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Don't Be That Dude
September 30, 2013 5:53 PM   Subscribe

Don't Be That Dude: Handy Tips for the Male Academic.
posted by goatdog (105 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
A good list (and a nice companion piece to the previous post!). I particularly liked the last one: "Finally, if you do all of the above, don’t expect a cookie. Your efforts may go unacknowledged or even unrecognized much of the time. Keep at it anyway, because you’re not out to get special recognition. You’re doing it because it’s the decent thing to do."
posted by languagehat at 6:01 PM on September 30, 2013 [24 favorites]


Volunteer when someone asks for a note-taker, coffee-run gopher, or lunch order-taker at your next meeting. Don’t let this task fall to women, even if they tend to volunteer (we’re socially conditioned to do so).

Well put. I'm not an academic but I do a lot of volunteering, and it's annoying how often we all tend to fall into the expected gender roles.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:03 PM on September 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is good. I wish it had focused a bit more clearly on gendered power dynamics, especially on how to interact with women students and how to manage gendered interactions in the classroom, but that would probably mean getting a lot more discipline-specific (just as some of the other bits that the article did include makes it very clear it's written primarily from experience with the male-dominated parts of the sciences).
posted by RogerB at 6:05 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ooo, yeah, #19 "but this happens to men, too!" already came up in the (my) previous post, and in the comments at the dating advice for feminist men link.
posted by eviemath at 6:14 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


A lot of this can apply to high school faculties and administrations as well, in my experience.
posted by Groundhog Week at 6:20 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Volunteer when someone asks for a note-taker, coffee-run gopher, or lunch order-taker at your next meeting. Don’t let this task fall to women, even if they tend to volunteer (we’re socially conditioned to do so).

I just want to paste this blog all over.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:23 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Volunteer when someone asks for a note-taker, coffee-run gopher, or lunch order-taker at your next meeting. Don’t let this task fall to women, even if they tend to volunteer (we’re socially conditioned to do so).

Yes. Please. Thank you. Signed, one of the small cadre of (all female) graduate students that do all the little un-noticed jobs that keep the department functioning.
posted by pemberkins at 6:30 PM on September 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


I really love these point-by-point feminist guides and wish I'd read stuff like this when I was younger and dumber. Being a man who's always wanted to overthrow the patriarchy, but who was raised so steeped in privilege that it can be hard to know what's right, this kind of thing is seriously very helpful to me in a practical sense.
posted by rikschell at 6:34 PM on September 30, 2013 [18 favorites]


10. [...] In large lectures, use floating mics, rather than mic stands, to encourage women to comment (this works!).

I wish this had had a link associated with it, because it's interesting! Anyone know any more about this?
posted by jinjo at 6:36 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree with the second half of #2 ("Similarly, don’t tell someone they don’t look like a scientist/professor/academic, that they look too young, or they should smile."), but I'm not entirely sure about the universality of the first half - it is entirely possible for both male and female academics to appear unprofessional or inappropriate, and if you're in a supervisory position it may be part of your job to address that with them regardless of their gender or yours.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:36 PM on September 30, 2013


I know someone who for much of her career was the only woman in a department filled with conservative old men (which is still mostly male, but not quite so old). She decided to put her foot down and refuse to take notes at the faculty meeting, which lead to stand-off that lasted for a number of meetings until one of the men caved.

I'm always kind of torn about these lists because I think they're full of things (perhaps other than the coffee/note-taking thing) obvious to the sort of men who are going to read these lists. What's much more difficult is figuring out if/how to speak up. (I once witnessed a visitor say to a woman in the department "I'm so-and-so, I don't think we've met. Are you a member of the staff?" rather than just introducing himself without asking what her job was or asking in such a way that left open the possibility that a woman could, god forbid, be a faculty member. I had no idea if there was any appropriate action beyond scowling at sexist guy for the rest of the semester, so I settled for that.)
posted by hoyland at 6:47 PM on September 30, 2013


I agree with the second half of #2 ("Similarly, don’t tell someone they don’t look like a scientist/professor/academic, that they look too young, or they should smile."), but I'm not entirely sure about the universality of the first half - it is entirely possible for both male and female academics to appear unprofessional or inappropriate

I think the point is less "you shouldn't wear jeans to the president's parties" and more about "I thought you were the secretary/sophomore!"
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:56 PM on September 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


5. Make sure your department seminars, conference symposia, search committees, and panel discussions have a good gender balance. If you find that someone turns you down, ask them for recommendations for an alternative; don’t give up. Recognize that if there is a minority of women in your program or discipline, they may be disproportionately burdened with invitations to serve on committees or give talks. Be sensitive to this!

This is kind of a catch-22 with many underrerpresented groups.....and a really difficult one to overcome. See the work of the Clare Boothe Luce foundation as one of many efforts to improve gender balance in STEM.
posted by lalochezia at 6:56 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Underpants Monster: "t is entirely possible for both male and female academics to appear unprofessional or inappropriate, and if you're in a supervisory position it may be part of your job to address that with them regardless of their gender or yours."

Yes, but also, this is a place for a competent and professional HR department, especially in opposite-gender situations -- either to get advice on how to address it, or to ask HR to address it entirely.

And also, more colleges and grad schools should put on "dress for success" seminars where they invite in a Sephora person and a personal shopper at the local Nordstrom's (or equivalent) for the women and a suit store guy and a tailor for the men, in separate seminars, along with some accessible, respected folks working in the field (ideally both young and old), and an HR rep, and explain to people how to dress appropriately for work in the field. They bring outfits and show examples, answer questions, and the local merchants give out their cards and get a lot of business out of it. PEOPLE LOVE THESE THINGS. People have a lot of questions! And if you create a safe environment for them to ask, they will ask!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:12 PM on September 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


Most of these are very sensible. Some are already covered by government and institutional policies and regulations.

Regarding this one:
3. Don’t talk over your female colleagues. There is a lot of social conditioning that goes into how men and women communicate differently. You may not realize that you’re doing it, but if you find yourself interrupting women, or speaking over them, stop.

In the typical US academic context, if you don't talk over other people and interrupt conversation, you will be rarely heard and routinely ignored with most people not thinking twice about that. This applies if you are male or female, majority or minority group etc. etc. etc. I am a non-US male who had to learn the hard way that I had to talk over other people in US academia's discussion contexts if I am to be heard at all. I am from the UK where throughout school and university, people of all genders are taught to raise their hands and wait to be called upon if they have something to say in group discussion. (yes, even as adults in office and factory workplaces, you will see this!) . Many a time I found myself - even in small class groups of 10-20 people - politely and silently indicating with a raised hand that I would like to speak. More than half the time, I would be totally ignored - even if I'd had my hand up for 15 mins! - while both male and female Americans talked over each other and interrupted each other, and then the conversation moved on to something else. Ironically, the one time I encountered someone who was very frustrated by the same problem as me was a US Army veteran - because politely raising the hand to signal you would like to speak was what he was taught to do in the US military!
posted by Bwithh at 7:37 PM on September 30, 2013 [16 favorites]


Most things fall to women in my department because most of my department is female.

I cannot even imagine anyone- and I mean any PROFESSOR in any department- who would refer to male faculty as "Doctor Wong" or "Professor Jones" but refer to female faculty as "Ms Smith" or "Mrs Dhaliwal." I cannot even imagine tbat happening. Ever. I've never seen or heard that in the 32 years since I entered college. I've heard too many STUDENTS refer to female faculty as "Ms Smith" but those are the exact same students that insist on calling me "Mr Ethnomethodologist" even though I specifically tell them not to refer to me and us that way. We're not high school teachers.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:55 PM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I find these things especially tricky in our department, which was, until a couple of years ago, always all male. Then they hired a woman in a tenure-track position, and a woman in a three-year job, and two female postdocs. This brings the gender balance almost to even, but with the men all being full professors or similarly senior, and the women all being new hires or postdocs.

