Background: I wrote this post with intention to publish on my personal blog. When I was done, I found it pretty relevant to the atmosphere of the Chemistry Blog. Also, I thought it would be unfortunate to leave this topic unattended.
As the end of the semester approaches, I find that there is a direct correlation between the closeness to finals and the deterioration of my physical appearance. Although I consider myself lucky for being pretty decent looking, I unfortunately repay this gift by livin’ it up like a real chemist-in-training.
My GRE is in two days. I’ve been hiding out in my cave and studying all day. I need a shower. My hair is oily and tangly. My glasses are dirty and I haven’t changed out of these clothes since Friday. Last night, I was intrigued by this train wreck in my bathroom mirror when I realized something that I should have brought up long ago: it wasn’t very long after I started college when I realize looking a little sloppy actually gives me an edge in school.
My mother always nags at me for wearing the same darn thing everyday: hooded sweater, t-shirt, acid-burned jeans and flip flops (sneakers if attempting synthetic methods). I wasn’t like this in high school. I was put-together, moderately sociable, generally happy, and was presented with several prom date candidates as situation arose. Those days are long gone now. Now I look more like an emo little boy getting lost in a fancy college.
My first day in freshman chemistry lab wasn’t what I imagined it to be. It gave me some sad preview on breaking into this community as a female student: the condescending way my male classmates talked to me, the way they hogged all the work in a collaborative procedure because “you don’t know what you’re doing,” the way they bossed me around for the trivial chores… Even my (male) graduate instructors treats me differently.
Sometime I wondered if there was anything I could do, anyone I could talk to. But no. Instead, I put my long hair in a ponytail and put on my oversized t-shirt. Somehow when you look like one of the guys, everything is OK.
I wondered if any other girl in class felt the same way.
The situation did get a bit better as I move up the food chain. I started to know quite a few graduate students and departmental staff. I even began to mentor my own little group of 1st/2nd-year minions. But even now, walking into my final year as an undergraduate, I get odd stares if I run errands around the lab facility with a fitted shirt and my long hair flowing on a sunny afternoon.
Hello, am I the only girl in this whole freaken building?
The answer is obviously no. But the few female staff that manage to get by without getting funny looks all strangely managed to morph themselves into the stereotype of a successful female scientist: unrefined, quiet, and invisible.
Now don’t even get me started on the number of times I get hit on by my graduate instructors during class and the many “hey, my face is UP HERE” moments during academic discussions. Do you know that you are whistling at a girl who is too young for you to buy a drink for? It’s so not fair. I work as hard as you are, I do just as well in everything that you do, why can’t you show some respect?
So please, stop acting like a sleazy pig. Because of the things you say and do, I feel obligated to look frumpy and completely covered up. I feel self-conscious for looking and acting feminine. I feel embarrassed to participate in an academic discussion or show any signs of comparable intelligence. I even feel a little inadequate on performing tasks that I am perfectly capable of doing. It’s the type of workplace discrimination that nobody would ever acknowledge or address.
Also, one day, I would like my dignity back. I’m just a 20-year-old who’s trying to make something out of herself.