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But seriously...

So, I have a question for my female friends and female-presenting non-binary friends.
For those of us who present as 'feminine' in the more traditional sense (can be having longer hair, wearing skirts or other 'girly' clothing, being soft-spoken and so forth): do you find people are more ready to question your knowledge than they do that of women who are seen as less 'girly' in presentation? It was noticeable in my last academic jobs that my female colleagues with short hair who dressed in suits tended to be taken more seriously than the rest of us, and were less likely to be asked to undertake extra admin jobs and to do emotional caretaking.
I'd be interested in hearing the experiences of others about this.

Skirt of the day: Blue-tiered the 2nd (as distinct from the beloved, much worn, fragile blue tiered the first.)


( 78 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 11th, 2016 03:03 pm (UTC)
I think there's a stereotypical view of what power looks like within each profession and organisation, and people signal how much power they have and how much they want by how closely they fit themselves to it. That's why once upon a time women wanted and took the right to wear trouser suits and short hair.

The good news: there is now a sartorial language for female power (at least for women involved with the British Establishment).

The bad news: it involves a particular style of stereotypically female clothing for the most part. The sharp suit can be a trouser suit, but is better as a skirt or dress. The elegant shoes are better with high heels. The hair need not be very long, but must be carefully styled and coloured. Both jewellery and makeup should be worn and should be on trend.

Dressing to that is a way of saying you are serious about your work. Dressing against it - whether by wearing comfortable trousers and short hair or floaty skirts and long unstyled hair - tells the opposite story. And if you are not a contender for power (promotion, next step, top job), you are overlooked and more open to exploitation.

That's my take on it anyway.

May. 11th, 2016 03:30 pm (UTC)
Indeed. But this is itself rooted in the cultural stereotypes, because it continues to code power as male or male-appearing (shorter hair, formal suits etc). SO while it benefits individual women, overall it isn't doing much to challenged the underlying problem, which is how we gender power, control, authority and status. And it normalises undermining and dismissing those of us who don't conform, so it underpins the wider stereotype, too. Women should not have to perform maleness to be treated as equals.
(no subject) - dorispossum - May. 11th, 2016 04:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - May. 11th, 2016 04:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dorispossum - May. 11th, 2016 06:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blairmacg - May. 12th, 2016 03:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - May. 12th, 2016 09:09 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dorispossum - May. 11th, 2016 04:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heleninwales - May. 11th, 2016 06:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dorispossum - May. 11th, 2016 06:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ms_cataclysm - May. 11th, 2016 04:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - May. 11th, 2016 05:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dorispossum - May. 11th, 2016 06:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - May. 12th, 2016 03:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dorispossum - May. 12th, 2016 04:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - swan_tower - May. 11th, 2016 06:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - al_zorra - May. 11th, 2016 08:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - May. 12th, 2016 09:12 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 11th, 2016 03:20 pm (UTC)
I have found that people are more ready to question my science and horror credentials when I'm in a dress, while simultaneously treating me more like a professional in my field, because at least I'm performing femininity.
May. 11th, 2016 03:31 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes! Though in my case it comes with a side dish of not taking my books too seriously because, well, girly women can't possibly have serious things to say in print, either.
May. 11th, 2016 03:32 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. Add age into the mix, and one becomes invisible/
May. 11th, 2016 04:10 pm (UTC)
Oh yes!
May. 11th, 2016 03:40 pm (UTC)
You'd be amazed (or perhaps not) at how many people seem to think that when I had _that- surgery at 21, it involved having my mouth widened and half my brain removed!
May. 11th, 2016 04:10 pm (UTC)
May. 11th, 2016 03:48 pm (UTC)
Candidates for the Richard Head Memorial Award are everywhere. There is no suit so sharp, no bob so sculpted that they will put off all attempts to offload girly chores on you but they do help.


Incidentally, John Molloy who wrote Dress for Success is still alive and has a blog

May. 11th, 2016 03:58 pm (UTC)
John Molloy's 2016 dress for success advice -it's all about colours and jackets
The rules for women in offices in companies where they are introducing a casual dress code are basically the same. The one difference is when they are forced to dress casually at work they usually have to spend considerably more because obviously expensive designer accessories become essential to a woman executive’s image.

While at one time the introduction of a casual dress code often killed women’s careers today that is not the case. You will notice that the president while making specific recommendations for the men he let the women define business casual for themselves. This indicates that he has thought long and hard about the subject. The female equivalent of the male suit is a jacket it says the wearer is competent and has authority. As a result if it is combined with appropriate garments it gives some women a visual advantage over men in a casual environment.

