I was just reading an article on Hacker News from a female programmer who dresses hyper-feminine and doesn’t receive the respect she feels she deserves. I hear and feel the frustration, but believe it’s misplaced.
If a man shows up to a tech conference dressed like the guys from Jersey Shore, he’s going to be looked down on by everyone there. He’ll be assumed to be part of the delivery staff setting up the booths.
If he complains that he’s a programmer and that he shouldn’t be judged by his clothing, he will get raised eyebrows from both the men and the women.
It’s true that if he turns out to be a nice guy, and a great programmer, then people will change their opinions of him. But the one thing we cannot do is demand that the entire world see signals differently at the tech conference than they see them on the street.
When someone dresses like the men on Jersey Shore, they do so because they are signaling certain things. They’re signaling masculine power. Strength. Sexual prowess. Fighting ability. Etc. And women who dress extremely femininely and girlishly are also sending signals that literally billions of people are already programmed to receive.
It should fail to surprise that people interpret signals the way that is most beneficial to them in 99.9% of cases for predicting the behavior of others. It’s how the brain works, and we shouldn’t expect that functionality to suddenly end at a conference or on a programming team.
And to be clear, this is not a message that men from New Jersey, or women in general, cannot be seen as programmers. It’s a message that signaling matters, and that we must be aware of what cues we’re sending to others that may run counter to the effect we’re trying to produce.
Whether it’s grooming, the choice to wear a suit or jeans, or casual vs formal footwear—matching our outward signaling to the setting is an activity that both men and women must constantly engage in if they wish to be taken seriously.
This is why dressing hyper-feminine (or like Jersey Shore men) makes people assume you’re not a programmer. Quite simply, femininity is designed to attract males, and masculinity is designed to attract females.
If you send the message through your external appearance, you will receive the response associated with that message. And this will apply whether you’re dressed like an accountant, a female anime character, or a lumberjack.