The Lady Is a Tramp: The Trojan Horse and Debrahlee Lorenzana

Andrea Plaid
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I’m not sure Debrahlee Lorenzana counted on her case becoming a Trojan horse for the media rolling out their usual racialized sexism.

The situation: Lorenzana is suing Citibank because she claims that the company fired her for being “too hot.” The Village Voice, various Fox News subsidiaries, and the New York Daily News interviewed her. Other news outlets and blogs have picked up the story—especially the salacious description of her face and figure.

Everything about Debrahlee Lorenzana is hot. Even her name sizzles. At five-foot-six and 125 pounds, with soft eyes and flawless bronze skin, she is J.Lo curves meets Jessica Simpson rack meets Audrey Hepburn elegance—a head-turning beauty. (Village Voice)


A Latina lovely says her bosses at Citigroup canned her for flaunting her ample assets at a midtown bank.

Dangerously curvy Debrahlee Lorenzana contends her ex-bosses at Citibank in the Chrysler Building banned her from wearing sexy outfits or heels deemed “too distracting” for male coworkers. (New York Daily News)

This is how the Trojan Horse Approach* works when dealing with oppressions: instead of having members of a privileged group say/do the –ist comment or action in question, have a person from a marginalized group—preferably from the same marginalized group as the person who is being spoken about or acted upon, say/do the same thing. So, goes the idea, the statement or deed couldn’t, therefore, possibly be construed as bigoted because a(nother) marginalized person said/did it. As if 1) marginalized people are inherently free from prejudice or internalized oppression vis-à-vis their status or identity and 2) this gets the privileged people off the hook. Another example of this ploy is analyzed here.

In this case, the person who wrote the Voice piece was a white woman and the New York Daily News scribe was a Latino. (And I’m going to call out anyone who attempts to argue “machismo” as reason or excuse for what the Daily News reporter did. Don’t insult my intelligence, and don’t waste your time and intelligence. And you feel like you just can’t help it, I recommend reading sexologist Bianca Laureano’s take on the topic before you roll in with your feelings on this thread, dig?) Same stereotyping damage disguised as a “real” conversation coming from otherwise “unheard from” voices.

And the stereotypes they bring aren’t only, as Jezebel pointed out, sexist, but also dovetail with race: the “spicy” Latina and the “beautiful” mixed-race person. The Voice story already sets up the “spicy” part in the beginning paragraph, which is where I pulled the quote. Then the Dwoskin, the author, drops this fact: Lorenzana’s mom is Puerto Rican and her father is Italian. As I said to Maegan La Mala Ortiz, owner/publisher Vivir Latino, Dwoskin gets away with this because she –and several other media which picked up and/or produced their own related items—offers no explanations or histories on how many Puerto Ricans view themselves as mixed-race or how Italy and/or Italians figure into the history of Puerto Rico…or, for that matter, any discussion of race or ethnicity. What the Voice author seems to implicitly assume is “Puerto Ricans” are a categorically phenotypically and culturally different group. The same, I said, with stating Lorenzana’s dad being Italian. I’d go as far to state that the whole “Italians, especially Italian men, are sexy/handsome and passionate” meme is at work.

When I see facts like that, I continued, dropped into stories describing a person’s physical attributes–especially if the author wants to emphasize the person’s beauty without a larger context around race and ethnicity, the subtle message is “this person’s pretty/sexy/physically perfect because zie is mixed-race.” This plays into the stereotype that “all mixed-race people are always physically beautiful because of their racial make-up.”

La Mala Ortiz agreed. “Some whites in the US are still unable to differentiate between issues of race and ethnicity and where/how they intersect. [Puerto] Rican is not a race, [and] Italian falls on the white side of the spectrum. As you’re presenting it,the writer makes Lorenzana a ‘best of both worlds’ [example] in regards to physical looks which [sic] happens A LOT when talking about mixed-race peeps.”