You may ask yourself why women aren’t considered casually dressed when wearing jackets. The answer is color. If a woman’s jacket is in a powerful feminine color, eg. red, maroon brown, tan, green or even yellow her dress is looked upon as casual by a majority of businessmen and women, This gives women while dressed casually the advantage of wearing a power garment..
May. 11th, 2016 03:52 pm (UTC)
I have noticed that women who dress in business suits and are more forceful (even to the point of rudeness) do get taken more seriously.
May. 11th, 2016 06:45 pm (UTC)
May. 11th, 2016 03:54 pm (UTC)
I am the least feminine-presenting of the women in my team but I don't think I get fewer questions than my women colleagues. I think we're all taken fairly seriously for our expertise.

I do notice that e.g. the monthly team lunch was taken over by another woman when I went on maternity leave, and the initiation of cards and other social stuff is usually by women. Those of my colleagues who actually visited me in hospital when I was sick were all women (though I did get nice messages from male and female colleagues alike).

We are a fairly long-lived team of IT support and development staff within a university IT department, most of us have been there >5 years, and we have a near-50% gender balance, so I think we are a bit of a unicorn, even within our wider department.
May. 11th, 2016 04:13 pm (UTC)
It's good that you are all taken seriously: I think being gender balanced goes a long way to helping this happen. I've never yet been in a gender-balanced workplace.
May. 11th, 2016 04:27 pm (UTC)
Not that I have noticed, although I don't think I present as particularly feminine on that spectrum - but I would say all the women in the workplace dress fairly similarly and there isn't anyone who dresses particularly smartly or wears obvious makeup, so it is hard to tell if they would be treated differently. What I don't know is whether this experience differs when you go up the ladder and the gender balance starts to shift away from being balanced, and whether, eg, turning up in shorts would be frowned upon for a senior woman in a way it wouldn't be for a senior man. I have noticed that female students/early career researchers who visit tend to dress a bit more smartly than the men, but I don't know if that's because the men all default to shirt with buttons/trousers that are not jeans, and there isn't an equivalent default smart-casual outfit for women so I notice it more.
May. 11th, 2016 04:44 pm (UTC)
I think the more gender-balanced a workplace is (assuming everyone has similar sorts of jobs, not 6 male bosses and 6 female secretaries), the better it is, in general. And at senior level my experience is that men get away with far more.
May. 11th, 2016 04:44 pm (UTC)
In the business world (such as it is in Silicon Valley, where we tend to dress down more than on the other coast), women with short hair who wear suits (or at least jackets, even the more feminine ones) are considered to be more professional. They are treated with more respect. Note that I have short hair and wear jackets to the office, and I have never been asked to get coffee or do any admin jobs. At my most recent job my boss asked me to take notes at the first team meeting I went to, and I politely turned him down (I suck at taking notes), even though I think he was asking me because I was the senior member of the team.
May. 11th, 2016 04:45 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you're treated with respect mist if the time. But the hair thing is not ideal and the assumption you'll take the notes.... Just no.
(no subject) - klwilliams - May. 11th, 2016 05:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 11th, 2016 05:24 pm (UTC)
At my job, we have two female senior managers who head different departments. One is more femme as you describe, and one (me) dresses more schlumfy-comfy, never wears makeup, and would never be described as "soft spoken."

I think they take the other manager more seriously on some topics. OTOH, she has been here longer than I have. OTOOH, I am certain my less-professional presentation doesn't work well with some of my boss's biases, but I work with that. I make up for it with straightforward, confident speech. There's a line I have to walk--if I raise my voice, it won't go so well--but I am not "soft spoken" and I throw data hard and fast and people listen to me.

(It helps that I am the expert on my department, and my boss is not interested in micromanaging. If I say "this is the [thing]," he knows this is the thing.)

The other manager and I work well as a team. She won't tackle some issues head-on, whereas I will just say what everyone is thinking. This gets the idea in the open, and then she often follows up with the softer approach and gets the solutions through.

As for emotional caretaking...I expect she does some of that. I wouldn't be in a position to see it. But I know I'm the go-to for when people in my company (not just my department!) are freaking out. I'm the one who explains how to approach problems with certain coworkers, how to phrase certain requests, so they will be heard and listened to. (Or pitfalls avoided.) I have tissues and chocolate in my office at all times.

But this might not be the case in a different office. I didn't take this role at my previous employer. As I say to my mother, "It says bad things about a place when I'm the socially ept one."
May. 11th, 2016 05:33 pm (UTC)
Adding: I work in publishing, so the proportion of women in the building is quite high. But ALL the editors are men and the head of the whole place (my boss) is a man.

Our editors all frequently exhibit behaviors that can be interpreted as (1) learned helplessness, (2) an expectation that others will do things for them, (3) passive-aggressiveness, (4) cluelessness about how things work. I often say about the editors, "Well, they don't understand that they need to do work. They're handicapped by a lifetime of being well-off white dudes."

