Woman in a pink suit standing over a pink table that holds a cup of pink ice cream.

Dressing Feminine in Male-Dominated Spaces

Dressing Feminine in Male-Dominated Spaces

Young women are told to change some parts of themselves to be taken seriously. You shouldn’t wear overtly feminine clothing as men won’t respect you. You should speak with more authority but don't come across as bossy; showing emotion will deter people from hiring you, but no one wants to come across as cold-hearted. With career advice for women sometimes being so condescending and contradicting, it is hard to gain confidence in yourself and your ability when you feel you cannot be yourself. So what do you do when you think that the characteristics that make you good at your job are considered ‘unfit’ for the workplace? For those who choose to present stereotypically feminine in the workplace, we need to break down gender roles. 

Gender bias, roles, and stereotypes negatively affect everyone. They create a narrative that only has room for interests that fit the norm. The idea is that boys like blue and girls like pink. That male-presenting people are to be tough while female-presenting individuals are weak. The childlike wonder and ambition we once had often fades with time. “Little girls are, for the most part, taught that women can be anything. This is a message that we try to instill in them from day one. However, what they aren’t taught is that people who dress, think, or act in a traditionally feminine manner can be anything. The message that we consistently send out is that in order to achieve any kind of significant career goals, girls need to adopt traits that are typically associated with masculinity. Like, sure you can be a girl and write code, but you can’t write code while wearing a dress. You can chair a meeting, but not while wearing sparkly hair clips. You can repair a bicycle, but not while wearing lipstick. Everyone knows that lipstick prevents people from being competent” (Thériault). 

Workplace sexism has been happening for decades, from women not being allowed to work to being paid less than men in the same field when given the right. Societal gender roles have played an enormous part in how our country operates and how the job market looks today. The gender roles we’ve grown up with have conditioned many of us to dislike the color pink, turn away from particular interests and feel as though women need to become someone they aren’t to secure our future. “New research identifies one reason women might be shying away from certain professions: They lack confidence in their ability to compete in fields that men perform strongly in, such as science, math, and technology” (Gerdeman). And this idea is not new and is understandable when reading articles such as the one by Sailor Mercury, where they discuss the struggles of being a feminine presenting programmer. 

In the article Coding Like a Girl, Mercury talks about how the tech world seems to associate dressing feminine with being a beginner. She states, "No one believes that I am a programmer” (Mercury). They described when Mercury was a TA for a coding class only to be asked by her male co-teaching assistants if Mercury was having fun learning to code. She also discusses a woman, Tracy Chou, who previously worked at Pinterest. Chou shared a story with Mercury about attending a conference and asking questions just to be shot down by other developers as they told her that Chou just wouldn’t understand the concepts. Chou stated that after deciding to wear a more “nerdy” t-shirt the next day, she was more accepted into the space by other programmers. Situations like these where something as simple as appearance can change the way people treat you is discouraging and lead to a lack of self-confidence. 

Clothing choices utilized as justification for men to comment on women's success or job title are nothing new. Former college, WNBA, overseas basketball player, and current assistant coach at Texas A&M Sydney Carter recently faced backlash for an outfit she wore to a game. People began posting Carter's outfit, saying that her bright pink pants were inappropriate. Users on social media made crude and sexist remarks about her abilities and appearance. In an interview, Carter stated that "You hear so many times that people don't want to watch women play basketball, because there's too many that look manly, or they play like a guy or don't play enough like guys... Women can never satisfy anybody in any aspect of life…” (Justich). 

Texas A&M assistant basketball coach, Sydney Carter.

Expressing femininity and someone's competence does not correlate. The industry standard is built for the men who created it. Women and female-presenting individuals work hard to be taken seriously and gain respect in their respective fields. Something as mundane as clothing should not be a reason for others to belittle a coworker's knowledge. To create workplace equality, we need to foster an environment where people feel comfortable and confident in their abilities regardless of appearance. Men could wear suits or sweats, yet their careers aren’t questioned; why should it be different for women? Intelligence has no gender or outfit.