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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: joyquality
2010-07-12 02:59 pm (UTC)
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.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2010-07-12 04:50 pm (UTC)
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.
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