The biggest example was when we called a meeting for people to discuss how to deal civilly with slobbiness in the shared kitchen, and only women showed up. Big surprise. (I avoid the problem by simply never using the kitchen. More trouble than it's worth.)
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - May. 11th, 2016 06:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 11th, 2016 05:26 pm (UTC)
Don't know what I think about this question. Here in Kuressaare, my work partner and are I both are always in trousers and variations of tee-shirts and blouses, depending on the activity, but then much of our work is with farmers. We do however frequently 'bully' one of the male members of a work group into taking notes. As Karen is usually the leader of project teams and I am THE TEACHER, we don't think much about not being taken seriously.

That said, Estonia lags frightfully behind other Nordic countries in the numbers of women in visible positions of authority. The run-up to choosing the next Estonian President will be interesting as one of the strongest candidates, Marina Kaljurand is currently Minister for Foreign Affairs. BUT, she is opposed by Siim Kallas who was earlier Prime Minister and a VP of the European Commission. The resolution of this is going to be very challenging.

May. 11th, 2016 06:47 pm (UTC)
This is one of those areas which is very different depending on culture, I think, both on how gender relations work and how they are expressed.
May. 11th, 2016 06:43 pm (UTC)
Just having boobs was enough for some to give less credit and more hassle when I was still activly working but engineering (component level fault finding and repair) may have changed in 20 years (not betting on it since dinosaurs can have long tails).
May. 11th, 2016 06:47 pm (UTC)
May. 11th, 2016 08:02 pm (UTC)
No, but I'm currently in a feminine-coded job (therapist - caretaking). Also, the division isn't between masculine/feminine, but between casual vs formal feminine (jeans/blouse vs suit or dress or skirt) and earth mother vs trendy/cheery (earth tones/conservative cuts vs brights/fashionable).

The only women who dress in a masculine manner are the cops, and they're in uniform so it's hard to separate masculine coding from uniform/gun. They're also in a completely different job from the therapists.
May. 12th, 2016 09:13 am (UTC)
Some jobs definitely have unwritten codes -- we joke about art teachers, here, but it is a thing, and it's about cultural expectations. And uniforms of course have very specific functions.
May. 11th, 2016 08:10 pm (UTC)
In my experience, presenting as 'girly' made no difference with men -- they often don't take anyone 'female' seriously, though always willing to grab thoughts, ideas and even terminology and research and present it as their own brilliant insights and work. But -- other women really do find it difficult to impossible to take feminine presenting females seriously -- and in many many cases deliberately won't do so. Anyone presenting as conventionally attractive is by definition, and in fact must be -- dumb. And, of course, can only sleep her way into any position that matters.

May. 11th, 2016 08:26 pm (UTC)
For what the ideal is these days in the U.S. for how high-powered $ucce$$ful women should look and dress in industries such as media, finance, banking and law -- and politics -- do a google image search for the just completed VERY $uce$$ful $even $ea$on televi$ion $erie$, The Good Wife. What Diane Lockhart, Alicia Florrick and the other women in the series wear in a single episode costs more than the average hourly paid worker makes in a couple months -- actually, probably more, considering a single pair of Alicia's signature ultra high (thank goodness that trend seems to have lowered, sometime around the 6th season -- which I noticed here too, on the streets -- and fewer young women hobbling about with foot boots after breaking bones from wearing such ricidulous foot gear) Christian Louboutin pumps, at the lowest price, runs $795, before tax.
(no subject) - al_zorra - May. 11th, 2016 08:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - May. 12th, 2016 09:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - al_zorra - May. 12th, 2016 03:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - May. 12th, 2016 05:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - May. 12th, 2016 09:14 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 12th, 2016 03:41 am (UTC)
Interesting reading through the comments here.

If I lump together all my work history, from late 80s to present, I'd say the degree to which my professional knowledge and ability was directly related to the *tailoring* of my clothing.

Long and/or full skirt and loose blouse = I must be the assistant
Fitted skirt, shirt, and jacket = I just might be the one in charge.

Note that when I say "fitted," I don't mean "tight" or fitted in a way that accentuated hips and breasts. It was instead the difference between clean lines and soft lines.

Until recently, I had very long hair. If it was pulled back, I was taken far more seriously than if it was left down. As if how I wore my hair indicated the organization of my thoughts.

Now... in professional martial arts settings, clothing isn't nearly as important as one's physical manner. Things like soft speaking, stepping back, or taking up a small amount of space were taken as deference to another's authority and/or rank. Straddling the ground, arms akimbo, and speaking firmly mattered more than what I wore.
May. 12th, 2016 09:16 am (UTC)
Oh, yes: this maps to my experience, too.
I am encouraged by all the women who speak well of the martial arts environment on this.
(no subject) - blairmacg - May. 12th, 2016 04:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
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