So this means gender and seniority are conflated, and women are expected to do all the tasks like fetching and carrying, and taking notes, plus have larger admin and teaching responsibilities, lower salaries, smaller offices, etc. Plus petty stuff like having to share mailboxes instead of having our own. But this is kind of fair, because seniority. So what scares me is that because gender is more easily perceived than seniority, a lot of these differences might end up being subconsciously associated with male/female instead of junior/senior, and perpetuate even if/when we do eventually get more senior female hires, or when our current women rise through the ranks.

I hope not, though. And articles like the linked one should be required reading to help make it so.
posted by lollusc at 7:58 PM on September 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I should clarify in case it's not obvious: I suspect that a lot of the gender discrimination bullshit in academia comes from a similar source - historically men were professors and women were secretaries, and even in more enlightened departments than ours, the women are on average more junior than the men. So this influences peoples' perceptions of expected roles unduly.
posted by lollusc at 8:00 PM on September 30, 2013


ethnomethodologist: Come to a School of Education. Granted, 80% of the people who do it are students (but they never screw up and call men anything other than Dr. or Professor), the other 15% are adjuncts, but we do get the occasional "Mrs. X" or "Miss X." as opposed to "Dr. X" both in and out of the department. I even was called by my first name tonight by some students after a presentation.
posted by oflinkey at 8:00 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I work in academia, in a field that is predominantly female (think nursing), and it's depressing how many of these points I recognize from our male faculty.

The worst is our director, who seems to think that the fact he works in a female-driven field and has friends in the feminist studies department gives him a pass to be a patronizing to the women in the department. He comments on our appearance, not in a creepy, sexual way, but in a "you are a woman so I should complement your outfit" way. He makes excuses for students with poor performance if they have small children ("so-and-so must be so overwhelmed with her two-year-old, you need to give her an extension on her paper"). (These excuses are rarely made for men with small children at home). And the absolute worst, for me, as an introverted woman who does not tend to speak out in meetings (and plenty of women in the department do), he'll call on women to give their opinions on a topic, and will not take "I don't have anything to add here" as an acceptable response. I've seen him harangue women in the hallways after meetings for not having an opinion on a given topic, and not in a #10, Be A Good Moderator way. It's more of a "I'm know you must have something to say, and I'm not going to let you sit silently" thing. Ugh.

I do tend to call out the issues that directly affect our students (see above) and whenever it's salary adjustment time, point out that while we do have a equitable gender split by faculty rank, the men earn more across the board. (You should hear some of the bullshit explanations I hear to hand-wave that one away every year.) I tend to let the interpersonal stuff slide though (like the clothes comments), because it's just too exhausting.
posted by charlie mccarthy at 8:03 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I even was called by my first name tonight by some students after a presentation.

That one can be tricky, though---I'm on the west coast, and using first names is very common. I wear jeans to class, too.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:03 PM on September 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


And also, more colleges and grad schools should put on "dress for success" seminars where they invite in a Sephora person and a personal shopper at the local Nordstrom's (or equivalent) for the women and a suit store guy and a tailor for the men...

But one of the best things about working in academia - whether a university or non-profit research - is that what is "professional" is much more flexible. Women don't have to wear make-up, and a neat blouse/shirt and skirt/trousers is just fine. (Actually, the DGS in my department was known for wearing a sweatshirt and yoga pants, but she had tenure and could read several languages including ancient Chinese, so who's going to tell her she had to dress up?)
posted by jb at 8:03 PM on September 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Women don't have to wear make-up, and a neat blouse/shirt and skirt/trousers is just fine.

I've heard female academics complain that, if they do wear make-up or dress too "feminine," they aren't taken seriously as academics. Of course, they also can't dress completely "unfeminine," because they get criticized for that, too.

It's pretty awful.
posted by asnider at 8:18 PM on September 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


That one can be tricky, though---I'm on the west coast, and using first names is very common. I wear jeans to class, too.

It does seem to be a regional thing. The notion of calling someone 'Dr X' or 'Professor X' feels really alien to me because it wasn't the norm where I went to college (on the west coast). If you were talking about someone, you used their last name (or their first name for people with a strong first name preference) and I seldom wrote emails formal enough for an honorific (and professors signed emails with their first name, initials or last name). My advisor actually writes 'You can call me Bob' on syllabi, though without universal success.

I think, though, that there are gendered pressures around names. I know a couple of women who migrated away from using diminutives while teaching--being Katherine rather than Katie gives them more authority, which I suspect isn't a thing men do. (That said, I came across as really young when I started grad school and did have thoughts like "I really wish English had a formal because I need to get some authority from somewhere.") But I also wonder if there's pressure on women to go to first names in places that don't do titles--the list of female professors who were referred to by last name only is quite short, but not empty. (When I was an undergrad, the only professors referred to by their full names were women.)
posted by hoyland at 8:20 PM on September 30, 2013


I've heard female academics complain that, if they do wear make-up or dress too "feminine," they aren't taken seriously as academics. Of course, they also can't dress completely "unfeminine," because they get criticized for that, too.

Also true for me when I was a tech writer. You can't win.
posted by immlass at 8:37 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


And also, more colleges and grad schools should put on "dress for success" seminars where they invite in a Sephora person and a personal shopper at the local Nordstrom's (or equivalent) for the women and a suit store guy and a tailor for the men, in separate seminars, along with some accessible, respected folks working in the field (ideally both young and old), and an HR rep, and explain to people how to dress appropriately for work in the field.

But in academia, accepted and respected folks with success in the field might well wear jeans and t-shirts. Or shorts and t-shirts when it's warm.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:40 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wore a suit when I interviewed for my postdoc and it was unusual enough that my labmates still remember it. It doesn't appear to have hurt me, but I've also heard snide things about people who were "too dressed up" when they gave a talk (not from my current labmates, but I heard this about a person wearing a totally normal suit, fwiw).

It's an interesting contrast with say, med school, which is the exact opposite: you need to wear a suit and it needs to be conservative (navy, black, or gray) -- if they get a whiff of rebellion, from for example a brightly-colored tie, you're in deep shit.

But that's all about men - women's fashion is even more fraught with potential pitfalls because their clothing is scrutinized so much more IMO.

Anyway, this article is great, particularly the point about making a point of inviting talented female speakers. One added way in which this plays out in my field is that students frequently get to have lunch with the speaker, so if you are inviting mostly men to a department where the graduate student body is 60% female, you're not sending a very empowering message to your female trainees.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:00 PM on September 30, 2013


> I know a couple of women who migrated away from using diminutives while teaching--being Katherine rather than Katie gives them more authority, which I suspect isn't a thing men do

Men absolutely do it, but I hypothesize that it just occurs earlier. I was Timmy throughout high school, but decided Tim would carry a bit more weight as I entered college and the part-time workforce. I have many friends—Billys and Joeys and Jamies and Tommys and what-have-you—who similarly transitioned at some point during or immediately-after high school. Reflecting on people I knew at college, all the diminutivized names I can think of off the top of my head belonged to girls I knew.

I'm not sure what the takeaway is here. Do men want to seem more grown-up sooner? Are women secure enough about their maturity not to rely on their nicknames to convey it? Is it more socially-acceptable for women to have diminutive ("cute") names longer? All three? Something else?
posted by tmacdonald at 9:05 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"dress for success" seminars where they invite in a Sephora person and a personal shopper at the local Nordstrom's (or equivalent) for the women and a suit store guy and a tailor for the men, in separate seminars ... [to] explain to people how to dress appropriately

You're suggesting that universities hold explicitly gender-segregated seminars specifically to promote gendered clothing norms (including implicitly pressuring women to wear makeup)?

I mean, yes, sexist clothing norms do exist in the world of white-collar employment*, so I suppose it might be worth informing people about them in case they decide to go into that area, but a seminar like the one you suggest sounds more like an active endorsement than just an attempt to inform.

