I want you to hear me, I don’t care what you see…

In my absence I picked up a whiff of a lot of chatter about what women scientists wear to work… or talk/write about wearing …. going on in the blogosphere.  I thought about this quite a bit, I fretted about it, I wrote out a blog post longhand because I didn’t have a computer handy while on vacation. I am sure many of the regular readers of this blog know what discussion I’m talking about so I’m not going to give you all the links- it involved the usual suspects.

And now I’m going to say something that is going to surprise you I’m sure- I am not going to talk about what female scientists wear to work, what is appropriate, what is inappropriate, how femininity should be or shouldn’t be displayed on the job (or whether it should be), whether women scientists have to dress like male counterparts etc. – on this blog. Period.

You see- the struggle I’m in daily in my own life and career is not about appearances, and it is not about symbolism or femininity- and it is not about who I am as a person, my likes and dislikes etc.  It is a struggle to be heard and taken seriously for my ideas, plain and simple. It is an absolute drive to get papers out and get grants out and funded. It is about training the students in my group – who right now happen to be all women- to be the best possible scientists, and teaching them how the system works.  It is about not having to repeat the same reasonable idea 20 or 30 times and have it laughed off by a group of colleagues for two or three YEARS, and then having a man mention it once and have it roundly applauded and implemented. It is about going to meetings and having the old perverts in the field look me in the eye and treat me like the reasonably intelligent scientist that I am. It is about making sure I have enough time with my daughters, so I can teach them that very important lesson that they can be whatever they want when they grow up- and so that they always know that they are more important than my job. It’s about making sure I stay married, and that I always fulfill my responsibilities to my aging parents and my sister.

So, what I wear to work- is utterly unimportant to me in the face of these issues that I deal with every single day. You all will have to decide for yourselves what are the important parts of your job, your career… your life- and what battles you want to fight.  For myself, I’ll stick with those in I list in the previous paragraph.

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24 thoughts on “I want you to hear me, I don’t care what you see…

  1. Yay, you’re back!

    “It is about not having to repeat the same reasonable idea 20 or 30 times and have it laughed off by a group of colleagues for two or three YEARS, and then having a man mention it once and have it roundly applauded and implemented”

    I think this is THE most annoying of them all, and it’s not restricted to science.

  2. Thanks so much for your post. I agree completely. Worrying about my wardrobe, outside of what can a wear that I don’t mind ruining, is a luxury I don’t have right now. Being taken seriously is a much bigger issue and unfortunately, I don’t think it has anything to do with wardrobe. If it did, it would be much easier to solve, right?

  3. Welcome back. And you came back with a shout. And this is brilliant, well done. These struggles are the same as anyone else, apart from the gender descrimination that unfortunately still rears its ugle head. But a definitive post. I was hoping for this.

  4. Oh yes, this is what needed saying – well done for saying it so clearly and concisely.

    I’ve realised that a lot of my emotional reaction to all this ‘look good in office’ stuff is the sense that it was just another layer of obligation on top of all the important stuff – and the trivial stuff – that we deal with.

  5. Funny that you should write this outstanding post right now – since I’ve been reading you, Zuska, and many of my other women scientist friends (and witnessing my supremely accomplished wife get blown off by fellow academics), I’ve been trying my own experiments (not really experiments but rather real-life observations to which I’ve become attuned after reading y’all.).

    The last one was at a meeting last week where I noticed at our opening reception a group of women academics next to the bar separate from the other groups of mostly men with one or maybe two women. I gently interrupted to introduce myself then spoke with a few about where they were, what they did, why they were here, etc., intentionally listening for 75-80% of the conversation rather than being the typical male ass who would descend upon such a group and hold forth on his greatness. Indeed, these women smoked me in terms of stature and experience and I did in fact have a great deal to learn from them (as I did for the rest of the workshop).

    Well, wouldn’t you know if, but along comes a gentleman obviously hoping to rescue these highly accomplished female academics from a man who was actually listening to them. After a few minutes of his blustering and chest-puffing, I turned back to the person with whom I was already having an engaging conversation and the gentleman took leave shortly thereafter.

    As DrugMonkey said in one of his more notable posts, gentlemen, it doesn’t hurt a bit to be “that guy.”

  6. Welcome back and what a great post!

    Abel, thanks for the link to DM’s “that guy” post. I hadn’t read it. Clearly I need to put some effort into being “that guy”.

  7. Wow, so many comments I hardly know where to start. Thanks for the welcome home and thank you all for listening- this was rolling around in my head for the last few days and it was just impossible for me to hold it in any longer.

    microbiologist xx- You are quite right- being taken seriously has absolutely nothing to do with what you wear. Better to focus on getting the best possible scientific training, putting out really awesome papers, and learning to speak up even when it is outside your comfort zone. If I had learned to speak up earlier in my career I think I might have been able to negotiate a few pitfalls better than I have done. Also- one more very important thing that will serve you well- Learn to deal effectively with all different kinds of people- you are going to see and meet them all in science- and being a quick study and knowing how to get things done will help you a lot…

    Cath- Never be afraid to speak up! I almost never spoke up as a grad student- but once I finished vet school something just snapped- and now I can’t be shut up. Maybe the other extreme.

