I had a hard time getting dressed this morning. Not because I don’t have appropriate clothes, or enough of them — I was, in fact, listening to an NCPR story on the local thrift store and thinking it was time for a closet purge — but because I was debating on whether or not I should wear a suit today. I finally accepted that the right answer to that, as Director of Libraries, is going to be “yes” 99% of the time. There’s actually a moment of luxury there — the business suit is a uniform. You put it on, and you go, and it’s easy, and appropriate, and always works.
But on mornings when I put on black pinstriped trousers and a white pintucked sleeveless shell, I look at myself in my full-length mirror and have an instinct to dress it down, not up. My hand reaches for the apple green bolero cardigan instead of the gray tailored jacket. My foot slides toward brightly colored mary jane flats rather than equally brightly colored leather pumps. My eyes drift to the funky dangly earrings instead of my pearls.
Why? It doesn’t make sense. When I walked out the door today I had chosen the black and white base, the gray jacket, celery leather heels, and my double-stranded faux black pearl necklace. I looked in the mirror, straightened everything just so, and thought, “Good.” So why do I resist?
One reason is that on some level it seems foolish to “dress up” for a day full of meetings with librarians in my office, followed by writing work at my desk. I mean, do I need 2″ heels to process statistics for ACRL or discuss facilities issues?
Another reason is that it’s spring in academia. The faculty and the students both are starting to bugger off into summer, mentally and physically, and I feel out of place. The students studying out in the public spaces today are in yoga pants, hoodies, jeans, and flipflops. The faculty are in whatever their personal uniforms are for teaching — but with a few exceptions, those are rarely suits.
A third reason is that I used to be the woman over there on the right, and I still miss it. I have enough of my father in me to think that there’s something satisfying in being the uber-competent woman in jeans and bare feet (but enough of my mother to know that there’s something more satisfying in having great shoes). I liked the complexity of casual dress and success. It fit with my personality, and made me feel like I was settled in place in a way that meant something to me, that suited me, that mattered. (also, okay, so, um, I understand why you’re all “OMG BLONDE” at me these days. I had forgotten how dark I had gone in 2009.)
And, finally, we are a profession that does not do well with the stand-out presence. I’ve taken a lot of passive-aggressive flack in librarian discussions over the years because I am, in addition to being mouthy, determined, driven, and successful, a girl. A girly girl. I like painting my nails, choosing eyeliner, and buying shoes. I prefer and seek out stylish clothes, and I smile pretty for cameras. Regularly. I buy in to the trappings of our feminine cultural crap, to some personally-defined extent, and as such, there are women who seem to think I’m a gender traitor. Fine, whatever. I prefer to think that I’m proving that a stereotypically feminine woman can succeed in roles gendered male, but if my position of privilege (in that I fit our culture’s stereotype of “pretty girl”) means that you can’t categorize me that way, I can’t help that. But when that is added to librarianship’s issues with stand-out presences, well. I put on a suit, heels, and makeup, and I stand out. At times when I’m feeling tired, or worn out, or otherwise vulnerable, that feels hard to do. It’s not always fun being the one who stands up and provides an easy target.
Additionally, my professional identity is rooted in my tribe, and this picture of FirePitCon at Computers in Libraries 2011 is what it looks like when my tribe gathers. Being the woman in a suit in that crowd feels wrong. When you see a woman in a skirt suit at a conference, many librarians assume she’s a vendor. Or, I suppose, a Director.
And I guess that’s the challenge I battle every morning. My identity, professionally, is shifting. My personal identity isn’t keeping up.