*and also pretty much everywhere else, of course
posted by polychora at 9:12 PM on September 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


jb: "But one of the best things about working in academia - whether a university or non-profit research - is that what is "professional" is much more flexible. Women don't have to wear make-up, and a neat blouse/shirt and skirt/trousers is just fine. "

Yes! Which is why there should be actual seminars to talk about this! You can buy blouses and trousers at stores too! People should have a chance to talk about what's normal and accepted and how to achieve that standard! Whether it's backwards ballcaps and cargo shorts or full-on suits, they shouldn't have to just guess. They should have the opportunity to learn what's expected and accepted, and then decide for themselves how to apply those standards -- or ignore them.

A lot of the pitfalls aren't around "wear a suit" but around things like "a blouse and skirt in natural fabrics, in colors found in nature, looks a lot more classy and monied than a polyester suit in a dye-factory color, even if the suit cost more." There are lots of class and money issues bound up in clothing that go beyond "wear shorts" or "wear a suit" that people shouldn't just have to GUESS at. People should have the opportunity to actually learn what their clothing is signalling, and make conscious decisions about it if they wish to do so. Women face twice as much judgment around these appearance issues, so they should have an opportunity to talk freely to women in their field and in HR who can help them decode the issues around clothing, and to professionals who help women find clothing (and makeup, and hair) that fits and flatters, so that they can go about those decisions as deliberately as any other decision. I don't know why we act like people should just inherently KNOW things about fashion, or should have to guess right without any instruction. It's a skill people can learn, and many people want to learn, and they should have the opportunity to do so in a non-judgmental fashion, and then pick and choose and ignore what they want.

And I mean, really, from a practical standpoint, a lot of women in academia -- not all of them, but a lot of them -- rejected fashiony girly things when they were teenagers and girls were "supposed" to be learning about those things, for both personal reasons and because of various cultural beliefs around what constitutes a "serious" female student. Adult women shouldn't be permanently barred from learning how to look good, or be forced to have to guess, because they were following a high-achievement narrative that meant they didn't do "girly" things in high school. A lot of women WANT to learn those things as adults and were prevented from it as teenagers. Many others would like it to die, but are glad they can at least learn how to decode it so they can know what rules they're breaking. Others would prefer just to ignore it. THOSE ARE ALL OKAY, but we should give people the option!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:13 PM on September 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


polychora: "You're suggesting that universities hold explicitly gender-segregated seminars specifically to promote gendered clothing norms (including implicitly pressuring women to wear makeup)? "

Mostly I assume dudes won't ask questions about how to know whether to dress right or left, and ladies won't ask questions about boob button placement, in a mixed-gender seminar. Also in my experience women want to know about makeup. (Actually in my experience men do too, but they usually learn by borrowing from the women in their lives. If I thought sending a Sephora rep to a men's seminar would result in any pickup whatsoever, I'd do it. But mostly men borrow zit concealer from the women in their lives and therefore often have concealer that does not match their skin tone at ALL because it's whatever their girlfriend uses to match HER skin tone.)

I am a lady person who does not actually wear make-up on the regular, but when I want makeup, I'm always relieved to be able to go to professionals and say, "I want to look natural, but good for pictures, show me." I mean, that's what professionals are for, so that I do not have to learn things about make-up. When I need to do that thing, there are people who can show me how. I don't have to pretend that just because I'm a lady person, I know how make-up works. I don't. But there are people who do and they will demonstrate on my face and teach me! And I can say, "yeah, I'm not going to do that, I'm afraid of poking my eye" and they will say, "Okay, let's try this intead."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:20 PM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I work with academics,and my rule of thumb is that I always use the most formal mode of address until invited to do otherwise. (Even in German, Frau Dr. Professor!)

And yes, academics generally have a lot more freedom to be casual in dress; nobody's expecting corporate dress outside of of, say law school or an MBA program. I just meant that it's difficult to issue a blanket statement that absolutely anything goes, with no exceptions ever.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:21 PM on September 30, 2013


But one of the best things about working in academia - whether a university or non-profit research - is that what is "professional" is much more flexible

Visit a Math or Computer Sci department some time, consider yourself lucky that the people are even wearing pants.
posted by thewalrus at 9:39 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes! Which is why there should be actual seminars to talk about this!

If there should be seminars about anything associated with work clothing, they should be seminars about why we ought not judge workers by anything but their work product and ability to treat others professionally, and about the piles of hellfire and damnation that will fall on any university employee that does so.

Adult women shouldn't be permanently barred from learning how to look good

So. Many. Assumptions.

THOSE ARE ALL OKAY, but we should give people the option!

We don't need seminars at the university to give people options that the market supplies in huge, gushing abundance.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:55 PM on September 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


Yes, but also, this is a place for a competent and professional HR department, especially in opposite-gender situations -- either to get advice on how to address it, or to ask HR to address it entirely.
Having worked in academia for my entire adult life, it would *never* occur to me to try to engage HR in that sort of thing. Asking HR staff to try to figure out what appropriate dress is for junior academics in a particular context seems like an invitation for terribly misleading advice. For that matter, asking a department store clerk for advice seems like an equally disastrous choice. Coming from a field and region in which either a suit or a polo-shirt is more or less instant disqualification at a job talk, asking anyone who isn't in *exactly* the job you're pursuing for advice seems like a terrible idea.

For women, the tightrope is an order of magnitude narrower than it is for men. That sucks, and ought to be fought at every opportunity. But, it makes the question of what to say to female advisees a complicated one. I can't imagine ever commenting on a female colleagues' appearance without an explicit request for advice. But, I sure am glad to have received unasked-for advice from senior colleagues as a young, scruffy, male academic. That is *also* a problem, and a hard one to solve, except perhaps by populating the highest ranks with female mentors. (Which of course solves quite a few of the gender-specific problems in academia, but isn't easy to realize.)

Also, the "volunteer for female-identified chores" angle isn't one I'd explicitly considered before. Interesting. Think I'll be bringing a group get-well card to work tomorrow.
posted by eotvos at 9:56 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Adult women shouldn't be permanently barred from learning how to look good, or be forced to have to guess, because they were following a high-achievement narrative that meant they didn't do "girly" things in high school.

Do adult women really need help from their employer to find a makeup store, though?

It might very well be that my background is very different from other people's. My perspective certainly is. But as a female-bodied person who prefers to present in a very masculine way, is extremely uninterested in feminine fashion, and does not seek out information on it, I feel as if I would still have a more-than-reasonable starting point should I ever suddenly decide to go 100% femme. Which is unlikely.

Part of the reason that I have this information, too, is because of people in my life who hold out hope that I shall one day do that very thing and who have in the past pervasively pressured me to do it -- including using supposed workplace expectations as leverage, particularly at times when I've been unemployed or actively trying to advance in my career. As a result, it's not a comfortable subject for me and one that I personally hope that my future employers will continue to not bring up.

In a distant sort of way, I appreciate the issues that feminine women have with not feeling able to fully express themselves in the workplace -- but I'd prefer that they deal with that matter in a way that is still respectful of my similar set of problems.
posted by sparktinker at 10:08 PM on September 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobe: "Adult women shouldn't be permanently barred from learning how to look good

So. Many. Assumptions.
"

Look, I knew this is the sort of response I'd get, but the fact is that men and women both are judged on appearance, that looking neat and professional is not an inborn or inherent skill, that work clothing are HUGELY class-based signifiers, and that women are judged far more harshly on these measures than men. It's cruel to force people to GUESS what those judgments will be when we can actually make pretty clear statements about clothing signifiers largely due to the work of academics in these areas! I apologize for not using the perfect terminology to signify my disgust at women being forced to meet artificial beauty standards but the fact is that a) they are and b) THESE THINGS CAN BE LEARNED.

ROU_Xenophobe: "If there should be seminars about anything associated with work clothing, they should be seminars about why we ought not judge workers by anything but their work product and ability to treat others professionally, and about the piles of hellfire and damnation that will fall on any university employee that does so."

