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I am currently attending the meeting of the American Chemical Society and was surprised by the way people were dressed for the poster presentations. In particular, many young women (and some young men) seemed to be dressed for a night out (tight clothes, heels, make up, etc.). This is not what I'm used to in European or international meetings (including international meetings at the US). More senior female (and male) researchers were wearing clothes I'm more used to in this kind of setting.

This made me wonder: is there some sort of implicit sexism at play here, and do some of these young female researchers feel the need to impress other researchers (both male and female) with their appearance?

I probably should also add that I usually attend physics meetings rather than chemistry meetings, where the ratio of female/male is much higher (we really need to work on improving this in physics). So perhaps dressing habits are simply different across fields.

closed as off-topic by Cape Code, Bob Brown, gerrit, user3209815, vonbrand Mar 15 '16 at 15:16

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    If your question is "do some of these ... researchers feel the need to impress other researchers ... with their appearance", I don't think this is an appropriate question for this site -- it simply isn't possible to answer it. – Tom Church Mar 15 '16 at 13:24
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    My experience at mathematics conferences: the young people dressed more formally are the ones looking for jobs. – GEdgar Mar 15 '16 at 13:39
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    My experience is that young (American) people often feel uncomfortable in business-casual type clothing, because they are not used to it. Perhaps these people are just wearing the clothes that they feel most confident in, and the culture in this meeting allows it. – ff524 Mar 15 '16 at 13:44
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    Have you considered that maybe it is sexism on your part that made you realize what the women were wearing? – StrongBad Mar 15 '16 at 15:11
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    You do understand that e.g., high heels and make up constitute the formal appearance for women in most Western business settings. – Alexandros Mar 15 '16 at 15:23
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This made me wonder: is there some sort of implicit sexism at play here, and do some of these young female researchers feel the need to impress other researchers (both male and female) with their appearance?

It is certainly possible that this is because of some sexist problems in this specific society / community that are not present in the international community. However, given Occam's Razor, I think we should assume that the more simple and straightforward answer is that this is just a regional peculiarity of these meetings, and that we should not extrapolate too much from this without further evidence.

It is not at all uncommon for individual conferences or communities to develop their own standards and behavioral patterns. Basically, this is true for each event where students are likely to attend over multiple years, hence can learn from their experience in the year past. Assume, for instance, that you are a young female PhD student that attends such a meeting for the first time in casual wear, and you see many other students in a similar career phase dressing more formally. Would you not bring more formal clothing next time? I don't think that this should be qualified as "feeling the need to impress", or as any problem that needs addressing.

It is also not overly weird to see more senior people wear differently - they have been attending this meeting for a long time, and (a) don't care much about the current dress code culture, and (b) have probably been nurtured at a time when the dress code was completely different anyway. These things change over time.

Also keep in mind that your own expectation of what is "normal" wear in conferences has also likely not been set in stone from day 1, but is the product of what you have seen in "other conferences". There is no god-given law that jeans are more natural to wear to a conference than nice dresses, heels, or suits.

(Actually, in most non-science conferences, it is normal to dress rather formally, so one can argue that what you have seen in your conference is closer to "normal" than what you are used to)

  • Thanks, this is a good answer. I will wait for other people before accepting it. I agree that each community develops their own subculture and me being new to this community might be the reason why it's shocking to me. – Miguel Mar 15 '16 at 13:57
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The way people dress is their own business, I don't know how you conclude sexism out of it. You could go with an old never washed before shirt or wear your nice clothes for the conference. People are there in the conference to learn/present ideas and their contributions.

Your conclusion on sex/sexuality of individuals based on their clothes, should be kept to yourself.

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    I don't see how you conclude I conclude sexism. I am precisely asking if there is sexism present. – Miguel Mar 15 '16 at 13:29
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    I am not sure why this gets downvoted. I have seen people being treated with open or indirect sexism - this is utterly unacceptable. It's toxic, it's evil. However, I find it very questionable that the dress-up of people in conferences is being the target of a question. No, the OP does not directly imply sexism, but the OP's question is as neutral as asking: "is my office mate stealing my data?" It is not up to us to judge other people's dressing habits at a professional event, and already if we put a question about that, it implies in my opinion an - ever so slight - prejudice. – Captain Emacs Mar 15 '16 at 15:01
  • +1. This a 1000 times. A pretty woman or a handsome guy at a conference may dress as she or he likes. Why should a woman (or a guy) downplay her/his looks? To fit in? People at a conference should be judged by their research output and if some beautiful woman / handsome guy produces good research then more kudos to them – Alexandros Mar 15 '16 at 15:21
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    @Alexandros I do not understand why you are assuming I am judging anybody. I have observed a clear difference between how young and senior researchers were dressed at the poster presentations. I did not observe this same trend among the males (at least not to the same extent). Since there is a clear gender asymmetry I am trying to understand if this arises from sexism. – Miguel Mar 15 '16 at 15:49
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    @Miguel Because as I said in my other comment: Women in professional settings wear make up and high heels. Also walking in any European city, you will see that tight jeans / trousers is the default dress code for young women. Your question assumes that this is peculiar, when it is not. Women coming to conference dinner with sneakers and baggy clothes is more strange, when you seem to assume to be the norm. – Alexandros Mar 15 '16 at 15:55

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