Are Women’s Bodies too Magical for Professionalism?
I feel I’m at times strategizing ways to hide my magic. I contemplate, for instance, whether that college in [conservative state] is going to like that I had a poem published in a lit mag called Pussy Magic (they call their staff a “coven,” which I adore – I’m quite proud to be in this magazine – I think I have a crush on the entire staff). Sometimes, I’m so used to asking questions such as this, that I find myself surprised and unprepared for when other people manage to, admirably, give fewer fucks.
For instance, I was watching an old YouTube clip the other day of Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show about her preparation for being sworn in.
Colbert was asking her about her experience, and she was asked to explain the story behind her nails (good question because it is a good story). She told him that when Sonia Sotomayor was being sworn in, she was advised to choose a neutral color of nail polish because something like red would bring in too much scrutiny and comments.
At this point I’m thinking, oh, well I guess that makes sense. Neutral is nice. Maybe I should buy some nail polish. . .
That’s when Cortez says, “of course she wore red nail polish to her event after she heard that, and so did I, you know, to keep up the tradition!” (This is paraphrased.)
What a reminder that was. Yes, perhaps wearing red nail polish is potentially insignificant, but it is important because they wore it as a symbol and sign that they weren’t to be tamed, and would, what others might deem as, “behave badly.”
Currently, I am applying for academic full-time jobs. I have a CV that is burning with an interdisciplinary glow (religion, women’s studies, creative writing, composition) with a lot of experience in college teaching (teaching since 2004), but I wonder if my Instagram or Twitter is too . . . something. I am not even sure what. Recently I’ve deleted my Facebook page and made my Twitter and Instagram private just to think about these things, but I wonder if I’m being overly cautious.
Women often have more challenges set when expressing themselves, as per the stories of the red nails. What do red nails really suggest? Are red nails unprofessional? Aside from appearance, Cortez has also been criticized for the video of her dancing when in college (is having fun or having a personality unprofessional?) and most recently for being unmarried/single “at her age” (are women dangerous when we are not attached to a partner? Is being a mature woman who is unattached-most assumedly to a man-unprofessional? Does it mean she is unpredictable, less controlled?). Cortez has also been criticized for being too vocal and too well-liked on Twitter. Again, is it unprofessional to have a fresh, energetic, and honest presence on social media?
I still recall how incensed I was when my friend *Amy told me, after an interior design interview, that she was told by the hiring person that she would do better to wear a little makeup next time she had an interview as well as pantyhose. First off, this was back in college, so I would say 2001 (does pantyhose exist anymore?) and this is just one company, but if the idea is that a bare face is unprofessional for women, I will be mostly out of luck. That said, I can only remember a time when my supervisor at a college (when I first started teaching) told me to invest in a blazer to took more professional. I really like this supervisor, and I am sure that she was just looking out for me, as her colleague and someone who had only been teaching a couple of years, but I wonder if she felt she had to say that that to our young male colleagues? (I was only distraught at the time, really, because I thought blazers were quite expensive and was wondering where I would get one.)
Another time at an interview, the person who was hiring commented I might wear something more professional when I gave the demo. I still cannot fathom what he meant other than I should not wear a dress because I was particularly mindful of being professional and conservative for this particular school after my former supervisor’s comment. I am not trying to make something out of nothing. Sometimes the rhetoric of the professional, religious, and political communities make me wonder: are they trying to tell women that we don’t naturally have the right bodies for leadership, a question feminist theologians have long been asking in terms of being allowed to be bishops or priests? I’ve also been told I should lower my voice (make huskier?) and have a firmer handshake. All this was mostly when I was in my 20s, which are far behind me now. I just hope other young female academics are not still being told similar things.
Except I think that they are because a lot of girls in the high school classes I taught last year were suspicious that the dress code rules were focused mainly on what they, and not the boys, wore. Are girls’ bodies more of a problem? What makes us invisible as women in professions, and what makes us “too” visible, I mean, visible in the “wrong” ways?
Elisabeth S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches online composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a chapbook of poetry and traveling through Iceland, Spain, and Ireland.