The following guest post addresses a particular woman’s issue that most men probably spend little time thinking about: what to wear. I know I have a couple of close WomenOfScience friends who I discuss my wardrobe choices with for teaching, going to conferences, or going on an interview. More on this in future posts.
As a woman and a scientist, finding the right balance between my masculine side and feminine side is no different from anyone else. However, the balance I choose to display can significantly influence others’ perceptions of both me and my work. As a student, postdoc, and assistant professor, I felt that I had to work hard to fit in with the boys. My uniform was jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. Make-up was anathema. More importantly, when I had children I took the minimum time off and did not take advantage of extensions of my tenure clock. I was certain that any childbearing-related exemptions I asked for would be viewed as a weakness.
As a professor with tenure, I now feel that I am freer to be myself. Some days that means high heels and makeup. Some days it means announcing that I am leaving early for child-care duties. My perception of freedom does not come from a change I see in society, but rather because I now have power. I do wonder, though, whether societal expectations of what a scientist should look like and act like have broadened. A recent conflict that played out on LinkedIn suggests that women who display stereotypically female outsides get judged as delegitimize scientists.
This article from The Daily Dot summarizes the events well, and I won’t try and repeat them. It is disheartening to see people conclude that an attractive, well-groomed woman is not a “real” engineer. I believe we should take this opportunity to discuss diversity with our trainees and explore our own openness to talent that doesn’t come in the expected package. I think each person needs to make up their own mind about how to respond to prejudice; I’m not sure I would know how to advise a female trainee about how to present herself. It is essential that trainees have the information they need to make self-presentation decisions, however, and if we don’t tell them, who will?
Do you feel that you could not wear or look how you wanted because you are a WomanOfScience? Does it matter what field of science you are in? What subfield? Theory vs. experiment? Comment or guest post.