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The compiler doesn't care what you're wearing - Lindsey Kuper [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]
Lindsey Kuper

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.


[User Picture]From: stereotype441
2010-07-12 06:10 am (UTC)
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.
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[User Picture]From: linettasky
2010-07-12 06:50 pm (UTC)
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.
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[User Picture]From: keystricken
2010-07-12 07:04 pm (UTC)
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.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2010-07-12 11:01 pm (UTC)
I, also, can't fit in a summer dress where the upper half is basically two triangles.
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[User Picture]From: jes5199
2010-07-13 06:52 am (UTC)
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
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