La Mala Ortiz then offered her perspective on Lorenzana’s case and how the media are handling it.

I, like Lorenzana, was a young single mother who did well and who was “traditionally attractive”—and, yes, part of that attraction no doubt was the “possibility” factor. I wasn’t quite white but close enough. When it wasn’t jokes about being Puerto Rican or Latina, there were sexist jokes.

The banking world is still very much a man’s world, even with more women in it, it is played by men’s rules and there are even fewer women of color there. When you’re in that world part of succeeding is playing along, playing the game. So, yes, I was always the one that had to sing “Living La Vida Loca” when we had karaoke with clients and the like. I was also the one who went into my managing director’s office, fully expecting to either be fired or given a raise, and instead I was asked to give instructions in Spanish to the managing director’s maid who only spoke Spanish.

So, I read the way so many of the articles that have been written about the case as actually repeating the sins of the bank. Making sly little comments about rags to riches, light skinned enough, with good enough hair, woman who uses the word “spic” to describe her work ethic, a woman who has to go into Spanish when talking about “Spanish style”. It’s what Sex and the City would try and do if they ever had a [Puerto] Rican woman thrown in the mix.

Even now, she said, the developing media coverage “still [sic] portrays [Lorenzana] as a woman who sort of had it coming to her (the leaked video, her speaking out) because she can’t control reign in her tendencies, which can be racialized.”

I said to La Mala Ortiz I think it already has by implication: Lorenzana is now seen as a “fiery-tempered, loudmouth” Latina. The net result is the same inflicted damage–a woman of color framed in racist/sexist conventions and who may be getting her legitimate issue with her employers dismissed because of it.

The Trojan horse rolls on.

A bouquet of gratitude to Maegan La Mala Ortiz for helping me with this post!

*Yes, I take credit for coming up with this concept. So, if you’re going to use it, attribute it to me by name and where you found it, namely on Bitch and on Racialicious, where it first appeared. Thanks!

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11 Comments Have Been Posted

This is how the Trojan Horse

<em>This is how the Trojan Horse Approach* works when dealing with oppressions: instead of having members of a privileged group say/do the –ist comment or action in question, have a person from a marginalized group—preferably from the same marginalized group as the person who is being spoken about or acted upon, say/do the same thing. </em>

Consider this borrowed and duly cited.

The oddest aspect of the case for me is the absence of any conversation about Ms. Lorenzana’s work life aspirations or contributions. We all know she can rock a turtleneck, but where are her thoughts regarding banking. It's frustrating. It seems to suggest she has NO thoughts period and lends credibility to the idea it's okay to fire her because she's gorgeous woman, which it is most certainly not.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Lorenzana's thoughts about banking

Hey snarkysmachine! Actually, Lorenzana states in the Voice piece and in other stories she loves the financial industry and cited that she received accolades for her work....along with the bullshit. She said that, when she worked at Citibank, she hustled for the accounts, only to have her managers give her accounts to the men....then turn around and say she wasn't generating enough accounts. All along, harrassing her about her looks.

Cool. I was worried about

Cool. I was worried about that. I didn't want a, "Surprise, she was actually a TERRIBLE employee" with reams of performance evaluations testifying to that effect. I get nervous about that because it often feels like marginalized women are often selected (in situations like these) to support sexist racist notions we got "ours" by crook and not hook.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Citibank Should Rehire Her

Citibank should rehire Debrahlee Lorenzana. There is no disputing that she looks good enough to be distracting, but considering all of the bad, ill advised, unethical, greedy practices engaged in by Citibank they could use all the distraction they can get. Maybe they are better off keeping it in the press and not settling for now, but i think they'd be better of in the end having her work at Citibank. From Debrahlee's perspective, if you have it, flaunt it. i don't think racism can be justified by claiming it was provoked either. She is what she is and if she gets a better career out of it, fine.

Actually, no, it's not.

