Your Suit, Your Self: how gender-based double standards harm otherwise-oppressed women in the workplace

Let’s get it out of the way: Yes, I’m “too stupid to code”, and that’s a personal failing I have to own and deal with. I understand tech companies do offer a wider range of acceptable clothing options, and as I’ve worked for a couple before they stopped doing any HR, technical writing, accounting, etc. in house and focused on being CODE BRO CODE BRO CODE BRO, I know what that world’s like. I miss it involving those of us who are “too stupid to code.” So when someone claims I’m an attention-seeking asshole for not working in tech, there’s your response: tech got rid of jobs for people like me, and as one of my loudest detractors put it, I’m “too stupid to code.” Such is life.

I’m looking for something a little more permanent than my current endless loop of contract jobs, which pay the bills to a point but I’m month to month desperately trying to swing rent. I make it most of the time, but with a lot of strange hours and weird jobs that don’t always play to my strengths but do often tire me out. I’m not complaining, mind, as I’m surviving, but it is not the organized, settled life I’d rather have.

This means…job interviews. Lots and lots of job interviews. So many job interviews. Yes, I’m a team player! Yes, I’m totally committed to (whatever). Yes, I’m available in 3 weeks! Yes, I can pass a drug test…uh, good thing gin doesn’t show up on drug tests. Yes, I have a car, but I can get to work regardless! Yes, yes, yes, yes. I haven’t said “yes” this many times since the Free Unicorn Hugs And Money booth came by at the county fair. Now, job interviews are weird when you’re fat, weirder when you’re disabled, and weirder-er when you have the shit self-image that has been so kindly assisted by patriarchy and pro-patriarchy shitstains like HBSers. Fun fact: most of the shit I get from the public is for being disabled. It’s almost always from white guys. In trans space, it’s HBSers and new trans separatists of the white variety who are busy calling me a dude or claiming disability makes me dangerous. (These are the same people who split hairs endlessly about whether or not I’m allowed to call myself trans. So confusing!) So I really have no earthly idea what someone sees when they see me, and I’m not gonna lie that I’m terrified that it’s some jumbled mess of mess.

Now let’s be real here: getting taken seriously in the world of employment, especially outside tech, requires passing for cis or close enough to it for many people, and if you have other vectors of oppression going on like being disabled, it’s pretty much required. Hell, our own “trans community” can’t seem to hack the existence of disabled trans people, so let’s not get up into the realities of how that works looking for work. I also have the fun of being of indiscriminate racial origin to add to that, though that’s a wildcard as to whether it harms or helps you. I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but “pass or die” is still applicable to job interviews in the modern neo-liberal American empire in decline. Nondiscrimination laws won’t do shit for you when you can’t afford to sue or live in a community where you wouldn’t be able to sue, and the frequently trafficked stereotype of the litigious trans woman would absolutely play into how well that would work anyways.

So the reality here is: I don’t know how to dress for a real-world job that is appropriate, that won’t be overdressed or worse get me seen as a perv because some cis people have some wacky presumption we wear business suits for kicks, that won’t be too business casual in a world where “business casual” keeps changing, etc.  A job interview is a goddamn minefield, and the standards that apply to my cis female friends may well work for them, but I have to show greater caution. Similarly, asking people who work in tech who can wear sweatpants and a t-shirt to the office and don’t have to wonder what piercings will or won’t make you not “qualified” to do a job won’t help because their insight has nothing to do with trying to get a job outside tech. Which, as we’ve discussed, has become an outsourced coder-bro paradise that’s as white and male as humanly possible.  Outsourcing keeps the tech industry as white and mostly-male as humanly possible, as the people whose coding skills are “good enough” are overwhelmingly, you guessed it, white and male. It has nothing to do with skill or your portfolio, it has to do with the same old white boys’ club that ran Corporate America 30 years ago. On the first go-round of the tech industry, support staff weren’t outsourced, and then 9/11 happened, the dot-com bubble dot-bombed, and the resurrection of the tech industry in the 00s was built on outsourcing everything but the white guys. Same old country club bullshit, same old keeping it white and male. Yes, there’s more female coders, and that’s a yay, but many companies don’t do much besides tokenism, and when you’ve outsourced all the other work, you get what you got now.

So I don’t know what to do. Where will the double standard land? I don’t generally have to worry about ‘passing’ for cis, but I can’t ‘pass’ for abled at all (again, a fact, not intended to elicit pity, because fuck pity) and most of the visibly disabled people I know don’t work. I have to work, I don’t have a choice. So what do I do? Wear a suit to an interview, be overdressed, and possibly seen as a perv? Come properly Business Casual and hope that’s not too underdressed? It’s a mess, and it makes it exceedingly hard to know how I’m supposed to act and react when presented with a corporate environment I don’t know.

I think that this is just another double standard which has no necessity nor basis in reality but is designed to maintain the downward post-9/11 vector of women in the American workplace. The US had been sliding to the right slowly since the 80s, but the misogyny of “security culture” America has been unnerving, and where there’s misogyny, there’s always ancillary oppression that hurts women who are otherwise oppressed even worse. Many women have been pressured out of the workforce in ways that we were told had gone by the wayside in the 70s, and the idea that women have a proper “place” in the workplace has arisen anew. If you don’t think the bro culture hell that is tech is a microcosm of this, you’re clearly smoking something much better than I have. “Meritocracy” when it only benefits white men isn’t a meritocracy at all, it’s the same old same old.

And then there’s the perception of disabled women seeking work. I’ve been asked by people what it’s like not having to work because there is a common belief that all disabled people are just given money, and I’ve dealt with people calling me a “scrounger” or worse knowing nothing whatsoever about my life other than what they could conclude by looking at me. Yes, it’s fairly obvious I’m disabled, thats pretty simple, but what’s not obvious is that not all disabled people have the same circumstances and realities in their lives. So not only is the pay gap not narrowing for women in the workplace anywhere near fast enough to achieve equality, the pay gap affects disabled women and women of color even more. Incidentally, this is support for one of the assertions I make, namely that MRAssholes are white supremacists: the people trying to handwave and justify away the pay gap and who claim it doesn’t exist are not just misogynists (the common bond of the Misogynist Rights Hate Movement) but also racists, ableists, and transmisogynists to boot, not just in the transexterminationist hate screeds their Grand Wizards post but also in that they actively support paying women less, which means paying women of color or disabled women MUCH less. The patriarchy never has your back, women.

But you know what the patriarchy loves? Double standards. When double standards exist, they complicate a decision as simple as what to wear.  These double standards mean I never know the right answer when all the possibilities are somehow wrong, and the reality is that if only women are policed that stringently, it’s complicity in misogyny. So when a lady appears slightly overdressed or underdressed to an interview, why not focus on her qualifications and not the threads she’s wearing?

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