Over winter break, I finally acquired a new pair of glasses. Before this year, my glasses were almost six years old, red, and much too small for my face (they had originally been purchased in the "children's section"), not to mention the world around me was blurry. I usually only wore my glasses at night, when I was getting ready for bed and still had some work to do or if in the mornings I absolutely could not get a contact in and was already ten minutes late for class (Mom, Dad, this actually never happens....).
And so, for Christmas, my fabulous parents gifted me with some new, beautiful, thick black framed, "geek chic" glasses. Glasses I could throw on in the morning and actually wear to class and not feel self-conscious about looking like a stereotypical ancient librarian. Glasses I can actually see the world in and want the world to see me in.
I've gotten a lot of compliments since I've started wearing them regularly. They follow the "geek chic" trend that has found some popularity today - there is something kind of "hipster" about their shape and frame, but not so avant-garde that I feel like they stray very far from my personality.
Okay, time for a transition. A few weeks ago my university hosted a Science, Engineering, and Technology career fair. The evening before the fair I was setting out my suit, blouse, jewelry - the art of dressing as a professional woman is difficult. My suit is really, really nice - it's a nice light gray that doesn't wash me out, but it still does kind of box me off. I have to wear heels with it. I paired it with a blush blouse and sparkly (but not too sparkly jewelry) thinking that this would in some way, counteract the masculinity of the thing that is the shape of a suit. And, in all my planning, I asked my roommate what was now a viable question - glasses or no glasses?
Glasses, for sure, she said. She commented that they made me look a little bit nerdy (but not too nerdy, my roommate qualified), and thus, we both agreed that this was to my advantage. As all the business majors keep telling me, if you want the job, look the part. And thus, I wore what I've been calling my "computer competency glasses" - glasses that are designed a little bit after the geek stereotype but have somehow, in the modern world, found their home in a fashion trend.
I didn't think twice about the decision. But now, a few weeks later, I'm rethinking the choice to wear my glasses. I read this great article about a female student who felt the need to wear company t-shirts for her tech interviews because she felt like she received better feedback from interviewers when she, in essence, looked the part - despite the fact that generally speaking, these kinds of clothes are a) not made for a woman's body and b) not what she felt comfortable wearing. And when I chose to wear my glasses to the career fair that day - even as a woman in tech who is very, very conscious of being a woman in tech - I made the same decision as she did. I felt the need to dress to the "brogrammer" stereotype because I thought it would make me look, visually, physically, more competent. Because I thought that my taste in shimmery eyeshadows and rosy blushes would give me the appearance of being out of my league. Because I thought that the way I looked - despite already being professionally dressed - could affect my chances of getting a job. And the worst part of all of this is that I didn't think twice about it until after it had happened - in the moment, I felt like I had to leverage everything I had to be on the same playing field as the rest of the students (mostly men) that would be at the career fair.
So maybe choosing to wear glasses to a career fair is not a big deal. This happens all the time, you say, even the business majors wear their glasses to an interview because it makes them seem smarter or look more "intellectual".
But it is a big deal. Essentially, I let a (inherently flawed) culture of tech - the culture where to be "good" at computer science you can't be (or at least look) feminine or you have to have some air of "nerdiness" or "geekiness" about you - influence the way I dress. I felt like I needed to do so. I felt like I had to.
So, as a cultural marker, we aren't there yet. And so the dilemma now is this: do I continue to "dress the part" until I get a job or do I dress like me and hope that someone will see past the layers of unconscious bias and cultural flaws? The "ethical" answer seems obvious - dress like yourself - right? But is it? I'm not sure if I am willing to compromise a salary to fully "be myself." And the conclusion that I am coming to now is this: why do (should) I have to?