Fired for Being Hot?

3 06 2010

Debrahlee Lorenzana

The Village Voice reported on Tuesday that 33-year-old banker Debrahlee Lorenzana, who is apparently very hot, has filed a suit against Citigroup claiming she was fired because her looks were too distracting to her male coworkers at Citibank.  The article explains:

…she liked the job, the pay, and the prospects for advancement. For the first two months, she says, she was hardly in the office—she was either out drumming up business or attending training sessions. But once she started spending more time in the office, things began to go downhill.

Interviews and her lawsuit, which was filed in November 2009, tell her story: Fisher and another manager, Peter Claibourne, started making offhanded comments about her appearance, she says. 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.

In late 2008, she recalls, the two managers called her into Fisher’s office. She remembers that she was wearing a red camisole, beige pants, and a navy suit jacket. This is how she tells it: “They said, ‘Deb, we need to talk to you about your work attire. . . . Your pants are too tight.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, my pants are not too tight! If you want to talk about inappropriate clothes, go downstairs and look at some of the tellers!’ ”

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.’ ”

After the HR visit, she says, things got markedly worse. Lorenzana says her bosses made incessant comments about her clothes. She tried to dress down in ways that didn’t involve clothes—pulling her hair back, coming to work some days without makeup, but it didn’t make a difference. “I could have worn a paper bag, and it would not have mattered,” she says. “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.”  Still, she continued to dress up for work—her brand of femininity is also cultural. “Where I’m from,” she says, switching into Spanish to explain it, “women dress up—like put on makeup and do their nails—to go to the supermarket. And I’m not talking trashy, you know, like in the Heights. I was raised very Latin, you know? We’re feminine. A woman in Puerto Rico takes care of herself. The Puerto Rican women here put down our flag.”

Eventually, Lorenzana received a letter saying she was fired for “bringing in too little business” and allegedly coming in late on June 6 and June 7, which turned out to be a Saturday and Sunday that the branch was closed.

Now, I don’t have any pictures of Lorenzana at work, so I can’t say for sure that her outfits weren’t entirely inappropriate, regardless of her body.  But as a woman who works in an office full of men, I can’t imagine how humiliating it would be if even one of them, once, commented on the appropriateness of my outfit, asked me to wear makeup and straighten my hair every day or forbid me from wearing a specific item of clothing to the office.  They told her she couldn’t wear three-inch heels, pencil skirts or turtlenecks?  That’s like the basic office uniform for women.

Gender relations in the workplace can already be really delicate and awkward, even when the men are perfectly respectful.  It is easy for a woman to feel like her abilities are being underestimated or underutilized because of her gender, and I can guarantee that every woman who works in a predominantly male office is frequently insecure over what to wear.  You don’t want to dress like a man, but you also don’t want to attract any kind of awkward sexual attention, so you constantly have to ask yourself, Is this skirt too short? Is this neckline too low?  Are these leggings too thin, and do they really function as a pants substitute?  This is not really fair, because I don’t think men ever have to ask themselves these questions.  But for them to then go and pile on a woman’s insecurities by incessantly commenting on her appearance?

For the record, I think it’s completely ridiculous for a man to blame a woman for his own inability to concentrate when she is around.  Are you serious?  He should be fired.  Pull it together, you prehistoric apes.  I know plenty of men whose brains would not be reduced to piles of useless puddy over an attractive woman in the office.  If you’re a man, and you want to talk to a particular woman in the office about dress code, then bring the entire office in for a staff meeting, men and women, and remind them all of the dress code.   Lorenzana’s boss could have totally avoided being a creep by simply sending out a memo to the whole staff saying, “Dress code reminder: men should not wear shorts and flip flops and severely wrinkled shirts in the office, women should not wear excessively low-cut shirts or tight clothing.  Some of you are riding the line between appropriate and  inappropriate, so if you’re going to err, err on the side of conservative.”

Maybe attach some pictures from magazines and websites explaining what’s appropriate and not.  Boom, done.  You can’t tell a woman not to wear heels or turtlenecks, you can’t say ANYTHING to a woman about straightening her hair, and any dress code you hold one woman to, you hold them all to, regardless of body type.  This should go without saying.

