Sometimes it just gets to me. Sometimes I feel such despair that despite all of our efforts we haven’t reached further. Sometimes I think that it’ll be no different for my own daughter.
I went to a conference this past week. A very interesting conference with a lot of competent speakers, both women, and men. One of the keynote speakers was Professor Maria Strømme. If you look her up, you’ll find that she is a highly accomplished researcher with a professorship in nanotechnology. Professor Strømme gave a very inspiring talk about the future of nanotechnology and it’s applications. Not just me, but everyone I spoke with afterward thought that she presented some highly interesting research.
In the evening, at the gala dinner, an older man giving a speech acknowledged the talk by Professor Strømme. Did he praise her for successfully creating Upsalite, a compound researchers had tried to synthesize for over a century? Did he discuss her numerous patents? Or the awards she has received for her scientific merits?
No, he commented on her clothes. With all her accomplishments and merits, to this man, Professor Strømme was worthy of only being judged for what she wore.
Women reaching a higher status are often judged on how they look and what they wear. The common way to dress is business-like. Similar to what the men are wearing, perhaps with a skirt, but a very strict, proper one that is not too short or too long.
A woman of power shouldn’t put on a dress unless it’s for an evening dinner. She shouldn’t wear colorful clothes or too high heels. A woman that doesn’t follow the rules of how to dress business-like, is not taken seriously by the men and can be seen as a threat to other women. On the other hand, a woman that follows the business dress code run the risk of being perceived as cold, ruthless and non-compassionate. A dragon lady.
In rape and sexual abuse cases, the clothing of the victim is usually commented upon. Supposedly, wearing a short skirt and top is really asking for it. How do you expect a man to contain himself when you’re showing that much skin? As if men cannot think for themselves and make rational decisions, even though I waver in that belief sometimes when I hear a man speak like he did at that gala dinner. Or the Swedish Royal Academy for that matter. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
So we’re at catch 22 when it comes to how to dress. Put on a business suit and you’re too masculine, not feminine enough. Put on a slim fit dress and high heels and you’re not taken seriously because how do you expect a man to focus on the actual conversation when you’re wearing that outfit?
It’s usually quite easy to tell when someone you’re talking to has stopped listening to what you’re actually saying. The disconnected eye contact and gaze drifting lower give them away.
Women have to work much harder than men to be heard in the boardroom. When pitching an idea to a male colleague he might respond: “I hear what you’re saying”. What kind of a reply is that? Well, he’s not really taking your proposal seriously. He doesn’t believe it to be worthy of consideration so why even bother acknowledging it?
Or at the meeting, when you make a suggestion, you’re met with a blank stare and then they simply move on. A few minutes later, your male colleague expresses the same idea and everyone is thrilled. Why is that? Credibility is key. And women, in general, have to work harder to attain it.
Also, not just the way a woman dresses but the way she talks can add or subtract from that credibility. A high pitch is considered less trustworthy, while a lower pitch gives authority.
So, to be successful, a woman should wear a business suit, speak with a low pitch and steal other peoples’ ideas. It might work, but you run the risk of losing sight of who you are in the process.
Instead, I encourage you to dress, talk and walk whichever way you like.
It’s high time we see more colorful women among all the grey and black suits.