Panty Buns--maybe I missed that day in my Women's Studies class, but a woman's purpose is not to distract: not her co-workers or bosses and not the public from a business's shady dealings. And I don't think it's an issue of Lorenzana's flaunting "what she's got," but a matter of Citibank using the way her clothes fit her as an excuse to remove her from her job.

And, yes, racism can be justified in this discussion because it is the invisible trope upon which this case rest, especially in the way the media is covering it, which is the point of my piece.

i Think i Might Understand Your Points

After further reading and reflection i agree that merely re-hiring her would not do the trick. They should hire her for an upper level management position instead. It is true that a woman's purpose should not be to distract, but reiterate that Citibank should be desirous of distraction from their own misdeeds, i.e.: Their role in the financial meltdown (in being a primary mover in the <a href="" rel="nofollow">dismantling of the Glass-Steagal Act</a>); They took taxpayer bailout money at next to no interest via the Fed and then instead of using the money for helping the mortgage crisis they put it into treasuries so the Government was paying them net interest on the very money it had just loaned them; meanwhile they cut shareholder dividends out completely, claimed they were making money so they could pay back bailout money, award themselves exorbitant lottery winnings level compensation, had a sports arena named after themselves and also spent a lot of money to lobby congressmen for allowing their usury of credit card holders to continue (the new legislation allows Marquette Decision impairment of usury laws to continue despite the Supreme Court's having ruled that Congress had the power to legislate nationwide usury laws or legislatively remedy the impairment; The new credit card laws allow exorbitant rates to be charged even to people with perfect credit - The only requirement now is that the banks have to inform you you're about to get screwed before they screw us.
Although i agree that the presence of racism <b>in the discussion</b> may be justified i maintain that the practice of racism is not justifiable regardless of the transparent pretext it is cloaked in. Perhaps the fact that i would applaud working a la Lady Gaga everywhere including in banks might help shed light on my own thought process during the course of writing my previous comment.

I never really thought of

I never really thought of Lorenzana's press as a racial issue, so thank you for providing a perspective that would otherwise never have occurred to me. But just a question (and I apologize if it seems silly, but I really would like to know) - in the Village Voice interview Lorenzana herself refers to her Puerto Rican heritage in regards to her sex appeal. How does a white woman approach race and sexuality without falling back onto stereotypes - e.g. how does one parse out Lorenzana's own statements about her ethnicity and appearance within the dominate discourse?

Educate yourself

It's really bad form to ask a person of color, as a white person, how to approach issues of race without "falling back onto stereotypes." It's your job to educate yourself, and there are lots of books and blogs out there about race and sexuality...Andrea even linked to a few in this post.

One thing I found

One thing I found interesting when I first read about this case (through I think the Chicago Trib) was the main pictures that they chose to accompany the article - Lorenzana was wearing more evening-oriented revealing outfits than work attire. Revealing clothes are awesome and more power to her wearing them, but it didn't seem relevant to the story. It's not for lack of pictures either - they had a 20-picture slideshow with some of her work outfits. Since the story was about her attire, it seemed to me to be a blatant misdirection on the part of the paper - giving off the vibe of "look at how sexy and inappropriate this woman is" when it's actually quite clear from the auxiliary pictures and her account that she made a serious effort to jump through all their hoops.

I was stunned to discover

I was stunned to discover wearing turtlenecks (a busty gal's breast friend for a cleavage free work experience) were criminal acts!

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Beating a dead horse

Wow! Thanks for covering this and discussing a subject that hits home in many ways.

I was once sexually harassed/discriminated against by my supervisor. I went through all the work of filing the claims and the EEOC dismissed my case with a simple question. What is your race and what is the race of the perpetrator? I am Mexican/Italian mixed and he was Puerto Rican. Sorry, lady, you can't be discriminated against by someone of your own race.

I had no moneys for a lawyer, and we were both employed at a very heavily funded private college. They would have slayed me in court!

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