Wow, I can’t believe how stupid I’ve been! Here I was thinking that all my female professor colleagues and I get paid less than our male colleagues* because of systemic sexism. But it turns out I’ve just been dressing all wrong!
Blow me down with a feather, according to this article all I had to do was wear the same thing every day to become a successful multi-gazillionaire! Thanks, Josh Haltiwanger, for pointing out just how FRIVOLOUS I’ve been, frittering away time and money trying to present a ‘professional’ appearance in order to be taken seriously at work. All I really needed to do was wear jeans and a t-shirt everyday. Just look at the overwhelming evidence Haltiwanger presents: two people who’ve done this, of the 6 billion people on the planet, are unbelievably successful. Could someone please get in a phone call to Oprah and Hillary Clinton and all the successful women out there to let them know there’s no need for perfectly manicured nails, attractive clothes (carefully chosen to be neither too sexy nor too frumpy!), expensive hair cuts and dye jobs and styling products, and a myriad of cosmetics? Because everyone knows that no successful woman has ever been subject to intense scrutiny and judgement of what she’s wearing, what her hairstyle is, or her choice of footwear. (Good god, those aren’t COMFORTABLE shoes you’re wearing, are they??) No one would make rude comments about their new ‘non-look’, because everyone would just be too busy seeing how amazingly smart, talented, and respectable they are! Why didn’t we think of this before?
Anyway, I guess Mr. Haltiwanger simply never considered how his advice of simplifying your appearance so you can focus on what matters might not work for 50% of the human race. Because, as they say, we women are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Condemned as frivolous if we appear to be putting too much effort into how we look, and deemed unworthy or unprofessional (if not ‘unfuckable’ – as if that were a measure of a woman’s worth) if we’re not putting in enough. And don’t even get me started on the author of the article referring to these things as ‘frivolous details’. I named this blog Frivolous at Last because it took me a long time to fully embrace things that I was actually interested in but too embarrassed to admit because society generally judged them to be frivolous (like fashion, sewing, knitting, etc.) — things that also just happen to be thought of as primarily female interests, generally speaking. I think of the word frivolous as quite gendered and political. (More on that in the About section.)
Alright, having had my frustrated and rather sarcastic tirade, it’s time for some soul-searching. What if I could overcome prejudices about my worth/credibility/expertise just by wearing jeans and a t-shirt everyday? Would I do it? I don’t have a simple yes-or-no answer. I very much enjoy choosing clothes and jewelry and make up (most of the time). The right outfit can make me feel supremely confident. And my clothes/shoes/accessories are an outward expression of creativity — putting together a kick-ass outfit does require a sense of colour, proportion, and many other skills we associate with art and design. On the other hand, sometimes I feel quite put upon that women are generally subject to such intense scrutiny of our appearance that it gets in the way of simply seeing us as credible professionals. There is definitely an investment of time and money that I often resent. I shudder to add up how much money I spend every year on, say, just cosmetics alone. One could argue it’s entirely my choice whether or not to wear makeup, but at the same time let’s not kid ourselves that there isn’t a lot of pressure to present a perfect face and body, made up just so, and that there isn’t a certain level of judgement for those who choose not to live up to those so-called ‘professional’ standards. All-in-all, I don’t have an easy answer for this one, but it’s an interesting ponder.
My dear men, I know you have your difficult issues and societal pressures, too, but let’s face it — you can wear the same thing every day all of your life and people will pat you on the back for rejecting “frivolous details” — if they even notice. (Check out this male Australian TV anchor who purposely wore the same suit every day for a year to prove a point and no one noticed.)
What about you? Would you be happy wearing the same thing every day if it meant you could get past the gendered lens through which you’re sometimes (often?) viewed? Do you think this article has a point?
*Our faculty union publishes aggregated salary data that clearly show female professors in my faculty get paid on average about $10k less than male professors with the same number of years of service.