Yeah, that's awesome and all, but there's a difference between instructing your employees to only judge workers by their work product, and informing your students that they're likely to face a very different reality. A university department has not only employees who should act according to the highest ideals of humanity, but also students who have to go out and face a lot of fucking backwards pockets of human behavior. Refusing to arm your students to face the world they will actually encounter, in the name of idealism, is cruel and misguided. Telling them what they'll encounter in the world as it exists is not the same thing as endorsing the world as it exists. Clothing and body decoration have been important signifiers for all of human history. These are things that people understand! There is NO REASON to pretend like it's an unspeakable mystery that people who WANT TO LEARN should have to learn only through secret gnostic rituals, when in fact they can learn them in perfectly sensible HR seminars from trusted mentors in the same field who have faced the same issues of dress and perception.

Insisting that appearance doesn't matter and therefore mustn't be spoken of is its own form of sexism that prevents women from competing in an unfair marketplace, and those negative effects fall disproportionately on lower-class and lower-income women, women of color, and women with non-standard body types. We can ameliorate those effects by teaching VERY SMART PEOPLE the unspoken, but really very simple, norms that are used to judge their appearance. We can then trust those VERY SMART PEOPLE to make their own decisions about how they want to present themselves, whether they want to devote their VERY SMART BRAINS to organizations that insist they change their hair, and what sorts of social pressure they will exert about appearance as they become senior people in the field.

But pretending there's no norms? That's the kind of thing that perpetuates thoughtless and reflexive snobbery around those norms.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:09 PM on September 30, 2013 [16 favorites]


I think the objection is not that appearance doesn't matter - quite the opposite. But rather that many academic disciplines are informal on a day to day basis, and, say, dressing to the fashion standards of a business major while in a physics department is going to make you stick out like a sore thumb and get you funny looks.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:32 PM on September 30, 2013


Yes that is why you'd have the physics department teach physics majors how to dress for success in all situations physics majors are likely to encounter. Like, if I were an archaeologist, I'd definitely be interested in some experienced female archaeologists telling me good ways to manage menstruation on extended digs far from civilization. Take seasonale and not menstruate? Learn to love a diva cup? Buy washable pads and hire locals for laundry? They would KNOW THINGS about how I could dress for success in my field, in the classroom or field or lab or industry interviews, and presumably I could buy many of those preferred items at local merchants. Appropriate clothing is not just suits and pearls!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:39 PM on September 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I mean, a seminar isn't going to prevent you from breaking the norms for your workplace if you want to. You can always choose to wear something less conventional. However, it sucks to realize you have been accidentally breaking the norms and may have been suffering totally avoidable consequences for it the whole time. And again, women's clothing particularly is so varied and multivalent (especially with the whole "too sexy! too frumpy!" double bind going on) that it seems to be very easy for the intended effect to get lost in translation.

I agree that educating people so that they can retrain themselves to judge people based on factors other than clothing is a great idea as well, if somewhat quixotic. But even if it worked spectacularly, in the short term, the attendees of that class are not the ones who will be making hiring decisions in the next several years. So I think this is a "walk and chew gum" situation.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:57 PM on September 30, 2013


This is a pretty great list for any sort of professional work environment, but I'd definitely agree that the part about "not speaking over" someone is problematic, both in practice and in theory.

In practice, it's a load of crap because look...grown ups interrupt each other, it's part of debating or arguing or discussing just about anything short of "superior officer just gave you incontrovertible orders." I've worked in several fields, in many varied workplaces, both in offices dominated by male employees and ones (twice in fact) dominated by female employees. Everyone just needs to get better at this, and how to do it without being an asshole. Otherwise, guess what, conversations go nowhere and the loudest person just always gets the last word.

In theory, it's offensive because dude you just presumed that women are soft spoken and won't interrupt other people. Seriously? This isn't true of any of my female friends and hasn't been true of the vast majority of my female coworkers, ever. This is more of a cultural thing I think, like it's often an issue with folks from other countries working in predominantly American workplaces. I feel like painting all women with this particular brush is a little silly and outdated at this point. Just my two cents of course, and yes, obviously, as a dude, I don't know what it's like to be a woman (and maybe all the ones I know are just really direct, forward, self-actualized people because I like those kinds of people).
posted by trackofalljades at 11:14 PM on September 30, 2013


Coming from a field and region in which either a suit or a polo-shirt is more or less instant disqualification at a job talk

This is a thorny issue for software developers. When I give interviews I try not to notice what the candidate is wearing (I might draw a line at biking spandex). They're dressing to impress, but they don't know if I want to see them in a tie, or if a tie means I won't take them seriously because I'm some cowboy.

The standard advice for someone looking for a job ends up being something like, dress nice and don't wear jeans, but don't wear a tie either. The interviewer should be unsure if you're dressing up for the interview or if your casual look is kind of square. It's silly.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:18 PM on September 30, 2013


That one can be tricky, though---I'm on the west coast, and using first names is very common. I wear jeans to class, too.

I just introduced the university president by first name to a room of students last week. He's often seen in jeans and high tops. West coast canada university
posted by chapps at 11:20 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Longish thread about programmer interviews, with some contradictory answers.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:29 PM on September 30, 2013


So on the one hand, I'm just now learning how to dress sort of semi-middle class, but on the other hand the idea that it is appropriate for employers to require (or even strongly encourage) employees to attend charm school lessons is so powerfully anathema to me that I would almost certainly resent every single second. This despite the fact that I'd rather enjoy clear how-to-dress advice in nearly any other context.

why yes i am from the west coast.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:42 PM on September 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


And again, women's clothing particularly is so varied and multivalent (especially with the whole "too sexy! too frumpy!" double bind going on) that it seems to be very easy for the intended effect to get lost in translation.

The thing about this is, often times the standards are sufficiently amorphous that there is no guaranteed right answer. In that sort of environment, there's a point where you have to strategically withdraw from information. Being exposed to the subject over and over again -- particularly by your own employer, who is kind of not a neutral party -- can then erode your confidence and your relationship with your profession. Speaking from experience on that point.

Now, probably there are some people who don't have that set of issues, or for whom the process of attempting to discern guidelines is enough to reassure them, even if the guidelines are contradictory -- but given that you never know who it's a problem for and given that the information is pervasively available for anyone who is interested, it somehow seems like something that most employers can safely stay out of.
posted by sparktinker at 11:56 PM on September 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


(Where by pervasively available I mean, approximately, that even if zombies ate the Internet tomorrow I could probably slip into the grocery store and get me four or five magazines on the subject, while dodging the folks who are stabbing each other over the canned goods.)
posted by sparktinker at 12:01 AM on October 1, 2013


this list reinforces negative stereotypes - it pays to be careful with associations of opposition if one makes claims of exception: the subtext implies women are deficient in power-structures where their overt control has not yet risen to the power of contemporaries (the measures suggested by the author would likely be seen as a coddling crutch at best, sexist bigotry at worst)

how many have just been trying to function when someone interjects because they don't think something is appropriate for you to do because you are a woman? do you think it really matters whether they have strong stereotypical notions themselves or if they are trying to correct for other people's (or both)? The visceral reaction is the same: Mind your own business.
posted by flyinghamster at 12:04 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Avoid .... wearing clothing, etc., that is sexually explicit or suggestive...

That advice boggles my mind slightly.
posted by Segundus at 1:10 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Slightly off-topic, but this is something I found rather strange. In hospitals here (in Singapore), I noticed that women doctors were always referred to by their first name (Dr. Anita, Dr. Jane etc...), but men doctors were referred to by their last names (Dr. Wong, Dr. Singh etc...).

When I first encountered this (fairly recently, because specialist doctors in hospitals were mostly men when I was a child, and it's only in the last ~10 years I've encountered a noticeable number of women specialists), I thought it was really weird. Anyone else encounter this phenomenon?
posted by Alnedra at 3:05 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


And again, women's clothing particularly is so varied and multivalent (especially with the whole "too sexy! too frumpy!" double bind going on) that it seems to be very easy for the intended effect to get lost in translation.

