Many women are familiar with the paradoxes of the expectations for their attire and demeanor in the workplace, and mostly, it seems to be a losing battle. The criteria by which women are judged are highly objective, and it’s easy to find oneself trapped by the unspoken expectation to be attractive, but not too sexy. One banker, Deborahlee Lorenzana, claims that she was fired as a result of this double bind, and is suing her former employer, Citibank, for dismissing her because of her body.
The details of Lorenzana’s treatment at work, as recounted by Elizabeth Dwoskin of the Village Voice, are disturbing. Lorenzana (who has been described as “hot,” a “babe,” and, in Dwoskin’s words, “sizzling”), apparently suffered from near-constant attention to her body. Managers made off-hand comments about her appearance, sending her mixed signals but more importantly, never allowing her to forget that her body was under scrutiny. Dwoskin writes,
“She was told not to wear fitted business suits. She should wear makeup because she looked sickly without it. (She had purposefully stopped wearing makeup in hopes of attracting less attention.) Once, she recalls, she came in to work without having blow-dried her hair straight—it is naturally curly—and Fisher told a female colleague to pass on a message that she shouldn’t come into work without straightening it.”
As Anna North points out at Jezebel, Lorenzana’s response was less than generous: she claimed that other women at Citibank dressed more inappropriately, and that the negative response to her appearance was a reflection of her more attractive body. But at the same time, Lorenzana’s claims are disturbing in the extreme, especially since she claims that she was fired after she protested. Managers instructed her to buy a new, “looser-fitting” wardrobe, and criticized almost every aspect of her dress. “I could have worn a paper bag, and it would not have mattered,” Lorenzana explained. “If it wasn’t my shirt, it was my pants. If it wasn’t my pants, it was my shoes. They picked on me every single day.”
Because of a part of Lorenzana’s contract, the suit will be decided by an arbitrator, not a judge. And although we have access only to Lorenzana’s side of the story in Dwoskin’s article, it seems clear that these managers drew inappropriate attention to Lorenzana’s clothing and physical appearance, unprofessionally singling her out and perhaps eventually firing her because of the way she looked. Let’s hope, though, that future articles about this case are less “distracted” by the way Lorenzana looks – even Dwoskin can’t seem to get over Lorenzana’s “hotness,” and the photos that accompany the Village Voice‘s piece, as Anna North points out, detract from the seriousness of this suit, and are, in the end, really kind of irrelevant.
Photo from Flickr.