This morning as I dressed for work, I selected a work-issued polo shirt, khaki pants, and my steel-toed shoes. I may work in an office, but it's in a Lab, and steel-toes are acceptable work attire.
Nothing unusual about my outfit, but for some reason it led me to recall a day several years ago, when I was wearing a similar outfit, and was pulled aside by my then supervisor, and told that I needed to "work on my appearance".
I was a bit taken aback. Other than the weight I had gained post-pregnancy, my appearance had not changed. I was well within our employee dress code, and dressed similar to the rest of the (male) team members in the office.
The truth is, I felt discriminated against. Nothing in my job requires me to "dress up" or "look good". I do not interact with the public or customers. I sit in my desk in the corner, and do my work. I was dressed well within our corporate policy. My then-long hair was pulled back into a low ponytail. I wasn't wearing makeup, but well, I don't. Never have.
So what changed? After all these years, why was I being told to work on my appearance?
See, I couldn't decide if I felt like I was being discriminated against because I was a woman, or because I'd gotten fat. Maybe both.
But that wasn't the most disturbing part to me.
The most disturbing part was when I took the issue to a working moms message board to ask for advice. And there, among other working women, I was chastised.
It was my fault, they said. As a working woman, I should know that I have to present myself better than the men around me, and should have already done so. I should know how important appearance is in the working world, and should just follow my boss's direction.
Don't I know that a polo and khakis just look better on a man, and even if it's within dress code, I shouldn't wear it, because it just tends to look sloppier on women then on men?
I should dress up, slacks & heels, if not an actual business suit, and fix my hair & wear makeup every day. This is what I need to do to be respected in the work place. It's just how it is.
I still have not forgotten their comments. The feeling of being chastised by the people you went to for support.
I'm not going to argue the world isn't that way, that - particularly in male dominated workplaces, like mine - it's harder for women. Because it is I see it regularly. It is more difficult to get recognition & respect for the work you do. You do have to work harder, and yes, maybe it would help me get noticed if I put on some heels more often than I do.
But I still can't get over it. I can't get over the idea that women - professional, career women - have just accepted this as fact, and instead of standing up and saying "no, this isn't fair, you have to treat me the same as a man dressed the same way", they just give in and slap on some lipstick so they can play the game.
I can't get over other women saying it was okay for me to be told that even though I am dressed well within dress code, dressed similarly to the men in the office, that yes, it was okay for my male boss to tell me to work on my appearance.
I can't get over them chastising me for not knowing that it was okay for me to be treated differently in the workplace based on my appearance and/or gender.
I still can't figure out why they think women in polo & khakis look "sloppy" compared to men in the same outfit. Is it the curves that bother you? Do breasts ruin the clean line you see on men? Do full hips and buttocks not fit in with what you see as professional?
Isn't that your problem, not mine?
I have forgiven the male boss I had at the time. I never did change my appearance, and he apparently got over it. I've never heard a word since, from him or anyone else at my workplace.
But the words of those women haunt me. Women so accustomed to being discriminated against based on their looks and their gender, that it has become the norm to them, a rule that other women should be chastised for breaking.
This is 2013. And I find it ridiculous that a group of professional women have not only accepted, but are perpetuating the idea that it is okay to judge someone in the workplace based on their appearance and / or gender, instead of judging them based on their actual work, on their output. What are we doing to each other? Why are we supporting the idea that this is okay?
I just don't get it, and probably never will.