I’ll admit that Lorenzana does sound a little bit obnoxious from her interviews, but I’m glad this came up, because it reminds us that sexual harassment and discrimination continue to be alive and well in the workplace, and nothing about that is acceptable.


Come Here, Let Me Ultrasound Your Balls.

12 05 2010

Great news for women: University of North Carolina experts believe a blast of ultrasound to the testes can safely stop sperm production for six months.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding their research, which could produce the first safe, effective form of male birth control on the market.

Now, I know many men are going to read this and think, Oh hell no. Even the ability to be infertile for six months isn’t worth a doctor “blasting” anything at my testes.  But you know what?  I think it would be kinda nice for the burden of birth control to fall on men for a change.  Many of us have to take a pill every day that makes some of our lady parts non-functional, and those pills are not only expensive, but they can have a wide range of side effects.  Maybe we could set up some sort of a system where we rotate– you blast the sperm out of your balls for 6 months, and in return, we will take the pill for the next 6 months.  Sound good?

My only problem with this whole sperm-blasting ultrasound idea is that, in my imagination, sperm + radiation = two-headed, eight-limbed babies.  And who wants to be a guinea pig for a study like that?

I nominate Tiger Woods.

High-School Lesbian Sent to Fake Prom

6 04 2010

Normally, when I look back on high-school, I remember it very fondly– volleyball games, a solid group of friends, flashing the math teacher.  But when I read stories like the one about Constance McMillen, the lesbian in Itawamba, Mississippi, who was banned by the school district from bringing her girlfriend to prom, I am reminded of what a small-minded, cruel world high school could be. When the American Civil Liberties Union got involved and McMillen started talking to the press about gay discrimination, the school up and cancelled the prom. Then the ACLU challenged that decision in court, and the judge decided that the school had to hold the prom and allow McMillen to attend with her female date.

So you know what the other students did?  Instead of supporting McMillen in her attempt to break civil rights ground, they (with the help of their similarly closed-minded parents) organized a secret prom of their own and directed McMillen to the official, school-sponsored one at a local country club.  McMillen showed up to the event with her date and found only five other students there.  The whole rest of the class attended the private prom, which had apparently been planned to strategically avoid having to party with dirty lesbians.

McMillen told The Advocate, “It hurts my feelings.” Well I guess it does.

I really don’t understand why these parents would knowingly help their kids discriminate against and exclude people who are different from them.  Kids can be cruel– I remember in 7th or 8th grade when two of my friends called me on 3-way and didn’t tell me one of them was on the line.  The one speaking tricked me into saying something that the other one didn’t like, and then my entire group of friends boycotted me and made my life miserable for the whole rest of the semester.  High-school and middle-school students are more than happy to act like exclusive, elitist, peer-pressuring bitches if you let them, which is why parenting becomes so important in steering them toward maturity.  But when the parents are just as bad as their kids, the kids don’t stand a chance.

The whole thing would really be disheartening to me, except for the inevitability that Constance McMillen, with her bold challenging of the status quo and wise soundbites in the media, will probably achieve far more success in adulthood than the vast majority of her useless classmates.   The cool kids in high-school rarely turn out to be the winners in life, but I’ve got my bowl of popcorn out and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what McMillen brings to the world.

Black Widows: Russia’s Female Suicide Bombers

30 03 2010

Victims of the Moscow Subway Bombings

I’ve read a few different articles about the Moscow subway suicide bombings that killed 38 people yesterday morning, but until I read this Daily Beast article on the subject, I somehow missed the fact that both of those suicide bombers were women.

Apparently, there is a group of female “terrorists” that have been responsible for a number of major bombings around Russia in the past few years.  These women are called “Black Widows” because it is believed that they are seeking vengeance for the murders of their fathers, brothers and husbands during the war in Chechnya.

Daily Beast contributor David Satter writes:

The two Chechen wars, fought in 1994-96 and 1999-2000, were almost unparalleled in their barbarity in the postwar era. The women of Chechnya regularly witnessed the abduction of their husbands, fathers, and brothers, whom Chechen tradition treats as their protectors. In some cases, they were involved in trying to ransom them from Russian custody, an exercise that usually ended with them having to pay to receive a mutilated corpse.The result was a desire for revenge and a break with the Chechen tradition that men do not send women into war. The Black Widows have participated in two-thirds of the almost 40 rebel attacks that have killed about 900 persons in Russia in the last ten years. In the words of the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, they “are trying to force Russians to feel the same pain that they have felt.”

