Magical Women by Elisabeth Schilling

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.

Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez

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.)

My organs feel magical

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. 

Author: Elisabeth S.

Elisabeth S. has a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (2014) and teaches philosophy, literature, creative writing and composition in Colorado.

15 thoughts on “Magical Women by Elisabeth Schilling”

  1. I think women academics and other professionals generally do best if they are pretty (by male standards) but not too pretty and will do better if they downplay their sexuality. Think Elizabeth Warren. It also helps to play the little girl to bigger, taller, and older male authorities. I know one very successful woman who played this card very well. This is why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is such a conundrum for some. She is really pretty and really smart and really unapologetic about whom she offends with her statements and positions and she does it all with a smile that is open and welcoming and not in any way deferential.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for responding, Carol. Being pretty but not too pretty and downplaying sexuality is the truth of the matter, isn’t it. I like your analysis of Ocasio-Cortez. Perhaps I’ll take it all into consideration. Be well.


  2. Just for fun and to turn this around, I typed in a question at Google:
    “What woman on the supreme court has the sharpest intellect?”
    Immediately Google gave me this answer: “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
    Ginsburg is then quoted as saying that Martin, her husband, was “the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This reminds me of an article I read recently about the advice from one of the oldest living woman about how she stayed around so long. . . she stayed completely away from men. Ha. Thank you for your comment.


  3. I believe we are at a time when we are leaving these social mores behind. Be yourself; and you will find the right job and the right crowd. I also think that a large majority have underestimated how much these changed social mores have already permeated the masses already. ;)


    1. Karen, oh how I wish we “were leaving” these mores behind.”I am Canadian. In the 1970s, we had a very young prime minister’s wife who was in constant trouble with the conservative press. In 2015, we had a very fashionable, beautiful, yoga posing, professional woman who together with her young husband, the Prime Minister, were “out there.” Recently I see nothing of her in the press. Today, we have more women in political roles. But the mores remain. Either silently frowning or blatantly condemning. I do think we are making some progress until a woman is sworn in to some position and the comment is, “She wore a very low cut blouse.” Huh? Really?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for your response, including the examples. I agree that the policing and fear of threat still exist, perhaps in more deeply entrenched and subtle ways.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you for your encouragement and advice. I think that is indeed a more empowered position to start at: being selective myself and searching for the group that fits and would want me. I suppose that is how it will and must happen anyway.


  4. Brava! Your stories about interviews certainly rang bells with me, When I was finishing my Ph.D. dissertation in 1975-76, friends in another department got me a post-doc to facilitate the first women’s consciousness-raising group at Southern Illinois University. That long ago, I heard stories we hear in the news still today….women being seduced by male senior faculty, women should not be smart or assertive, women being told (“advised” isn’t a strong enough word) to be more appealing to male interviewers, i.e., be a little girl. So what’s changed? Not much. It’s hard to be rebellious and independent, back then and still today. But we need to stand up for ourselves!

    I’m also very careful about social media. I don’t have a Twitter account and I’m very careful with Facebook, which–everybody knows by now–steals and sells our personal information. I think all women should be very cautious with the social media.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, Barbara, for always responding. I’m sorry for my delayed response. It just wasn’t a good day for me. Yes, you raise such a good point about the male senior faculty – I was actually thinking the whole time I wrote this about the recent sexual harassment by one professor who decided to “retire” instead of “fight the good fight” against his accusers. There is such direction for women about how to act and dress, but what about direction for straight men?

      Thank you – I think being rebellious and independent and standing up for ourselves, that is particularly good advice for myself. I always think I should be bolder.

      I like what you say about social media. I am staying away from FB and keeping my Twitter private because I post personal posts. But instagram I suppose is less personal (I am not one for selfies as much anymore), so I’ve opened that up. I want to explore more about “women being cautious about social media” – I think it has some interest with me how you’ve articulated it.


  5. The time is ripe for men’s mother wound to be healed. All this triggering of them is their unhealed second chakra energy that they think is only good for sex. It’s creativity and expression contains a wide range of output as we well know. It is time for them to grow up and face their demons. We will help of course…we embody the MOTHER well and her bosom is a lovely place for them to rest and hand over their little boy needs.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for dropping by. The mother wound – that is something I should look more into because I’m not exactly sure I’m as well versed on what you mention as you are. I personally feel that perhaps some of us are not all that ready to help men although, as a professor, I’m nurturing and helpful to all my students regardless of gender, etc. But outside the classroom, with those not under my guidance and care, I think I tend to wish for some space if they are not already in my life.


  6. I just wanted to say that, in general, I’m so appreciative of everyone’s comments here. They are really supportive and helpful, and that means a lot to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Concerning apparel – I’ve always considered comments on the ways I dress or wear my hair a trap. Because as a woman you can never get it right. What is acceptable to one person, is not acceptable to another, and vice versa. And someone will always (think they) have something to say

    But I am not some kind of public object that everybody can freely comment on – I consider that attitude to be absurd, and as far as I am concerned, it points to semi-hidden low self-esteem.

    As far as my appearance is concerned, I make the decisions, and everybody else just has to live with it :-)


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