She “is J.Lo curves meets Jessica Simpson rack meets Audrey Hepburn elegance—a head-turning beauty (Bennett). The Village Voice, a New York City newspaper, described the thirty-three year-old Citibank employee, Debbie Lorenzana, as thus. Lorenzana, who was fired from her job in the summer of 2009 as a result of her cited poor “work performance,” sued the company in December for discrimination, claiming that she was actually fired for distracting her male colleagues and supervisors with her appearance. Lorenzana’s case serves as evidence of one of the many suppressive double binds, which we have read about and discussed in class, that women all over the world face.
According to Debbie Lorenzana, her bosses at Citibank repeatedly told her that they were unable to focus on their work because they were distracted by her sexually appealing appearance. They even went so far as to demand that she dress herself differently, forbidding her from wearing turtlenecks, pencil skirts, three-inch heels, or fitted business suits and suggesting that she wear looser-fitting clothing instead. Lorenzana tried to point out to them that the attire of many other women in the company was much more provocative and revealing, as they were clad in mini-skirts and low-cut blouses, allowing “anyone [to] see what God gave them” (Dwoskin) when they bent down. However, her bosses simply fired back, claiming, “their body shapes were different from [hers], and [she] drew too much attention” (Bennett). Lorenzana claimed that she shopped at the same places that her female coworkers shopped, like Zara, and thus she felt she was being punished for her body rather than her purchases and actual dress. As she reflects, other women "were able to wear such clothing because they were short, overweight, and they didn't draw much attention…but since I was five-foot-six, 125 pounds, with a figure, it wasn't appropriate…Are you saying that just because I look this way genetically, that this should be a curse for me?” (Dwoskin).
Debbie Lorenzana faces a double bind. A double bind, as defined by Marilyn Frye (author of the article we read in class, “Oppression”) is a “situation in which options are reduced to very few and all of the expose one to penalty, censure or deprivation” (Frye). Women in the workplace face a double bind in terms of their appearance: there are perils to being unattractive (especially to the male sex) as well as being too attractive. As Jessica Bennett, Newsweek writer, claims, “it's a known fact that attractive people have it easier: résumés get more favorable assessments when they’re thought to belong to attractive candidates; pretty students get doted on more by teachers” (Bennett). She even went on to reveal that attractive women on average make 4% more than, what she calls, their “Ugly Betty counterparts.” I am not exactly sure what the criteria is for determining who is attractive and who is an “Ugly Betty,” and for that matter, who makes this determination, but it is nevertheless a telling statistic. Attractive women definitely have advantages over less attractive women in the career world, especially when (sex-driven) men are primarily the ones in control and doing the hiring. Even though she was fully qualified for the job and should not have needed her looks to land the job, it appears that Lorenzana may have been hired at Citibank at least partially because of her stunning looks. After being hired by Citibank, Lorenzana was told by one of her new female coworkers that the branch was “pretty much known for hiring pretty girls” (Dwoskin), and that she was positive Lorenzana had the job as soon as she saw her when she came in for her interview.
However, from Lorenzana’s situation, it becomes obvious that there are also pitfalls to being too attractive. Even if you are not fired for being too sexy or beautiful, you have to work in an environment that is “hostile, painful, and unbearable” (Dwoskin), words Lorenzana used to describe the work settings she has faced throughout her career. While working at Citibank and other companies, she faced harassment on a daily basis. For example, when she worked at the Municipal Credit Union in 2003, her boss once called her into his office to ask her opinion of a picture, which turned out to be a picture of his penis. If that is not sexual harassment in the workplace, I do not know what is. Before Lorenzana was fired from Citibank, she faced a year of constant harassment from within the company. Her bosses singled her out every day and were relentless in their comments about her appearance and dress, as evidenced by the following statement from Lorenzana: “I could have worn a paper bag, and it would not have mattered. If it wasn't my shirt, it was my pants. If it wasn't my pants, it was my shoes” (Bennett). Lorenzana even stopped wearing makeup and wore her hair back in attempt to draw attention away from her; but nothing she did seemed to prevent her from being a “distracting force” in the office for the men. She was essentially being punished for her natural beauty and curves, as her clothes were in no way slutty or revealing, and were completely in line with the company dress code. However, as her bosses made clear to her, her body type demanded that she follow a completely different dress code—one that Lorenzana refused to comply with, as she believed she was dressing appropriately and being discriminated against. In the end, Lorenzana had to pay the price for being too hot in the workplace. Thus, Lorenzana faced what Bennett calls, a “double-edged sword”–if she was not attractive enough to her supervisors, she might not have even gotten the job (or made the high salary that she made), yet, the fact that she was too attractive ended up costing her the job. How was she supposed to win? The true answer is she cannot win and is not supposed to win. As Frye claims, in the case of double binds “you can’t win. You are caught in a bind, caught between systematically related pressures” (Frye). Lorenzana is just one example of a women caught between one of the innumerable double binds that women face constantly in their day-to-day life.
Women should not have to make themselves unattractive to be able to work in a healthy, non-discriminatory environment, where they feel safe. It should not take them being ugly for them to not be viewed as sexual objects. At the same time, women should not have to be attractive to have advantages or success in the career-world (unless they are trying to become models, of course). The story of Debbie Lorenzana clearly shows how we still live in a patriarchal, man-driven world. The man lies at the center of all things and women must revolve around him. As Lorenzana’s lawyer claimed in regards to her situation at work and the complaints she received from her bosses, “[i]t’s like saying we can’t think anymore 'cause our penises are standing up—and we cannot think about you except in a sexual manner—and we can’t look at you without wanting to have sexual intercourse with you. And it’s up to you, gorgeous woman, to lessen your appeal so that we can focus!” (Bennett). Hearing about Lorenzana’s situation led me to the question, why must women always be the ones to change to accommodate men?
Bennett, Jessica. "Too Hot in the Workplace? It'll Cost You." Newsweek. 4 June 2010.
30 Sept. 2010.
Dwoskin, Elizabeth. “Is This Woman Too Hot To Be a Banker?” The Village Voice. 1
June 2010. 30 Sept. 2010.
Frye, Marilyn. “Oppression.” The Politics of Reality. Trumansburg, N.Y: The Crossing