I’ve always had a hard time understanding how anyone could be so angry and full of despair and convicted in his beliefs that he would consider strapping a bomb to himself and blowing up forty people.  But hearing about what these women had to go through makes the situation a little more real for me.  If my husband or male relative was abducted and, after months of fear and desperation, I paid a huge amount of money only to have his mutilated dead body returned to me, I very well might be capable of blowing myself up in a subway at rush hour.

I think, all too often, we are quick to associate suicide bombers with the Middle East and the religion of Islam.  We think that it’s because of their religious teachings–19 virgins awaiting them in heaven!– that teenagers randomly blow themselves up in public squares, or that it’s because of the oppressive culture of the Muslim world that those people don’t mind not being in it anymore.  In reality, these people are in pain.  They have lost parents and siblings in wars and random attacks.  And the longer we keep our armies in Afghanistan and Iraq, occasionally blowing up innocent people and raiding the houses of innocent families in an attempt to catch the bad guys, the more “terrorists” we will continue to create.

Right now, as I’m writing this, MSNBC is doing a segment on whether the Chechnyan suicide bombers are linked to Al Qaeda.  Give me a break, MSNBC. Do you want to send an army over to Russia to take these people out too?  Are they now part of the Axis of Evil?  These people don’t need to be shot or imprisoned.  They need a good team of therapists, a lifetime supply of anti-depressants and a support group.

Everybody Move to the Back of the Mosque

3 03 2010

Saturday afternoon, Fatima Thompson and three other Muslim women decided to pray in the men’s section of a Washington, DC, mosque, according to an article in the Daily Beast.

The article says:

“A bearded, middle-aged man scolded one of the women. “Sister, go there!” he said, pointing to a back corner, dubbed the “penalty box” by one disgruntled woman. The seven-foot wooden barrier separated the men and women’s sections in a visual metaphor of gender apartheid. She ignored him.”

What ensued was a scene akin to the Rosa Parks bus incident in 1955.  Mosque officials called the cops, who then awkwardly tiptoed into the men’s prayer area and asked the women to please follow mosque rules by moving over to their designated area.  But the women continued to pray in the men’s section defiantly as more women joined them, and their numbers quadrupled.  Here is a video of the scene:

What’s especially interesting about this incident is that these mosques are not legally allowed to segregate their members based on race– white women, black women, and middle eastern women can all pray right next to each other.  But this rule does not apply to gender segregation, which continues to be strictly enforced in mosques across America, and Muslim women are becoming increasingly disgruntled about their “separate-and-unequal” status.

Asra Nomani, the author of the Daily Beast article, articulates the irony of the situation quite poignantly:

“As America sends thousands of soldiers overseas with a mission, in part, to improve women’s rights in Afghanistan, two D.C. cops were dispatched to a mosque just a mile from the White House to remove American Muslim women from the main prayer hall. Ironically, the weekend incident raises an important question about whether there truly is suffrage for Muslim women in America. It seems not.”

The irony of the situation is interesting, indeed, although I’m not sure what this situation has to do with women’s suffrage.  Has the government failed to protect women’s rights in the same way that it protects racial rights with regard to private organizations?  Is dictating anything about the seating rules in a mosque even within the bounds of the law?

While I respect these women for challenging the status quo, I think that it’s generally not a good idea to impose American belief systems onto primarily non-American religious groups, as France has tried to do with the Islamic scarf controversy. And further, while men and women are politically equal in the U.S., a man can be arrested for purposefully entering a woman’s bathroom, and vice versa.  Is that so different from enforcing gender separation within the walls of a mosque, a private organization whose rules state that it must be so?

I fully support these women in their attempt to peacefully protest and reform the ways their church deals with gender, but I disagree with Ms. Nomani that it is the U.S. government’s responsibility to back them in that plight, or that the government’s failure to do so somehow implies a lack of suffrage for Muslim women in America.

What do you think?

