There is an academic I know who has, for years, had issues with me.
His negative comments were endless, and his derision and condescension palpable.
I thought it was just me. That there was something seriously wrong with me or with my research to warrant that kind of response.
But I casually mentioned this to a colleague. And then to my supervisors. And the response was unanimous, and surprising.
This academic has issues with women in academia.
That possibility wasn’t even on my radar. I never for one second though he had issues with me because I was a woman. Not only that, but a woman who constantly disagreed with him.
I was mulling over this as I prepared for a presentation I had to give. He was going to be there. As I walked towards the seminar, I suddenly became very conscious of what I was wearing:
A white shirt, a black skirt with pink and yellow flowers, black tights, pink shoes, and a tiny pink flower in my hair.
I wondered if maybe my presentation would go down better if I was wearing something different. Something less feminine perhaps?
And then I thought of the presentation the week before, delivered by a male student, dressed in old ripped jeans and our uni’s sweater. And the week before that, another male student, in jeans and a football jersey.
When I started teaching, I was concerned about the students taking me seriously as I look much younger than I actually am. The advice I got: dress differently, less girly.
I didn’t think that was fair. Because surely, what matters is what is coming out of my mouth when I speak and my fingers when I type. My research matters. My knowledge of the topic I teach matters.
Not my outfit.
So I went to that presentation, with my pink shoes and the flower in my head.
And I teach wearing red converse shoes, and a yellow skirt.
And I write about national security, human rights, terrorism, torture, all wearing golden shoes and red lipstick.
I’m not naïve, I know people will judge me by what I wear. But that does not make it right. If I just conform, things will never change.
So maybe you will see me, in a 1950s blue dress and pink high heels, and look taken aback when the program says I am the one speaking on national security.
But hopefully, once I start speaking, you will forget what I look like, and hear what I have to say.
Because in the end, that is all that should matter.