Yeah, I feel like this would be really awkward if arranged by the university but probably a great thing if organized by graduate student committees for their own peers. I mean, the sheer number of panicked AskMes about what to wear indicate that in fact a lot of young academics in a lot of departments are concerned about what to wear professionally, and if your department lacks women (especially younger women) that you can use as a template-- well, this kind of thing could be helpful in filling a need.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:10 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


(the measures suggested by the author would likely be seen as a coddling crutch at best, sexist bigotry at worst)

By who? I'm a woman in academia, and I don't see suggestions like "Learn about benevolent sexism" or "Don’t refuse to go through doors opened by women, insist on carrying their field equipment, or otherwise reinforce stereotypes that women need special treatment because of our gender" as in any way coddling, sexist or bigoted.

I really like the suggestions to be aware of all the invisible work that get done around the department, the note-taking and coffee-fetching and celebration-organising, and how much of it tends to get done by women, and to volunteer to do some of these tasks. This is the kind of thing that is so often overlooked, but overlooking it means maintaining a status quo in which the burden disproportionately falls upon women.

I also appreciate that the author hasn't gone off onto the grumbly tangent that I probably would have done. My list would include things like "If a candidate asks for feedback after a job interview, the flattering qualities of her outfit were not what she had in mind," "If you ask one of your female PhD students to assist you with a research issue you're having because of her expertise, that 'expertise' better not be in working the photocopier" and "Do not draw up 'Top Ten Undergraduate Girls' lists for circulation around the department at the start of every academic year".
posted by Catseye at 3:11 AM on October 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


All campuses have a Title IX coordinator, many who are cheering about this article.

For those who are unfamiliar, Title IX is about gender equity in all educational programs, not just sports.
posted by childofTethys at 4:25 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


An article in Today's Guardian has an interview with the vice-Chancellor (effectively the head of the university since chancellorships are honorary in the UK) of the UK's Oxford Brookes University. She cites a conversation with a woman who suggests academia is "more sexist than the construction industry in which she works". For the record, women account for about 14% of university heads in the UK, with this second link trying to work out why that is.

I think the FPP article makes some good points and gives me plenty to think about. The main problem I have is that it is preaching to the choir in many ways. My experience is that there are plenty of unreconstructed types in UK HE and even getting them to the stage where some of the problems raised could be discussed is difficult. Female candidates taking notes? I've seen academics bring their kids in and dumped with female PhD students! This is good advice but quite possibly it is the tip of an iceberg.
posted by biffa at 4:47 AM on October 1, 2013


Don’t refuse to go through doors opened by women

Sigh, there are people who do that, aren't there?
posted by ersatz at 5:06 AM on October 1, 2013


Bwithh is definitely right -- Academics at my university tend to talk over each other all the time, men and women. One of the things I like about my Provost is that he is pretty good at recognizing raised hands in meetings and remembering what order people asked to speak and shutting down the interrupters. Despite all this, I try to not leap into the fray until a couple of women have spoken in an effort to lower the barrier. I also try to encourage women to speak in committees, although a lot f that depends on where I am sitting. I was on one committee where we deliberately "passed speaking around the table" partly to deal with an older male colleague who was well capable of talking on any subject for 75% of the meeting time....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:10 AM on October 1, 2013


a nice companion piece to the previous post!

Not as nice as to the subsequent post.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:32 AM on October 1, 2013


There is NO REASON to pretend like it's an unspeakable mystery that people who WANT TO LEARN should have to learn only through secret gnostic rituals, when in fact they can learn them in perfectly sensible HR seminars from trusted mentors in the same field who have faced the same issues of dress and perception.

It's the idea that secret gnostic rituals are the alternative to being shamed by the university itself that's wrong. People, and especially women, are constantly bombarded by efforts to get them to wear this or put that on or stop looking so fucking bad, you idiot. Any women who want to perform their gender in a more conforming way can just walk into Sephora or Nordstrom and say "I want to look professional-girly. Here's $500," and men can do likewise at a suit store or the menswear department of an upscale department store.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:46 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


teach physics majors how to dress for success in all situations physics majors are likely to encounter.

I can't even wrap my head about how badly this would be received by the physics grads and profs I know. I'm not sure how a $500 suit would help at midnight in an observatory or at a laser bench. Most profs at conferences are concerned with looking presentable, but being comfortable at the same time. They expect the same of their peers. They dress the same way in front of their classes. I can think of no place where dress, beyond an acceptable minimum would materially affect their careers.

In government or business, you might have a point. Management, legal and communications folks often expect a higher dress standard than common for science or tech staff. I am not at all convinced, however, that this would help with research or academic success.

Even aside from all that, this idea would be seen as condescending and a waste of resources. You would have to force the majority to go, on pain of penalty. Getting them to even come out to something clearly beneficial like job and retirement counseling is difficult.
posted by bonehead at 7:08 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Re the note-taking/menial tasks stuff, I run into this a bit at my job. I work with a lot of engineers, mostly men, and they have a bad habit of coming to meetings without printing the stuff I've sent them for the meeting (agendas, project info.) I make them share with me or with a colleague instead of volunteering to go print it out for them, and I do this specifically because I'm not their damn secretary, and it's their project we are discussing and their job to come to meetings prepared.

I don't say any of that, of course, just smile and say they might need to share with a colleague, and the incidence of forgetting has gone down.

But I definitely felt that female-role-be-nice pressure at the beginning to bustle around and take care of the poor helpless men who make at least twice what I do, not because they really think that, but because it's been the norm for so long.

Especially since I'm still fairly new at this job, I don't generally volunteer to take notes, arrange party stuff, or do things that might be coded as secretarial or traditionally feminine. I don't want to be a jerk, and I will help if asked, but I want it to be clear I don't regard those things as my primary responsibility and neither should anyone else.
posted by emjaybee at 7:12 AM on October 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


perfectly sensible HR seminars

Ah. Here is your problem.
posted by bonehead at 7:15 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


In government or business, you might have a point. Management, legal and communications folks often expect a higher dress standard than common for science or tech staff. I am not at all convinced, however, that this would help with research or academic success.

It's great that how one dresses for lectures/interviews doesn't matter in your department, but that has not been true in my experience either as a humanities master's student or working in an academic environment. I wouldn't put it in my top ten list of things-- in fact, I wish that clothing, especially that of female members of a department, was far less of a discussion topic or cause of reaction-- but it's not like it's a bad idea.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:19 AM on October 1, 2013


The comments above were particularly directed at science/engineering researchers, an environment I work in every day. Norms between sciences and the humanities may differ, I don't know, but I am speaking from a couple of decades of knowledge.

Women in science do face a huge number of problems, without doubt. I've seen subtle discrimination in promotion reviews and hiring panels for female applicants. Overdressing and "over-feminine" presentation is certainly one of those factors---"She's not very serious, is she?" It's a problem for men sometimes too, but women are judged much more harshly for it, in my opinion, by both genders. ROU_Xenophobe's suggestion above to include sensitivity training in HR hiring practices, and to watch for it in evaluations is a far more sensible option in my view. Go after the actual problem, not the social band-aid that the victim of the discrimination is forced to adopt.

Furthermore, in my experience, in the short term, this is much, much better handled one-on-one, by a trusted mentor, rather than as an institutionalized top-down exercise, which all to often devolve into farce.
posted by bonehead at 7:33 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Any women who want to perform their gender in a more conforming way can just walk into Sephora or Nordstrom and say "I want to look professional-girly. Here's $500," and men can do likewise at a suit store or the menswear department of an upscale department store.

