Lindsey Kuper - The compiler doesn't care what you're wearing [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Lindsey Kuper

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The compiler doesn't care what you're wearing [Jul. 12th, 2010|12:34 am]
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I've talked to a few women who've said that they fear they won't be taken seriously as computer professionals if they dress in a "girly" way. I used to think that I was immune to that fear. But two weeks after my job started at GrammaTech, I looked at my closet and pushed everything I'd worn in the last two weeks to the left and everything I hadn't worn to the right. On the left were jeans and t-shirts and gray and black and brown. On the right were dresses and bright green and bright blue and pink and floral prints. I was very surprised. I took a picture of what it looked like so that I wouldn't forget.

I realized that what I thought my clothes looked like, based on what was hanging in my closet, was completely different from what my clothes looked like to other people in practice. I clearly liked the dresses and the floral prints and the bright colors, or I wouldn't have had them in my closet -- but I wasn't wearing them, because on any given day, they seemed like the wrong thing to wear. I realized that I feared not being taken seriously by my co-workers if I wore floral dresses to work. I decided to call bullshit on that. After all, as Kathy Sierra points out, the compiler doesn't care what you're wearing.

Of course, there are a lot of women programmers who choose not to wear girly clothes because they don't want to wear girly clothes, not because they're afraid to do it. And a lot of the time, that's me. In 2008, when I was living in Portland, someone I knew was hesitant to wear her preferred everyday outfit, a skirt, to OSCON out of concern about not being taken seriously by people there. Eventually, she did wear the skirt, and a friend of hers congratulated her on being brave enough to wear the clothes she liked to wear. I remember standing there listening to their conversation and feeling rather irked. I, too, was at OSCON and wearing the clothes I liked to wear, but because my clothes happened to be a t-shirt and thrift-store sneakers and jeans, nobody seemed to be congratulating me. It made me wonder, briefly, if I was less brave than the woman in the skirt -- or if anyone at OSCON was concluding from my clothes that I was less brave. In retrospect, I don't think anyone was. Bravery is extremely personal. One person's brave act could be a neutral or cowardly act for someone else. And certainly the idea that one's bravery can be determined from one's appearance is completely senseless.

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[User Picture]From: perligata
2010-07-12 04:45 am (UTC)

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FWIW, I think a lot of women grow out of this at some point. I used to suffer from this affliction too and then after a certain amount of experience, or after a certain age, I just stopped giving a damn. I actually only wear skirts and dresses.
[User Picture]From: stereotype441
2010-07-12 06:10 am (UTC)

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One of the things I love about living in hippie gender-queer Portland is the fact that as a guy, I can go about my day in skirts and bare feet and get barely a second glance. (Curiously, though I'm entirely comfortable wearing a skirt I can't wear a dress--I haven't figured out if that's because a dress feels "more" like cross-dressing to me, or if it's because I think I don't look good in dresses).

Anyway, while I was working in Beaverton I eventually found the courage to go barefoot at the office, but I never wore a skirt. I wonder what I will have the courage to do at my next job.
[User Picture]From: linettasky
2010-07-12 06:50 pm (UTC)

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WRT dresses: it's probably how they're assembled. Dresses, especially manufactured ones, are designed for a female anatomy, with narrower shoulders. Even men with narrow shoulder often have a difficult time fitting into a dress comfortably. (Ask keturn.) As a woman whose shoulders are proportionally even more narrow than dresses are built for (or, alternately, whose hips are wider than they "ought to be"), I also have a difficult time wearing dresses.
[User Picture]From: keystricken
2010-07-12 07:04 pm (UTC)

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I think many styles of dresses tend to accentuate where breasts are "supposed" to go, which can complicate matters for men. Whereas skirts are equal-opportunity for anyone with legs, it's going to be harder to look like you "fit" in a summer dress where the upper half is basically two triangles, like this.

Kind of like if I had trousers with a codpiece. And by the way, that would be hilarious, and I kind of want them now.

This is not by way of saying that you should (or shouldn't) wear a dress, but have you seen the ones which are strapless and therefore kind of tight around the top? Less cognitive dissonance. I think men might look very fetching in those.
[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2010-07-12 11:01 pm (UTC)

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I, also, can't fit in a summer dress where the upper half is basically two triangles.
[User Picture]From: jes5199
2010-07-13 06:52 am (UTC)

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I've tried wearing a dress (not to work!) to a party, and even though it didn't fit as badly as keys and linet suggest above, nor was it particularly intensely femme, there was something about Wearing A Dress that was much more intimidating than I expected
[User Picture]From: kasuchi
2010-08-10 04:01 am (UTC)

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*swoops in* Consider, maybe, hitting up a vintage store for a sheath dress circa 1975-1985. I was watching Soap and Billy Crystal totally rocked a nice silk sheath dress with a lovely thin belt at the waist. Tootsie, also, was rocking the sheath dress, and both dresses came with shoulder pads which you can cut out and fill with your natural, god-given shoulders. And while both Billy and Dustin are a bit, er, slight, you may find that the sheath is a fine alternative to the two-triangles-sundress.