Pregnancy Pacts, And Other Stupid Decisions

26 02 2010

In the summer of 2008, 17 girls at Gloucester High School in Massachusetts turned up pregnant– more than four times the average number of pregnancies in previous years at the 1200-student school.  School officials and reporters across the nation began to speculate that the girls got pregnant on purpose, particularly after the school nurse noticed that girls were flooding into the school clinic to take pregnancy tests and acting more upset when they received “negative” results than positive.

On June 18, reporter Kathleen Kingsbury made a big splash at Time Magazine when she published an article claiming that the girls had confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together.  The high-school fathers, obviously, were not in on the pact, and were all very dismayed to hear that not only had they been manipulated as part of this master scheme, but that they were likely to be paying child support for life and facing charges of statutory rape for having sex with minors. Whoops– bet the sex wasn’t worth it!

Anyway, I remember being captivated by the story when this article came out after a string of movies that glamorized teen and accidental pregnancies– Juno and Knocked Up to name a few– and wondering whether Hollywood had anything to do with this high school pregnancy boom.  So a few weeks ago, when the made-for-TV Lifetime movie called “Pregnancy Pact” aired, I was sitting on my couch with a biiiig bowl of popcorn and a smile.

My curiosity about these girls and their idiotic decision was insatiable, and the movie did not disappoint.  It followed the girls from the initial stages of making the pact to peeing on a stick at the guidance counselor’s office, to drinking til they passed out at a graduation party when they realized their boyfriends didn’t want the babies as much as they did (uh… duh.).

I had SO much fun watching this movie, in fact, that my friend Ashley and I spent the entire next day watching a marathon of the reality show “Teen Mom” on MTV.  Here’s a clip of Farrah fighting with her parents over the fact that she wants a social life despite the fact that she has a 9-month old to take care of.

If that didn’t steer you teenagers away from getting pregnant, here’s a clip that will, from MTV’s other reality series, “16 and Pregnant”:

Yea– that’s why you don’t let a 16-year-old knock you up, dumbass.  I can’t even believe Nikkole slept with that guy in the first place, much less wanted him in the hospital room while she was in LABOR. What a little twirp.  I would punch him in face if I saw him on the street.

My hope for these shameless reality series is that they shake a little sense into modern teenage girls by showing them the reality of actually being huge for 9 months, then pushing a 9-lb. baby out of a hole the size of a sand dollar, and then having to actually raise a person with or without the help of your idiot quarterback boyfriend.

As to the issue of why I find these shows so personally entertaining– well, I really don’t know.

Selling One’s Virginity for Tuition

3 02 2010

There’s an article in the Huffington Post today about this 19-year old girl in New Zealand who auctioned off her virginity online to pay for college.  “Unigirl,” as she called herself in her initial post, described herself as attractive, fit and healthy. She didn’t post a photograph, and there was no way for bidders to confirm any of the details of her posts, but she still managed to rake in a high bid of $32,000.

I am not really surprised by this, as it isn’t the first time I’ve read about a girl auctioning off her virginity to pay for education.  Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, and you can’t really blame someone for choosing to use her body in that way if it’s worth it to her to be able to go to college.  There are plenty of women who prostitute themselves every day and get nothing out of it but a big house and a miserable, loveless marriage with a man 30 years their senior.

I guess what I don’t understand is how there’s such a big market for anonymous 19-year old virgins.  Apparently, there are a ton of men out there who have no problem dropping 30 grand for one night of sex with a random, inexperienced teenager.  Is it just me, or is that really sick?

What is the big freaking deal about virginity?  Why is it such a huge selling point?  Why do entire religions and cultures design all of their laws around keeping women virgins?  Is it just the fact that men love the idea of not having to be compared to anyone that came before them?  Because that’s pretty lame.

I’m glad this girl is going to be able to pay for college, but I’m a little sad for the way it’s going down.  The event will probably prove to be a huge disappointment to him– she’ll be $30 grand and a college education richer, and he’ll just be a creepy, cradle-robbing loser with a dented bank account.

He would have gotten a lot more use out of a brand new Audi with seat-warmers and built-in satellite radio– the gift that keeps on giving, entirely UNLIKE a teenager’s virginity.