. . . $500? How many grad students do you think have $500 to spend on clothes? And at Nordstrom you'd get maybe like 3 outfits for that! But more importantly, the point of a session like this is that clothing expectations for female academics are different from mainstream gender-conforming-clothing expectations, and you stand to lose a lot if you get them wrong in even fairly subtle ways. For example, those "secretary" blouses with the long floppy ties at the neck seem to be everywhere right now, and if you asked a saleswoman at Nordstom to dress you "professional-girly" that might well be one of the first things she'd think of. A fellow grad student, on the other hand, would be able to tell you why you might want to hold off on those until you're at least a bit established in your position. Yes, it really is that granular.

And I don't know about men, but women would flock to a session like this, given that (a) they know the stakes are higher for their clothing choices and (b) since there's so much more variation in female clothing, it's possible to get female clothing a lot . . . wronger. A man would have to wear a velour suit from the 70s to be as out of step as a woman could be if she picked the wrong thing from a perfectly respectable department store.

I can't even wrap my head about how badly this would be received by the physics grads and profs I know. I'm not sure how a $500 suit would help at midnight in an observatory or at a laser bench. Most profs at conferences are concerned with looking presentable, but being comfortable at the same time. They expect the same of their peers. They dress the same way in front of their classes. I can think of no place where dress, beyond an acceptable minimum would materially affect their careers.

But this is exactly what people are talking about. It definitely happens that men wear a suit somewhere they shouldn't have worn a suit and then get judged for it -- something like this would tell you not to wear a suit. And it can define "presentable" and the "acceptable minimum" -- does that include sandals in the summer? Jeans? Old jeans? This is less of an issue for men, because people are less willing to just dismiss men because of what they wear, but I'm sure some people would be interested.
posted by ostro at 7:40 AM on October 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


Thank you for posting this. So good, and applicable to many other settings.
posted by rcraniac at 7:47 AM on October 1, 2013


It's a sartorial tone argument in my view---if only she'd worn a prettier blouse (or maybe a less pretty one), she would have gotten tenure. If only she'd worn lipstick for her presentation, the others would have taken her more seriously. The problem is not her, not the blouse or the lipstick, it's the discrimination behind the expectation of gender roles.

I'm not talking about practical or safety concerns (which are thoroughly addressed---which pair of boots to wear into the field, for example) or basic civility (eg business casual to teach). I'm talking about discrimination. There should be no secret codes to avoid that. We need to tackle it head on, not mask it with seminars on how to dress for success.
posted by bonehead at 8:20 AM on October 1, 2013 [7 favorites]



-teach physics majors how to dress for success in all situations physics majors are likely to encounter.-

--I can't even wrap my head about how badly this would be received by the physics grads and profs I know. I'm not sure how a $500 suit would help at midnight in an observatory or at a laser bench. Most profs at conferences are concerned with looking presentable, but being comfortable at the same time. They expect the same of their peers. They dress the same way in front of their classes. I can think of no place where dress, beyond an acceptable minimum would materially affect their careers.--


Right, so the sessions for physics majors wouldn't focus on $500 suits, then, would they?

If the "situations physics majors are likely to encounter" are "looking presentable, but being comfortable at the same time," then doesn't it stand to reason that some kind of resource, whether it be an informal discussion, a workshop put on by the department, a web reference, or some kind of guidance would be welcomed by students or beginning faculty of either sex who are looking to figure out what that acceptable minimum is?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:26 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a sartorial tone argument in my view---if only she'd worn a prettier blouse (or maybe a less pretty one), she would have gotten tenure. If only she'd worn lipstick for her presentation, the others would have taken her more seriously. The problem is not her, not the blouse or the lipstick, it's the discrimination behind the expectation of gender roles.

This. Especially from students.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:46 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


We had an example of what I'm talking about just a few weeks ago. "Teaching Naked" is an example of why I think formalizing "acceptability" or "success" in dress is discrimination, and what university administrations will do with that structure.
posted by bonehead at 9:17 AM on October 1, 2013


The thing about this is, often times the standards are sufficiently amorphous that there is no guaranteed right answer

Totally 100% agree and I apologize thoroughly if it came off otherwise. I am with you that there's not really a universal way to win because womenswear is so over-interpreted.

I'm not talking about practical or safety concerns (which are thoroughly addressed---which pair of boots to wear into the field, for example) or basic civility (eg business casual to teach). I'm talking about discrimination. There should be no secret codes to avoid that. We need to tackle it head on, not mask it with seminars on how to dress for success.

I would argue that leading a seminar on this topic is actually tackling it head on. The fact is that there is actually a private (and sometimes idiosyncratic) code of interpreting dress, whether or not it is formalized and whether or not the people doing the interpreting realize it. It's much harder to fight something that goes completely unacknowledged, or that we're all pretending doesn't exist.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:23 AM on October 1, 2013


That sounds a lot more like the "here's sexism in dress and presentation and how to deal with it" thing a couple us suggested above, and a lot less like a consultation from a Nordstroms sales person though.
posted by bonehead at 9:29 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Do not draw up 'Top Ten Undergraduate Girls' lists for circulation around the department at the start of every academic year".

Jesus fuck did this happen in your department? I just dry-heaved.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:29 AM on October 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


bonehead, I think Eyebrows had a more typical business attire in mind with the Nordstrom's thing. I read her larger point as putting new trainees in touch with HR reps, women who have advanced farther in the field, and some retail places where you can get appropriate attire. The function would be to decode what the unwritten standards for the field are, and then decide whether or not you want to satisfy them. I think that goes hand in hand with educating people more formally about sexism in dress and presentation. I think we need to give people a clear picture of both what the playing field looks like right now and how it could look in the future with effort.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:36 AM on October 1, 2013


I'm with en forme de poire's interpretation of this, in part because my undergrad department was small and although there were female graduate students, we had no younger female professors at all. I think I actually overdressed for my first conference-- but thankfully I had that chance to observe dress codes at a national conference that happened to be held locally before I went to grad school. It's not at all that I think clothing should be something inculcated into the already-tempestuous hierarchy of professors; it's that I know many students are confused about how they are interpreted and what their field expects. For departments without many women, relying on mentors (even if you're comfortable enough with them to discuss clothing!) becomes less of a reliable path.

I think Nordstrom's just came up because Nordstrom's is one of the few places that offers relatively affordable office wear, tailoring, and reliable personal shoppers for women-- shorthand for a broader programme.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:42 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have no problem with mentoring or shadowing programs. Indeed, those been shown to work really well for advising young researchers, either as peer-mentoring or as old-to-young. However, formal dress codes, that is, involving HR in formally educating employees how to dress (and enforcing that as policy), historically have been a way to enshrine gender and religious norms, rather than the reverse.

Everyone struggles with what to wear to interviews and to their first conference, I get that. The university telling you what you may wear is swatting that problem with a 5-tonne drop press. At best, you all come out looking identically institutional, at worst, people lose essential parts of themselves. Futhermore, as I said above, this doesn't actually solve the real descrimination problem, but forces you to internalize it. And then the goalposts will just move somewhere else.

An employer should be promoting a discrimination-free workplace, and giving employees tools to do that. A formal gender-driven dress code---that's what any advice from HR is---does the opposite of that in my view, and is wide open to any number of abuses of power.
posted by bonehead at 10:50 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The alternative to not having guidelines about appropriate workplace attire is not necessarily a love-fest of gender-neutral self-expression. It can as easily be the case that there are still guidelines and that breaking them has consequences for your career - except now the guidelines are hidden or are subject to idiosyncratic interpretations.

I was talking here about providing information rather than enforcing a dress code, but as long as we're on that subject, I think you're also missing that HR policies about proper workplace attire can actually protect women from discrimination. If there is a clear, explicit policy to which a woman's clothing conforms, then this means that her employer cannot as easily blindside her with accusations of dressing inappropriately. And if the values of the institution are progressive, these values can be incorporated into the clothing policy such that gender-non-conforming men and women cannot be discriminated against on the basis of wearing clothing that is too "butch" or too "femme." If your workplace is casual and free-ranging, there is no reason your clothing policy cannot be written to reflect that either. But the alternative to making your policy explicit is often to make it implicit instead, which can be a minefield for people coming from different backgrounds.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:31 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I actually said Nordstrom because it was the only national department store I could think of and I was trying to come up with a broadly recognizable example. I guess also Macy's? I don't even know. Anyway the point is an actual place, with actual people, who can bring actual demonstration clothing.

