I need to share a recent encounter I had with an older female professor in my field whom I had never met before at the conference I just attended. I was approached by her and was first complemented on how she enjoyed my talk and we briefly discussed how the whole “women in science” issue. I am not even a hardcore feminist and usually don’t give it much thought but it was interesting to discuss at the time. The conversation then took a turn for the awkward and, in my opinion, somewhat appalling.
After telling me that I had reminded her of herself when she was my age because of being driven and focused, I took it as complementary and thanked her for the kind words. She then proceeded to tell me that I also reminded her of herself when she was younger because of the way I dressed. Finding this a bit odd, I asked her too explain. She elaborated on the fact that she used to “dress fashionable” and used to like wearing short skirts and cute outfits. However, she felt it necessary to warn me that I shouldn’t dress as “sexy” as I do because no man is ever going to take me seriously in this field, especially regarding the dress I wore during my presentation. They apparently are not able to control themselves when a woman is giving a presentation in something that is remotely flattering on their figure. Therefore, it is up to me to “tone it down”.
Now maybe I am overreacting, but I felt two underlying messages emitted from this conversation:  I dress like a skank and it needed to be brought to my attention by complete stranger.  I should take it upon myself to change my appearance because men are disgusting pigs.
Allow me to clarify and defend my choice of wardrobe. For my presentation, I wore a neutral-colored, tailored dress that was form-fitting, but went down to my knees and by no means showed any sort of chest exposure. To me, it was my “business-formal” dress and it would be my choice to wear it to an interview or any other professional encounter. I realize there is a time and a place for dressing certain ways but I feel like I am tuned-in enough to the modern world to know what is appropriate and what is not.
Upon hearing her unload upon me that basically no one was paying attention to my presentation or cared about what I had to say due to the apparent massive erections in the audience, I was a bit taken aback by the unsolicited comment. And as I sat there trying to understand the point she was trying to make, I grew more and more disgusted with what she had to say.
Yes, I realize there is probably some truth to the statement, unfortunately. Yes, some men are repulsive who have issues with strong, independent women making their place in the world. But I would like to think we are at point in history where women can feel comfortable pursuing what they are interested in, whether they are at some sort of minority or not.
It actually wasn’t the “men are detestable creatures” message that horrified me though. It was the fact that she felt it necessary to tell me that she thinks I should feel like it is my fault if I were to be judged by another person for the way that I was dressing. While I’m sure her intentions were genuine, I couldn’t help but stew about the actual interpretation of the words. So I am supposed to submit myself to the prejudices placed upon women while I was just trying to look presentable to a general audience? Doesn’t that just propel the problem and continue to hide any sort of statement that a strong woman is trying to make? I am supposed to cover up myself and change who I am because of somebody else’s pervertedness? The more I thought about it, the more infuriated I became.
It was then that I thought to myself, WWBD? (What would Beyonce do?) I think it is fair to say that if she were approached with words such as those that I received, there would be zero tolerance of submitting herself to changing who she has worked hard to become just because there are distasteful (and probably innately jealous) people who feel the need to make people feel bad about themselves. I am pretty sure that it would only further encourage her to walk out to her next presentation with more pride, bathing in the hate and giving zero thought to insecure people.
I’m with her–if you got it, flaunt it. Boy or girl. Be proud of who you are and if people are going to judge you, that is their problem. Don’t make it yours. They are the ones sulking with sour faces in the background. Embrace who you are. Haters are going to hate, but the more you fall under their insecure outlook on the life, the more empowered they become.
Okay maybe a bit over-the-top, but hear me out. If everyone is so gung-ho on getting women into the tenure track positions and making their place in the world of science, stop telling the one’s who actually show a shard of confidence that they are never going to get anywhere in life for trying to be who they are. YOU ARE THE FREAKING PROBLEM, not me. And if you can’t listen to what I have to say because you can’t focus on anything but my appearance, then you are the one with issues. So if you are a female in the field of science (or a female in any field for that matter), please never hesitate to do what you love in whatever appearance you feel comfortable in presenting yourself. Don’t ever for a second get to thinking that you need to change for somebody else. Don’t ever let them think they are the ones who are “irreplaceable.”