Filed under: business, Gender politics | Tags: business, dressing for success, feminism, How to Be a Woman, makeover, meeting, professional, sexist, suit
Before I even sat down, I could feel a peculiar sense of being dismissed. For the people there, I did not register as someone of any interest, and certainly not as the expert I happen to be in this field. I walked away from the meeting wondering if it was time to get a style makeover. And then I got mad. Because while a style make-over would be fun (and expensive,) the need or thought of a need for one is a particularly female problem.
In Caitlin Moran’s book, How to Be a Woman, she talks about how what women wear signals so much to the people around us. When women get dressed, with each outfit we try on, we are essentially asking, “Is this the identity I want to be projecting today?”
If I want to look “professional,” Ann Pierce points out what an impossible challenge is before me as a woman. Her article on the pitfalls of dressing professionally shows how the vast majority of women’s photos are seen as unprofessional . That is, it’s POSSIBLE to hit upon some outfit that looks appropriately professional, but the odds are very small that it will look professional to everyone. (This is especially true for the busty among us, as she points out in the article.) See also, Grayson Perry’s discussion of the suit in his Default Man article.
And, working in the arts, there’s a kind of non-professional professionalism required. You can’t turn up at a theatre education event in a lady suit without looking a little bit like a tool.
Meanwhile, back at my meeting, one of the highest status dudes at this majority dude meeting was in shorts and a t-shirt. You can bet he wasn’t worried about what to wear to a meeting to be sure he’d be seen as a valuable contributor to it.
This all reminds me of the metric that Caitlin Moran uses for determining if something is sexist or not. It is: Are the boys worrying about this? Do the boys have to do this, too? And I think the answer is no. No, no, they are not. I can almost guarantee you that not one of the men at that meeting walked away from it wondering if maybe a new hairstyle would get him some more respect.
I’d forgotten what this sort of meeting could be like. Most of the education meetings I attend are gender imbalanced the other way, that is, mostly women with an occasional man. I don’t worry about whether my sweater was the wrong choice after those meetings because I am (usually) heard and recognized and given equal weight and status as the other educators. So it occurred to me, after my thought experiment in which I showed up with a different hairstyle and different clothes, the right sweater probably wouldn’t have made a stitch of difference. Probably, simply by showing up female, I would have had the same experience, no matter what I was wearing.
PS – If you haven’t seen this yet. . it definitely feels like a meeting. Famous Quotes, the Way a Woman Would Have to Say Them During a Meeting
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