton said in his November 2012 ruling: “Hobby Lobby and (home-school supply store) Mardel are not religious organizations. Plaintiffs have not cited, and the court has not found, any case concluding that secular, for-profit corporations … have a constitution right to free exercise of religion.”

You’re a good man, Mr. Green, but you are not a martyr for religious freedom. So stop exploiting your faith in order to arbitrarily deny (primarily women) a benefit. Especially when you don’t appear to even understand how birth control works.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is a journalist in Montrose, Colo.