    Academic- It is terrible to feel like you are invisible- I have felt this many times. And it’s odd- in person I’m one of the most extroverted people you will probably ever meet- so for me to feel like I’m not able to make myself heard is quite a frustrating feeling. You know though- I’m extremely fortunate to have one or two really, totally awesome collaborators who support me 200% – having these kinds of mentors can totally keep you going and give you the courage to deal with quite a lot of shit.

    Abel- Thank you so much. I left a longer comment over at your place already!

    Odyssey- If I recall there was quite a long comment thread on that post at Drugmonkey that was well worth reading as well! Thanks for your comment and the welcome home!

  8. Hear hear. Last year, I saw a female faculty member present part of one of her projects on a field day, and it was roundly laughed about by several men. Mind you, these were not male faculty members, but were visitors from a nearby company, but at least with a significant enough portion of older guys in the field, possibly less of a proportion of younger guys, it is a very real phenomenon. I can tell they were being sexist because they also had a good laugh about my sewing abilities as a guy – so what if I can run lab experiments, cook, AND sew? Since when has being domestically disabled been a positive quality in men? Oh, since forever, and we need to do something about that. I hope a lot of men read this blog and start thinking about their own family balances in the context of academia.

  9. Inoculated Mind-

    Really sad. And hey- DrMrA is as domestically gifted as I could ever be, and is an unbelievably great parent. I would never, ever disrespect his abilities in this regard. Slightly off topic- but I have male colleagues who have been told by their colleagues that they were ‘too family oriented’… in situations relating to promotion (or lack thereof)… so being open about one’s family life can sometimes hurt you regardless of your gender.

  10. You are so right, drdrA. I’ve been troubled by this as well, but not sure why or how to say it. You’ve hit the nail on the head, and really clarified the issue for me.

    This is one of the things I appreciate most about the blogosphere – there are so many voices and opinions that those of us coming up in the science world can look to to help us find the path that will work for us.

  11. acmegirl- I second your point- I also appreciate the many voices of the blogosphere- I value hearing many different opinions, and find it extremely useful that so many academics have made this a place for discussion on issues of science, scientific careerism, grantsmanship, work-life balance issues, and a whole lot more.

    And a second point- I may generally agree with some bloggers and not with others- but I always find it valuable and surprising that even in those blogs that I don’t agree with many times- there are plenty of opportunities to find important points and make me think differently about a particular issue. I find this enormously valuable.

  12. You know, I absolutely agree with you drdrA (which I frequently do, lol).

    But I feel like it’s all the same: I also have the same feeling about wanting to be heard and taken seriously, in the context of being heard DESPITE LOVING to care about my clothes, hair, handbag, etc.

    So there are two sides to the coin–and each of us feels it for these different reasons. And everybody gets screwed no matter which way they feel. That’s why regardless of whether we do or do not love clothes and shoes and getting our hair colored, we’re still all in the same boat. I dunno if I contributed anything useful to this conversation, but that’s where I’m coming from.

  13. Arlenna-

    Sure, of course. I’m just sayin’ for myself- I have a few battles I can fight effectively at any given time. And my goal in fighting these battles is to get what I want- and not to make a point. What I’m wearing while I’m doing the fighting shouldn’t matter either way…. you know… in my idealized utopia. ;-)

    In real life this is a whole lot more complicated.

  14. DrdrA,

    On the subject of dresses and fighting, you might be interested in popping over to my blog and look at a nice picture of a group of women. It took a while (busy bee with marking) but hope you like it.

  15. Pingback: Learn to USE your voice. « Blue Lab Coats

  16. Amen to the part about wanting to be heard.

    I guess the problem is that for some of us, deciding what to wear is a daily battle that is integrated with our self-esteem and expectations of whether we’ll be heard that day or not.

    But since no one has a solution, I have to agree, I’m tired of all the blogging about outfits and shoes.

    I am glad to say I found this post via Abel Pharmboy’s blogging about it, and I like the discussion it’s fueling about how enlightened men need to do their part to help. So keep up the good work!

  17. msphd-

    Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your comment.

    And as for this:

    ‘I guess the problem is that for some of us, deciding what to wear is a daily battle that is integrated with our self-esteem and expectations of whether we’ll be heard that day or not.’

    Oh no. OH NO!!! Your self-esteem should be reflected by who you are as a person- and shouldn’t have one iota to do with what you are wearing. The most beautiful people that I know, and am fortunate to call my friends, are not the best dressed. The most effective people that I know, are not the best dressed… but they have the finest character, the most guts, and they are loyal and persistent beyond belief in the face of tremendous difficulty.

    Beauty has little to do with external appearance in my book.

  18. I to thank you for this good post .I definitely liked every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked your web site to look at the latest stuff you post.

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