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Friday, June 04, 2010

It can be hard to step outside your own baggage, but sometimes it's necessary
Posted by Jill | 6:40 AM
When you grow up in a family where you're not "the pretty one", and you learn early on that "pretty" is more valuable currency than "smart" or "funny", especially when "pretty" is also "musically talented" and "just as smart as you are", it can be hard to step outside that particular little dance.

I was estranged from my sister for many, many years. I don't even know why anymore, except that I knew she was "the pretty one", and through the filter of my own short, constantly weight-challenged misery, things always seemed to be so easy for her. Of course like most filters, it distorted the truth, and in many ways she was more unhappy than I was. But in the currency which so often matters to the exclusion of all else -- the realm of male attention -- it was easy for her.

In the last ten years we've often had opportunities to talk this out, and it will pain me to my grave that she spent all those years with hurt feelings that she always felt (sometimes rightly) that I hated her and she never knew why. I hope she reads this and knows how much I regret those lost years.

One of the things about aging, provided you aren't obsessed about beating a clock that can't be beat, is that it's the great equalizer. No matter how much Botox or plastic surgery you have, you are going to get old. If you have too much of it, you end up like Joan Rivers, who looks neither young nor old, but just masque-like. At some point we have to become comfortable in our own skins.

But when you're young, if every time you WALK PAST a bakery, even without going in, y ou gain five pounds, "pretty girls" just piss you off. And the problem with this is that the way extremely attractive women are treated is, in its own way, just as bad as the way we "funny ones" are treated.

Take the case of Debrahlee Lorenzana, who is filing suit against Citibank, alleging that she was fired for being "too attractive." The fourteen-year-old that still lives in my head sometimes wants to think "I wish I had such problems," until I remember that the fact that I am under five feet tall and more often in my life overweight than not has never prevented me from getting jobs, and that I have only been harassed in anything approaching this way once in my life (and it was the catalyst that got me out of the hell of retail department management).

But while invisibility may not seem like a blessing when you're young, reading about Debbie Lorenzana makes me think it wasn't so bad after all:
This is the way Debbie Lorenzana tells it: 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. Lorenzana, a 33-year-old single mom, pointed out female colleagues whose clothing was far more revealing than hers: "They said their body shapes were different from mine, and I drew too much attention," she says.

As Lorenzana's lawsuit puts it, her bosses told her that "as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purportedly 'too distracting' for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear."

"Men are kind of drawn to her," says Tanisha Ritter, a friend and former colleague who also works as a banker and praises Lorenzana's work habits. "I've seen men turn into complete idiots around her. But it's not her fault that they act this way, and it shouldn't be her problem."

Because Citibank made Lorenzana sign a mandatory-arbitration clause as a condition of her employment, the case will never end up before a jury or judge. An arbitrator will decide. Citibank officials won't comment on the suit.

Her attorney, Jack Tuckner, who calls himself a "sex-positive" women's-rights lawyer, is the first one to say his client is a babe. But so what? For him, it all boils down to self-control. "It's like saying," Tuckner argues, "that 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!"

This isn't your typical sexual-harassment lawsuit, if there is such a thing. For one thing, such suits often claim that women are coerced into looking more sexy or are subjected to being pawed. Lorenzana claims that her bosses basically told her she was just too attractive. And when she raised hell and refused to do anything about it—as if there was anything she really could do about it—she lost her job.


Citibank does have a dress-code policy, which says clothing must not be provocative, but does not go into specifics, and managers have wide discretion. But Lorenzana points out that, unlike her, some of the tellers dressed in miniskirts and low-cut blouses. "And when they bend down," Lorenzana says, "anyone can see what God gave them!"

Then the managers gave her a list of clothing items she would not be allowed to wear: turtlenecks, pencil skirts, and fitted suits. And three-inch heels. "As a result of her tall stature, coupled with her curvaceous figure," her suit says, Lorenzana was told "she should not wear classic high-heeled business shoes, as this purportedly drew attention to her body in a manner that was upsetting to her easily distracted male managers."

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing," Lorenzana recalls. "I said, 'You gotta be kidding me!' I was like, 'Too distracting? For who? For you? My clients don't seem to have any problem.' "

The managers instructed her to wear looser clothing. Lorenzana refused. "I don't have the money to buy a new wardrobe," she says, referring to her work outfits. "I shop where everyone else shops—at Zara!" Lorenzana recalls leaving the meeting feeling humiliated. Other female employees "were able to wear such clothing because they were short, overweight, and they didn't draw much attention," she later wrote in a letter describing the meeting to Human Resources, "but since I was five-foot-six, 125 pounds, with a figure, it wasn't 'appropriate.' " She was also furious. "Are you saying that just because I look this way genetically, that this should be a curse for me?"

Based on this article, which is admittedly Lorenzana's side only, it does seem that because men at Citibank are creatures so primitive that they can't get their brains out of their dicks for even eight hours a day while at work, someone who does a perfectly good job was unable to keep it. This is something I have never had to deal with, and after reading this article, I feel fortunate that I haven't.

Yes, I've had to deal with more-attractive women getting better projects and being favored by the boss. I've also seen more-attractive women in the same place being treated less well than I was. I work with a woman, now in her mid-thirties, whom I've known for ten years. We worked together in a previous job. When she started at our current place of employment, it was as if Angelina Jolie had joined the company. And watching men talk to her, they look ridiculous much of the time. But she frets constantly about her looks, and the fretting becomes more intense as she gets older. I'm kind of glad I never had to go through that.

Our culture's obsession with how women look is about more than primitive biology worming its way into the culture. As long as thin women are encouraged to feel superior to fat ones, or older women feel threatened by younger ones, or attractive women feel threatened by men who can't keep their brains in their craniums where they belong, women will remain at war with each other. And with us being 52% of the population, it behooves the existing power structure to keep us that way. Because if we ever realized that the issues we face are often two sides of the same coin, there'd be no stopping us.

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Anonymous jb said...
OK, I admit it. I clicked on the link to see if there were any pictures of this woman, and there are. Twenty-seven of 'em, several quite sexy--maybe not the best of all possible choices for an article that's about how she suffered job discrimination because of the way she looks, a picture being worth a thousand words and all. The last thing I want to do is defend anything Citibank does, but I find myself wondering about what their side of the story is, and whether there's more to it than is presented here.

She's not my type, by the way.

Blogger Distributorcap said...
and i thought sex sells - and cant citibank use a few more sales.

and we wonder why the world is collapsing - because men think with their ------

it is really time for women to run the world

except Sarah Palin and Carly Fiorina - and that has nothing to do with looks

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Taliban! Burqa!
Aren't we fighting two countries [I put Pakistan in there!] so that women can wear pants to work?

Maybe she should wear a Hajib. If it's good enough for Muslim men it should be good enough for CitiBankers!

Anonymous mandt said...
Pathetic, sad and absurd: divide and conquer! Citibank and its adolescent hormones....

Blogger lifeartist said...
Why not have her sit behind a screen? This was the answer for the middle ages. And didn't you know that women are responsible for the sexual behavior of men? That's why women should all be covered from head to toe with a veil. Let them work invisibly because men are such primitives they have no control over their urges. And we let these guys have control over nuclear weapons?