Sunday Sexism Blues: The Lorenzana Saga

6 June 2010

Read this story at the Village Voice about Debrahlee Lorenzana, who was fired from her job at Citibank.  They say it was due to her work performance.  She says it was because “her bosses told her they couldn’t concentrate on their work because her appearance was too distracting. They ordered her to stop wearing turtlenecks. She was also forbidden to wear pencil skirts, three-inch heels, or fitted business suits,” according to the Voice.  There is an extraordinary record of her complaints to the company’s HR department — she called them three or four times a day to report the harassment by her managers — which accomplished nothing.

The result?  As Twisty Faster notes succinctly on her blog, the one relevant question in the case — was Lorenzana discriminated against? — is completely lost, while everyone from journalists to bloggers to the trolls who comment online turns her case into questions about:

  • “Lorenzana’s Christian Louboutin heels
  • Lorenzana’s point on the sexbot continuum
  • Lorenzana’s aspirations to fame and fortune
  • That Lorenzana unlikeably tried to save herself by ratting out some women tellers for wearing hooker outfits 
  • Whether Lorenzana chooses to emit porn rays, or whether her natural self merely happens to conform precisely to pornulated beauty ideals.”

There’s nothing more depressing to me than the fact that this central question has been lost in everyone’s eagerness to hate the hot chick.  The uneasily sympathetic Voice essay offers a slideshow of photos showing how hot she is.  Jezebel turns it into a question of whether Lorenzana committed “girl-on-girl crime” by pointing out that the other women in the office wore far more provocative clothes than she did.  (Surely someone should note, here in the midst of the pile-on about Elena Kagan’s clothes, that women are encouraged to look sexy at work — that is, until they look as hot as Lorenzana?)  Some jackass at the Daily Mail makes fun of her name and accuses her of spending too much money on clothes.  WE MUST PUNISH THE HOT LATINA, AND THEN LOOK AT MORE PHOTOS OF HER CURVES.

Is she hot?  IT DOESN’T MATTER.  What matters is that she was harassed on a daily basis and her complaints ignored.  Remember Anita Hill’s case of nearly 20 years ago, when we were shown that a woman could describe daily harassment at the workplace and senators insisted she was crazy?   

It’s not that we haven’t been talking about sexual harassment.  My job requires me to take a compliance test on a regular basis that reminds me how to deal with harassment issues.  Lorenzana’s case makes me question seriously what would happen if I came forward with such a case.  Feminists have been so thoroughly sidelined in our media that this story simply becomes a vehicle for more attacks than she’s already received.

In my dream feminist world, Lorenzana would co-host a new version of CNBC’s “Equal Time” (ah, the early 90s…) with another female co-host on issues women face in the workplace.  They would give serious attention to sexual harassment cases like hers, discuss pay equity and the mommy track, single motherhood (Lorenzana is a single mother), the class-action suits by women against huge corporations like Wal-Mart and Merrill Lynch, and approach the subject of gender inequity in many fields, including academia.  In short, she would become a kick-ass feminist who takes no prisoners.  I can see the feminist comic-book superhero version of her now.

4 Responses to “Sunday Sexism Blues: The Lorenzana Saga”

  1. sonia Says:

    absolutely! not that I expect anything, really, from Jezebel except source articles that don’t show up a lot of other places, but even for them that was a stupid article. They brush aside the male influence, which ultimately as I can understand it, was what lost her her job, to rush right into an analysis of what Lorenanza did wrong, which basically from a realistic perspective is, she let other people dictate what she should look like. Changing her shoes and hair all she could until she realized she’d never win. Then she gets trashed by Jezebel and then everyone else for making comments about how other women were allowed to dress far “Sexier” because they were overweight. Far from being an example of “girl on girl crime” as Jezebel suggests, this is a very realistic observation on Lorenanza’s part. She wasn’t allowed to dress sexily because her appearance was far too “hot” in comparison to what else was evidenced in the office. In essence she was trying to cross boundary lines by not working as a model, or in porn or whatever, having the gall to use her brain to make money, and try to enjoy decorating herself, which is every human being’s right, female male what have you.

    Excellent points, thanks for covering this too.

    • didion Says:

      Your comments make me realize a point I should have made yesterday: Lorenzana is partly being punished because she wasn’t perfect. She did almost everything her bosses told her to do, but she couldn’t read their minds. She complained to HR the way we’re supposed to, but not always in the most absolutely professional way (re: the Voice‘s comments about her letter). Subsequently she allowed those fucking Maxim-style photos to be taken of her in those hootchie-mama outfits, leading to the troll comments (“she thinks she’s better than she is”). Most of all, she didn’t quietly go away when fired.

      The thing is: even if she’d been perfect these comments would have been made. “This case makes me think there must be something wrong with you, and now we will punish you.”

  2. sonia Says:

    and p.s. you are so right, it’s totally racist and cultural. Latinas should decorate themselves as they see fit, as they choose, not how white culture thinks they should. that noise has to go.

  3. […] Think twice. As if women who’ve experienced sexual harassment haven’t already thought twice — as she weighed the costs of reporting a boss or co-worker. As she thought about feeling derided and violated, yet worried the backlash of her reporting would be worse. As she wondered whether he was serious when he suggested she’d lose their job unless she succumbed. As she got glares from the other women in the office who thought she was flirting with him. As she wondered how to find health insurance if she quit. As she received no help whatsoever from the human resources person to whom she reported it. […]

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