My university actually did have seminars like this, and they were great. They were organized by the department's female faculty or by the student department group, and they typically invited a range of female faculty (different ages), a couple women in the field who worked in different sorts of industries, a (female) HR person from the university, and then a couple of people from the local department store (which I don't even remember the name of but it was like a Dillard's) and salons, always including a black salon to address the particulars of African-American hair. They served cookies and soda, and the generally the department store ladies would show a couple of "looks" and talk about how to do business casual for different body types, and then the faculty and industry people would talk about their experiences as women in the field and the students would ask questions, and the HR person would offer things like, "It's not legal for a dress code to tell you to do X" or "It's pretty typical for a dress code to demand Y in that industry" or "What seems like a neutral requirement in a dress code may, in fact, be racial or gender discrimination ..." They were informal, informational, non-coercive, widely-appreciated, and well-attended. (In fact the men got jealous they didn't have one, but they had a much harder time finding male faculty who wanted to talk about their clothing experiences, so their seminar ended up less cool when they put on their own.) We also got to hear a lot of war stories from the older female faculty who were among the first women on faculty and put up with SERIOUSLY CRAZY SHIT like being barred from campus dining establishments for wearing slacks!

I don't know why you're so convinced that a university sponsoring seminars for its students about "soft" aspects of jobs is doomed to be a coercive black-pantsuit-creating monster and that HR's goal is to stamp out individuality. That was simply not my experience. This was women helping women navigate potential minefields that women face in the area of clothing, and HR wanted the students to succeed as much as anyone else did!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:36 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


You are absolutely eliding the power relations involved here. One of the reasons why academia is appealing to academics is because it allows us some measure of freedom from the use of dress codes and expectations to enforce a whole slew of norms, most especially gender- and class-presentation norms.

Maybe if this were a critical class on how gender-and-other norms are enforced through clothing standards, instead of a charm-school-esque "here is your employer bringing in people to tell you how you should or shouldn't dress" session, perhaps then it would be reasonable. Other than that - well, leave that crap to the business world. If it has to happen anywhere, I mean.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:42 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, it's not okay for young women to voluntarily network with other, more-experienced women to talk about the ways in which unspoken gender norms surrounded dress may affect their work environment and employment because ... it's oppressive and sexist? Okay then.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:49 AM on October 1, 2013


Oh for the love of. When your employer makes you, or strongly suggests that you, attend a session telling you appropriate and inappropriate ways to dress, that is your employer telling you how to dress.

This is a bad thing.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:53 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


You are absolutely eliding the power relations involved here. One of the reasons why academia is appealing to academics is because it allows us some measure of freedom from the use of dress codes and expectations to enforce a whole slew of norms, most especially gender- and class-presentation norms.

Then have a dress code that reflects the values of your institution. Set the dress code collaboratively instead of hierarchically. Further, you can set non-coercive guidelines, explicitly recommending certain types of dress without forbidding others. But as another academic I can tell you that not having a dress code doesn't mean you're not still getting evaluated based on how you dress.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:14 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


It would be easy to misread "dress-for-sucess" sessions run by senoir staff as enforced behaviour, even if not official university policy, and thus creating a hostile work environment. Someone could misconstrue your intent, or just feel honestly excluded---we have a number of observant muslim employees for whom such an event would be difficult to attend, for example. I'd be pretty uncomfortable about this being run with departmental resouces, during working hours.

It's one reason my management stays as far away from these issues as they possibly can. Most professional soceity meetings happen off campus and/or after hours.
posted by bonehead at 12:27 PM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think I just reacted to the mention of Sephora and gender segregation because I've been around a lot of aggressively gender-neutral environments recently - but I think Eyebrows McGee has a good point that a majority of men and women would prefer a gender specific session, and most female academics I know do wear make-up. I just like how I was never expected to when I worked for them.

In an ideal world, however, we would do as ROU_Xenophobe has said and have seminars for employers to teach them how that they "ought not judge workers by anything but their work product and ability to treat others professionally". The current system is completely ridden with and actively supports gender and racial inequalities (eg. colours that look better with darker skin are "unprofessional", just like styles associated with certain cultures).

But, unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world, and all of us have to adapt to the world that we live in (even as we may rail against it in the hopes of changing it). Even from people who I think of as pretty progressive have told me that they would consider anyone with a visible tattoo or unusually coloured hair as lacking in good judgement and that they wouldn't be a good worker, which is utterly ridiculous, as anyone with half a brain and no inherent prejudices against tattoos or blue hair would realize. Besides, if Mrs Slocum could work in a posh shop with blue hair, why can't I?
posted by jb at 12:59 PM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


But as another academic I can tell you that not having a dress code doesn't mean you're not still getting evaluated based on how you dress.

Why not work on the problem of "getting evaluated based on how you dress"? Reducate the Judge Wapers and the Judge Judies. Go after the real problem, not reinforce the internalized lookism?
posted by bonehead at 12:59 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think you're right to bring up that people's dress is influenced by their religion and background, but a lot of HR departments have undergone training so that they can help to make sure that people do not feel excluded based on their cultural background. I was under the impression that this was in fact one of the main points of having an HR department.

And again, I think we should work on the problem of getting evaluated based on how you dress as well. However, I think that the idea that it's only a small segment of academia that needs to recalibrate their ideas of appropriate dress, as well as the idea that we can educate people about and eradicate this bias in a short enough time frame to be helpful for men and women who are entering the workforce now, to be unreasonably optimistic.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:05 PM on October 1, 2013


Relevant: Academic Men Explain Things to Me
posted by Yma at 1:42 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


en forme de poire: "But as another academic I can tell you that not having a dress code doesn't mean you're not still getting evaluated based on how you dress."

bonehead: "Why not work on the problem of "getting evaluated based on how you dress"? Reducate the Judge Wapers and the Judge Judies. Go after the real problem, not reinforce the internalized lookism?"

This would be wonderful if it were possible. It's expecting individuals to do a lot of heavy lifting on their own, however.

People sometimes post relationship questions on AskMe and get replies along the line of "You are the only person whose behavior and responses you can control; we can't give you advice for 'how do I make my partner change behavior', we can only give you advice for 'how can I feel different about my partner' or 'can I be OK with this, and if so, how'?"

I think this situation is similar: there's not much advice or insight one can offer in response to "How can I make society/my employer/potential partners stop judging me unreasonably on my appearance", but there's a fair bit that can be offered in response to "Given cultural setting X, what messages are the people around me likely to be picking up from my appearance? What aspects of this can I affect? How much attention do I want to pay to it? How much authority do I choose to give those people's opinions? Do I want to send the message 'I understand the rules and choose to play by them' or the message 'I understand the rules and still choose not to play by them'?"

