women scientists dressing down

Dianna L. Bourke dlb17 at PSU.EDU
Tue Feb 6 15:48:26 EST 1996

I have absolutely noticed this. I used to make jokes about it, too. People
were always stunned if I came to TA in the Anatomy lab with good clothes
and moderately high heels or God forbid nail polish! Perhaps this WAS
silly, but most of the women professors in my department dressed "up" to
teach and wore lab coats. Aside from the fact that it was the yuppie 80s, I
felt that dressing up gave me some authority in giving lectures and
monitoring labs with students who were only one year younger than me or
even more intimidating, with students who were several years older than I

I have since relaxed the high heel thing, wearing only flats and loafers to
teach, and realize that authority comes from doing a job correctly, but I
refuse to wear sensible shoes like running shoes, with my skirts! I like to
look neat and clean and wear makeup everyday and have a "current" hairstyle
(not one that stopped in the 70s). I take great delight in wearing
interesting jewelry and occasionally showing up in something really
different to yank my student's chains (this is a really conservative area.)

Could it be that if a woman makes herself seem moderately attractive in the
lab she will be perceived as "only a woman" and not an androgenous
"scientist?" Clearly certain lab tasks are not amenable to "good" clothes,
but must we always look like men to be taken seriously? Is this what
happened early on when women started to do science and it just became
accepted? To be fair, though, many men in science have the same unconcerned
attitude about clothes and I definately think there is a perception that if
you are a real scientist, things as mundane as clothes are not to be taken
seriously. In fact many of my women colleagues in  academia in general
consider clothes and makeup pure frivolity.

Anyway this is my 5 cents. Oh and I have never worn nailpolish to an interview!


>Hi there
>Actually, from personal observation I'd say there was an anti-high heel
>(and anti make up) dress code for women in science.  From what I've seen
>women who "dress up" for lab work are looked down on.  I'm not sure why, I
>suspect it's something along the lines of "if she's so concerned about her
>appearance she can't be a good scientist".
>Anyone else notice anything like this??

Dianna L. Bourke
Penn State Hazleton

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