Clothes do not define a woman. And a scientist in New York, US, just proved that once again.
Rita J King, co-director of Manhattan-based consultancy firm Science House, took to the micro-blogging site Twitter recently to post a throwback photo of the time she wore a "sparky" outfit to a talk at NASA to prove to little girls that scientists can come in all kinds of clothes.
King was reminded of the photos while cleaning out her close when she found the old dress she had worn during a 2011 talk at NASA. King, who is a former futurist at NASA's think tank National Institute for Aerospace in Langley, said she had once received a letter from "little girls" who asked her to "wear something sparkly" for for the talk so that "they could believe that scientists could also be sparkly".
King told Buzzfeed News that the event coordinators had reached out to her with the seemingly bizarre request by some little girls who had requested she wear a sparkly dress. She also said that she found the "sparkliest" dress to let the girls know that they had been heard.
The gesture won many hearts on Twitter and provoked a conversation regarding gender stereotypes that exist when it comes to women in professional spaces.
This is so important. The idea that masculine is serious and feminine is frivolous limits the options girls see for themselves and their future lives. This shows them that they don't have to pick between their interests and their identities. Science is for everyone. Thank you!— katie kawaii (@katiekawaii) November 4, 2019
Proof that Brains and Beauty go hand in hand. Thanks for putting a girl's dream of sparkles into science!— Stephen Inoue 2020☂️ (@Riptide360) November 2, 2019
This is not the first time that netizens have debated over what women should or shouldn't wear to succeed or appear successful in so-called "male dominated" professions like science, engineering, finance or medicine. As per a study conducted by researchers at Cambridge and Essex Universities in Britain, less attractive women scientists are more like to be taken seriously with regard to their work, even though respondents were more inclined to show interest in conventionally attractive scientists.
Such stereotypes undermine the work done by women by equating its worth with they way they look or dress. Sometimes, they even lead to toxic workplace practices that require women to behave in certain ways by virtue of their gender, thus diminishing their status as an equal to male colleagues who may not be required to adhere to the same standards.
Take the case of Ernst & Young, for instance, who in 2018 conducted a workshop with a number of women employees and asked them to dress in certain ways in order to succeed in the firm.
Many women professionals have taken to social media in the past with hashtags like #ILookLikeAScientist and #ILookLikeAnEngineer to post photos of themselves in everyday clothes or attires termed "feminine" to prove a point.
The results of a day shopping and I think #ILookLikeAScientist.The dress is thanks to @Tiylaya spotting it in the clearance section of House of Fraser.The top, jacket and boots came from @Long_Tall_Sally in Birmingham. pic.twitter.com/A2L1nqmQ8r— Dr JJ Eldridge (@astro_jje) September 8, 2018
"You're too cute to be a #scientist.""U don't look like a #professor.""U don't look like an #academic.""Scientists don't wear #dresses.""Well, actually..."It's 2019. #WeBelong#ILookLikeAScientist #WomenInSTEM #WomenInAcademia #PhDlife #ProfLife #Postdoc #AcademicTwitter pic.twitter.com/7wSs8amVcR— Daphne S. Ling (@daph_ling) January 2, 2019