What’s looks got to do with it?
Who prescribed what a person who works in corporate should look like? I mean if you came for a consultation and a consultant walked in with a full sleeve tattoo and piercings on the face would you be happy with that person helping you? Would your preconceived notions of what a corporate person should look like make you mistrust them and thereby mistrust the knowledge that that person has?
Why should I have to wear a suit or a formal dress in order for me to broadcast that I know what I’m doing? The knowledge is not in the clothes I wear, it’s in my brain, the way I look will never erase what’s in my brain. So why are we so obsessed with how people in corporate should look in order to determine their intelligence and their capabilities?
I know that this is an oversimplification of what leads to the politics of clothing and how we are perceived. In some cases we have to prove our intelligence and our capabilities as women because just by being born a woman, people already have stereotypes about us and what we can achieve. People might think that you’re not capable, that you can’t do certain jobs. As women, we are told that we are more nurturing therefore we should be in professions such as nursing, teaching and house executives. This is because these professions are the ones that require care and the so called feminine touch. These are the stereotypes of what people think women should be doing…Even in this day and age. Certain professions remain hostile to women.
When people get past the sin of us being born female, and we miraculously get a shoe in to the mostly male dominated professions, we almost always have to mind our clothes and temp down our femininity. That is to say no crying, no emotions or anything that remotely reeks of femininity. Well it’s going to take a long time to change people’s perceptions of where women belong and where they don’t belong, it’s a struggle that we’ve been fighting for ages and we will continue to fight. For a long time what you looked like as a man used to be a shoe into an interview in order for you to get the job. For instance if you’re a white man, that’s already half the job done, how you dress will not have a bearing in terms of what you’re capable of. If you are a woman you must have the right kind of hair, the right kind of clothes and in some instances right kind of name and skin colour. It’s all about perceptions, perceptions and more perceptions.
Can we change these perceptions that we have of what an engineer should look like, what a doctor should look like, what a pilot should look like, what a surgeon should look like or what a stay at home mother should look like? We need to get rid of these gender stereotypes because they are harmful. They just satisfy the need to place everything in boxes that others can easily understand. I remember one time whilst I was serving my articles as a candidate attorney, I decided to shave my head. Everyone was just so shocked because now I didn’t quite fit into the box that they had placed me into. Was I a lesbian, was I straight ? How should they handle me going forward. They needed a new box in which to place me and my look just didn’t go with the old box that I was placed into. And all this from a simple hairstyle! I understand the need for boxes but as I said, this can be harmful.
I volunteer at a nonprofit organization called the Girls Fly Program in Africa (GFPA) foundation. We teach children about careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics). When I consider standing in front of these children and teaching them about what I do and all the possible careers they could go into, I always ask myself if I’m lying to these kids by going there the way I look and making them believe that they can be who they are and look however they want and still get the perfect job. I want to encourage these kids to be themselves and to embrace how they look. The fact that they don’t have to conform to the stereotypes of what any professional should look like. However I feel that I may be giving them false hopes in making them think that they can express themselves freely because the world will look at them differently if for instants. Moreso if they show up with pink colored hair, or a full sleeve of tattoos and piercings on their faces. They will be judged. Do I tell them what to expect or do I tell them to be more conservative in the way they express themselves? Do we try and change the way we see different people in order to make an environment that is safe for them to express themselves?
I’m going to challenge you to actually look at the pictures of different professionals that I have included throughout this blog. Try to guess what they do for a living. If looks didn’t play a role in how people percieve your skills, your level of intelligence, do you think you’d be able to correctly guess their professions? Try and get rid of any preconceived notions you might have when you participate in this challenge and let’s see how many you get right. After all, what’s looks got to do with it?
The answers will be posted on Friday. Prepare yourself to be surprised. In the next blog, I’ll be embarking on a finteness journey. I mean hey, I might be self-employed, but a girl has to keep fit.
Cheers for now!