A reader asks:
“I will soon be graduating and looking for jobs. What should I wear to a job interview? I usually dress masculine-of-center, and I come off pretty gender neutral, even my name can be ambiguous. Usually this doesn’t bother me, in fact it’s what I’m aiming for; but sometimes it makes others uncomfortable, and that’s the last thing I want to do in a job interview. What should I wear to show that I am female, but dress in a more masculine manner?”
Rachel Maddow, who dresses more masculine but passes as female, is known for wearing Jil Sanders suits
I’m a bit torn about how to answer this question. On one hand, I want to tell you to be yourself no matter what – DON’T CHANGE FOR NOBODY! On the other, I am a cis-gender femme who can pass as straight, so I have had the luxury of never having to experience the fears you expressed in your question. Yet, throughout my career, and especially now in the male dominated, heteronormative, and sometimes very homophobic world of healthcare, I have on many times had to swallow the bitter pill of homophobia once my co-workers and supervisors find out that I’m a lesbian. (I usually start dreading the “Do you have a boyfriend?” and “Are you married?” questions once I start a job.)
Then there’s the fact that I’m bi-racial: half African-American, half Italian-American. I was raised by the highly insensitive Italian-American side of my family, who often called women “broads” and referred to creative troubleshooting as “N-rigging.” Not to mention that I have been told to go back to Africa by a fellow student at my undergraduate college; have had heil Hitler salutes thrown in my direction by a group of skin heads; have had a dear Latina friend of mine tell me that she “doesn’t see me as Black” because I don’t “act like the Blacks on t.v.;” have been followed and harassed by a group of Black men accusing me of being a race traitor while I was walking with one of my gay, White male friends; have been told that I’m “pretty for a Black girl;” have been made fun of for having kinky hair and big lips; have had strangers come up and ask to touch my hair; have been followed around stores by shop clerks; am constantly asked by other customers in stores if I can assist them (no, I don’t work here – I’m shopping too!); have been told that I only got accepted to graduate school at NYU because of my race (never mind that I graduated college with the second highest honors and had a GPA of 3.89); and live in a country where shooting an unarmed Black child is justified because being Black just plain old scares folks. And, even in the face of all of this, I personally would never hide the color of my skin, even if I could – and definitely not to make people feel more comfortable!
And, then I come back to my privilege. Even in negotiating the discriminatory world of healthcare, as a healthcare provider, my economic and job stability is better than many other Americans’. So, who am I to say you should go without a job in order to make a political statement?
In the end, what I am going to advise you is to be mindful of where you are applying. Do you want to work for an organization or supervisor that would discriminate against you? Also think about this: You just might feel MORE uncomfortable dressing in a manner that doesn’t feel right for you, and your interviewer may pick up on your discomfort.
Ellen came out, her show was canceled, but she later found HUGE success.
However, if you feel uncomfortable about your gender presentation and are nervous about projecting these feelings onto your interviewer and/or having a major panic attack, but just don’t have the time right now to work through all of that because you need to put food on the table, look to Rachel Maddow and Ellen DeGeneres for some style inspiration.
Both are power players, dress slightly more masculine, and read as female.
I can give you style advice, but I cannot solve this very personal, tough question for you. Let us know what you decide, and we’d be happy to come up with some more targeted recommendations for you.