Apologies for dragging out the Picasso cliche, but it helps to know the rules before you start breaking them. In my own experience, I know that I feel much stronger and more confident in situations where I understand the expectations but choose not to conform than I do in situations where I can't even figure out what the expectations are.
posted by Lexica at 2:57 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


i find these sort of lists a bit antagonistic and insulting. they massively overcomplicate what should be a very simple point: we all have to live together. first off, golden rule: you don't want to be dissed; so don't diss anyone else. second off, empathy: unless you understand someone's position, you're likely to botch your execution of the golden rule. third: never apologize for your testicles and/or vagina (or anything else you were born with).
posted by RTQP at 4:19 PM on October 1, 2013


In my years at school none of my professors with PhDs ever wanted to be called "Doctor", and always made a point of telling us so when they introduced themselves to the class for the first time. And most liked to go by their first name. I guess academic culture varies wildly in different places.
posted by Hoopo at 4:34 PM on October 1, 2013


i am imagining some poor flustered 32yo junior comp sci professor with strong aspergian tendencies and low social IQ blindly complimenting a woman's taste and being told-to viciously for it; how dare he bungle a compliment and incur the wrath of the entire female gender? this sort of thing is strictly for bars and parties
posted by RTQP at 4:54 PM on October 1, 2013


can we please have this discussion for once without the spectre of the computer programmer with asperger's made of straw and tears, seriously
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:01 PM on October 1, 2013 [19 favorites]


Besides which, your "just use your empathy!" point is the opposite of helpful for this poor imaginary straw professor... the entire purpose of lists like this is to alert people to aspects of the female experience they may not have picked up on.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:21 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


(If I may add - I would like it very much if those of us who actually are secretaries were not treated in crappy, sexist ways either. This conversation very often has a strong undercurrent of "it's so sad that women who are smart and accomplished get treated like secretaries, when only secretaries should be treated like stupid fluff-for-brains who made the Wrong Career Choices, because after all secretaries, right?" On the one hand, I understand that women faculty do not want to be mistaken for me, but on the other hand, class and various social privileges contour just who gets to be the professor and who the secretary, and it's not okay to have one class of woman as Abject Other so that the rest of the women can point to the abject and say 'don't treat me like one of those'".)
posted by Frowner at 5:44 PM on October 1, 2013 [31 favorites]


this blog post is really for the sake of a particular segment of women, as Frowner suggests. there do exist, on this here earth, "girly girls" that like having doors opened, style compliments, and other such gestures of male attention. not all women are like this, though. the respectful thing to do is to make an educated guess as to what the person across from you wants, and play along. you can't codify that into some universal male/female interaction chart.

it's easy to say "office behavior is different," but that's just a larger version of the same point... different offices have different standards. you feel the place out and play along. etc....
posted by RTQP at 5:54 PM on October 1, 2013


i guess i'm not really sure whose benefit this is for, except whoever wrote it. the people that could use it won't read it. give it another few decades for the crusty old tenured paternalists to die off, and being called "hon" in a condescending manner will become much rarer.
posted by RTQP at 6:14 PM on October 1, 2013


it's not okay to have one class of woman as Abject Other

Yeah, our admin staff (who as in many places are overworked women) are awesome and know all and see all and our department would collapse like a bunch of broccoli without them. I'm our friendly neighborhood director of undergraduate studies, so I know down to my fucking bones how much they carry my idiot self. It would be hard to overestimate how much I dread inadvertently pissing them off by making some dumbfuck decision that throws unneeded work at them.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:19 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you think this list only applies to crusty old tenured paternalists, you need to re-read it more carefully.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:19 PM on October 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


But one of the best things about working in academia - whether a university or non-profit research - is that what is "professional" is much more flexible

Visit a Math or Computer Sci department some time, consider yourself lucky that the people are even wearing pants.


Yeah, in the physics department where my husband works, educating people about dress standards would have to start with when and where to wear pants, and when it is acceptable to take all your clothes off in front of your colleagues or students.

They all work in a large open-plan (mixed gender) office, and get changed for the gym right there in public at lunch times. Sometimes if a phone call or important issue comes up while someone is getting changed, they will run off down the corridor to deal with it in their underpants. This tends to frighten new students a little.
posted by lollusc at 7:36 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my years at school none of my professors with PhDs ever wanted to be called "Doctor", and always made a point of telling us so when they introduced themselves to the class for the first time. And most liked to go by their first name.

Yeah, but there's a difference between 'don't use my title' and 'don't use the wrong title', which is the suggestion the article is making. My students (and colleagues of course) can call me Firstname or Dr Lastname, but not Miss/Mrs/Ms Lastname. I'll gently correct new students for that because how else are they to learn, but I'd be really pissed off if a colleague did it.
posted by Catseye at 1:30 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


My university actually did have seminars like this, and they were great. They were organized by the department's female faculty or by the student department group, and they typically invited a range of female faculty (different ages), a couple women in the field who worked in different sorts of industries, a (female) HR person from the university, and then a couple of people from the local department store (which I don't even remember the name of but it was like a Dillard's) and salons, always including a black salon to address the particulars of African-American hair. They served cookies and soda, and the generally the department store ladies would show a couple of "looks" and talk about how to do business casual for different body types, and then the faculty and industry people would talk about their experiences as women in the field and the students would ask questions

If I received an invitation to such an event at my university, I'd be off the walls angry, and I wouldn't be alone. I've lived my whole life dealing with the fucked-up demands of feminine presentation, and fuck it.

And how the hell did a post about behaviour tips for male academics somehow turn into a makeover thread for women, anyway?
posted by jokeefe at 7:35 AM on October 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


And how the hell did a post about behaviour tips for male academics somehow turn into a makeover thread for women, anyway?

I think it's my fault. I did one of those, "While I agree with the spirit behind item X, I think it's worded as an all-encompassing blanket statement that doesn't take enough situations into account" things.

I do think the item was poorly written, and I stand by my belief that while we're all trying to live together and get along and achieve common goals it isn't reasonable to turn up for work in an unwashed burlap feed sack and expect nobody to bat an eyelash because it's totes their problem. But I knew it would probably cause a derail and I probably would bite my tongue next time.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:55 AM on October 2, 2013


It wasn't a derail at all. Figuring out how to deal with gender presentation inequality is part of the deal. However, as the original post points out, benevolent sexism is a problem too:
We define benevolent sexism as a set of interrelated attitudes toward women that are sexist in terms of viewing women stereotypically and in restricted roles but that are subjectively positive in feeling tone (for the perceiver) and also tend to elicit behaviors typically categorized as prosocial (e.g., helping) or intimacy-seeking (e.g., self-disclosure) (Glick & Fiske, 1996, p. 491).

[Benevolent sexism is] a subjectively positive orientation of protection, idealization, and affection directed toward women that, like hostile sexism, serves to justify women’s subordinate status to men (Glick et al., 2000, p. 763).
In my view, we've been discussing intersection of presentation issues and an example of this phenomenon.
posted by bonehead at 8:53 AM on October 2, 2013


If I may add - I would like it very much if those of us who actually are secretaries were not treated in crappy, sexist ways either.

A thousand times yes. A good secretary is worth a half-dozen faculty. A bad secretary is also worth a half-dozen faculty, but in a rather less fortunate way. It's depressing how much work it takes to get really critical administrative people compensated at an appropriate level. So, yeah, treat the secretaries with respect as much as possible; they probably aren't getting paid enough for the insanity they have to navigate.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:14 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, in the physics department where my husband works, educating people about dress standards would have to start with when and where to wear pants, and when it is acceptable to take all your clothes off in front of your colleagues or students.

I know you were being facetious, but whether it's acceptable to change your shirt in the office is an actual quandary I have. My bike commuting former officemate did change his shirt in the office and I didn't find this objectionable, but it definitely wasn't something that it would have otherwise occured to me people might do. He's gone, but we're now up to three bike commuters in a five person office and, well, sometimes you turn up sweaty and sometimes you've even planned for this and have another shirt. I don't care if the woman changes her shirt in the office, but I'm willing to bet she's never going to. I think the other guy has (I think that's what he was doing, but I was facing the other way). And while changing your shirt in the office is eminently practical, it seems like a) it might not be considered acceptable and b) if only men feel able to do it, it's problematic. I was actually asking people about this this summer (how it came up, I don't know) and the one person who said "Of course, change your shirt" was a man in a math department. The women (who weren't in math) all looked a bit horrified at the idea of someone changing their shirt in the office. The other man (from the same department as the women) was opposed too, but didn't have to look of horror. Obviously my tiny survey can't really distinguish gender and department.
posted by hoyland at 2:34 PM on October 2, 2013


Not only is the woman probably not going to change her shirt in the office, it's weird to expect her to see her male co-workers partially undressed. Or her female co-workers, for that matter. They should go to the restroom if they're going to take their clothes off.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:38 PM on October 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


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