As I was discussing bench-friendly hair the other day (currently, I've got piles of pins all in it, holding it back. It may look a little silly, but it's really comfy), several commenters wondered why I didn't just put on a baseball cap or a hairnet and call it a day (we do have to wear the hairnets to do animal behavior work, actually, cleanliness FTW!).
The issue is, aside from looking really silly in baseball caps (and I do), I actually worry that I'll look really unprofessional. "NONSENSE!" Cry my commenters! Wear what you like! You're in academia and you could wear Hawaiian shirts with holey sweatpants in to work every day and no one would care (as long as it's EH&S compliant!) because academia is about what you DO, not what you look like!
And that may be true...if you're a guy. But I have noticed a double standard here.
Everyone talks about that guy, the old one. He's big in the field and he's constantly sought after at conferences. He's got an unkempt beard and does indeed wear a Hawaiian shirt and holey pants and sometimes an old jacket. To conferences. All the time. Because he's a SCIENTIST and he is above such things as cleanliness and matching.
And that's great! That's fine for him. I wish that we could all wear what we wanted and call it a day. But...I've never seen anyone talk about big women in the field like this. And I have NEVER seen a top woman at a scientific conference dressed casually. Oh sure, she'll be more casual than a full business suit. But there is usually a jacket or nice sweater over a nice top, a skirt or a nice pair of pants (or at least very well pressed jeans), and nice (or if orthopedic, clean) shoes. I have seen some women more casually dressed (usually hiking wear), but they are much, MUCH fewer and far between than the number of casually dressed men.
This goes for conferences, but it also goes for labs. In grad school, it seemed that it was no-holds-barred. I wore my holey jeans and I see grad students of all gender identities wearing them here. But when I went into post-doc...well I don't wear t shirts anymore. When I do, I feel awkward and like I'm not dressed appropriately. I never see other female postdocs wearing t shirts either (except on weekends). It's nicer jeans (at least, usually slacks), nice sweaters or blazers, nice tops, nice flats, and one of those pieces of jewelery from Ann Taylor Loft that it seems everyone owns but me, which are designed to make outfits look more dressy.
In contrast, male postdocs who dress nicely are few and far between (though there is ONE very snappy dresser around here who's got some serious STYLE). Most male postdocs here appear to wear exactly what they wore as grad students: cargo pants or jeans and t shirts. Maybe a polo shirt. If there's an important meeting, a button down shirt.
You end up with a dichotomy that looks like this, with very little that falls between:
(All the men's stuff is from Old Navy, all the women's from Ann Taylor Loft. I have seen every single one of these at work, with the exception of that blazer that is orange, but I think that's because it is orange)
And that's just in the day to day! At conferences it gets worse. Men will stick with the button down shirt, while women feel forced to pull out the pencil skirts and heels and makeup and other things.
I say "feel forced", because I really DO feel forced. I don't mind dressing up really (ideally, I'd have a closet like a cartoon character's, exactly the same thing on dozens of different hangers, but I probably wouldn't really care what it was, as long as I was warm enough and could do bench work in it), but now, I feel like I don't fit in if I don't. Further, I worry that people will not take me SERIOUSLY if I don't.
When you reach the postdoc (and further, I imagine), you start to want to be taken seriously, whether it's as a member of your field or in front of the classroom. And at my particular stage, this comes with a challenge, I look as young as (and often AM as young as or younger than) some of the grad students I work with, and I look only a little older than the undergrads I teach. So do the guys (most of them). But while the guys just hop up in front of the class, and get taken seriously...I feel like I have to look nicer. Or I just won't get respected. I hear this from a lot of other women in my field. We feel like we have to dress "appropriately", or students, etc, won't take us seriously.
This double standard bothers me, because it's evidence of some of the deep sexism in our society. Women are required to look like, to "take care of" themselves, to look "appropriate" and "professional". Men, especially in academia, are seen as professional regardless of what they are wearing. In science, success and professionalism are supposed to be the result of what you DO. Not how you look. But it appears, at least to me, that this is only really true for men. For women, no matter what you DO, there's also an element of how you LOOK.
So while I need to keep my hair back to work at the bench, I think a pile of (somewhat artfully) placed pins is more "professional" looking than a baseball cap. Why don't I flout the norm and just go with the hat? I feel like I haven't achieved enough to be taken seriously that way, like I have to combine what I've done and the way I look to be taken as a professional.
Maybe it's just me. Is it just me? If you think it is, feel free to excoriate me in the comments.