In fact, a great deal of 80s womens fashions may well suit you for that reason alone - they're structured for masculine shoulders! There's also the Very Chic new Michelle Obama dress style that's become quite popular. :)
[User Picture]From: joyquality
2010-07-12 02:59 pm (UTC)

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I just wore my first skirt to the office on Thursday! It's a bit different at my work: we're "global security technology and policy", and while the technology side (where I work) is mostly a jeans-and-tshirts crowd with only one other woman, there are lots of women on the policy side who come in typical office attire. The office isn't that big, so we all mingle and I don't look so out of place if I wear skirts or just dress a little nicer than most of my immediate coworkers. And yet I STILL experience a bit of this nervousness about appearing "girly". I'm working on it.
[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2010-07-12 04:50 pm (UTC)

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You could just wear that kitten on your head at all times. Any possible concerns about looking girly or not-girly or gendered in any way at all would become moot because the only distinguishable aspect of your appearance would be daaaaaaaaaaawwwwww.
From: ms_nico_blue
2010-07-12 04:39 pm (UTC)

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"And certainly anyone who thinks they can determine someone's bravery from their appearance is a complete idiot."

I love this so much :)

Compared to my home town, I feel like people in general here wear more skirts.
I've been very slowly trying to work them into my work clothes as well as my non-work clothes, but even so, I tend to get comments from my co-workers when I wear a skirt. Usually something to the effect of "Oh wow! Don't you look cute today!"

Also, when I wear a Utilikilt to work, it doesn't push any boundaries, which I admit, was a little disappointing.
[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2010-07-26 01:56 am (UTC)

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Compared to my home town, I feel like people in general here wear more skirts.

I was thinking that about Ithaca recently, too. It might be a function of time rather than place. My theory is that the 90s were a more casual decade in fashion than the decades on either side of it. When I was in high school in the 90s, wearing a skirt was a big deal and meant you were dressing up for something. Now, I think a skirt is just one more ordinary item of clothing for women.
[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2010-08-06 03:00 am (UTC)

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I love this so much :)

Also, thank you! I changed the wording by reader request, though, because the word "idiot" is a technical term for describing a severely mentally retarded person, so I really shouldn't use it, any more than I would use the word "retarded", which I'm careful to avoid.
[User Picture]From: tim.dreamwidth.org
2010-07-12 06:23 pm (UTC)

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Strangely enough, I think Grammatech was the only place I've worked where I wore skirts to work with any frequency...

Anyway, I think people perceived as women are fucked either way when it comes to clothes (wear gender-neutral, which means men's, clothes and you're some freaky dyke, wear girly clothes and you're not taken seriously), so IMO you might as well wear what you like :-)
[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2010-07-12 08:09 pm (UTC)

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Third option: wear clothes that are women's clothes, as in woman-shaped and marketed to women, but only in neutral colors and conservative styles. But then you're boring and old-ladyish.
From: boojum
2010-07-13 05:01 am (UTC)

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Every single damn thing I do has Meaning, sometimes. I'm learning to compensate by finding things that my subconscious is willing to consider neutral and then aggressively deciding that everyone else is wrong.

It's not the same as wearing (/doing/saying/etc) what I'd like, but it serves a similar purpose: I get to stop worrying.
[User Picture]From: tim.dreamwidth.org
2010-07-23 12:43 am (UTC)

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Yeah -- that "aggressive deciding" takes energy, though (as do all the other options!) Welcome to paying the Woman Tax, interest compounded continuously.
[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2010-07-13 04:23 am (UTC)

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I read that thing every time it makes the rounds, and every time it keeps being hilarious.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-08-26 11:01 pm (UTC)

Spot on!

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As a woman working in IT, I can totally relate to what you're saying in this post. I also wanted to share this quote from federal appeals court judge Maryanne Trump Barry: "There is no more potent weapon in any profession than a woman with a feminine exterior and a will of steel." (Quote courtesy of corporate fashion blog Corporette.)
[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2010-09-08 04:11 am (UTC)

Re: Spot on!

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I wonder if the feminine exterior can actually help with cultivating the will of steel.