How feminine should I be?
Maybe I'm a little too fashion-conscious, but when I go to meetings I'm always faced with the same problem. Dresses are fine for some occasions, but mostly I have trouble taking myself seriously in a skirt. It's especially weird since, where I live, women tend to wear very little clothing, and everything very tight-fitting. So it's a strange place to be a scientist. I can never seem to really strike a balance between dressing appropriately for work and wearing something that's not too frumpy.
I had a friend in grad school who always wore short skirts, and you can bet that everyone noticed and nobody took her seriously. I tended to go the opposite direction in that environment- baggy sweatshirts and jeans, mostly. But I'm tired of being a slob, and where I work now is less male-dominated, so I feel like I should be allowed a little more self-expression. But that's at home, where I have options.
When I go to a meeting, I have to decide ahead of time what to bring, and I'm never sure about the weather or how formal people will be. I feel more confident in pants, maybe because I lived in a pretty dangerous city for a few years, and I prefer to wear comfortable shoes. But at these meetings where it's all men, I feel like there's nothing I can wear that will help me blend in while still feeling confident. There are definitely some weird identity issues associated with this phenomenon of having a bunch of men in suits visibly notice that you're not one of them.
I have never been one of those people who wanted to flirt, or manipulate the situation by looking a certain way. I guess I have been lucky, for the most part I've worked with people who looked me in the eye when we were talking. But having a PI who perpetually addressed my chest has made me much more self-conscious.
I read a poem yesterday by this guy James Tate, it's about how his friend's breast falls out of her shirt at dinner and he has a polite little conversation with it, how nice it is to see the breast, etc. It's kind of funny, because it's surreal and somehow he manages to make it almost respectful, but it still made me squirm. I can't help thinking that all of these guys, despite being scientists, are still thinking that way about every woman they meet. I know this isn't true because I'm certain that my boyfriend, my thesis advisor, and most of my co-workers are not that way. At least, I don't think they are. Maybe I just want these older men to learn to be more discreet!