Recently was World Hijab Day. Even though I don’t observe the hijab, many stories that I read about how hijab has gotten in the way of careers, employment and even academic opportunities resonated with me.
I kinda know what it’s like to be discriminated on the basis of what you choose to wear. I’ve been on this side of the table, on the other side a family physician who I was hoping to shadow with scrutinizing my outfit with narrowed eyes, appraising my doctor-ness based on the seriousness of my suit and then asking me,
“Why don’t doctors look like doctors nowadays? Young doctors just don’t dress the part”.
Dressing the part really isn’t that much of a problem where men are concerned, he forgot to tell me. Dressing the part wasn’t his consideration before he interviewed me for a position that he preferred interviewees wore a suit for, while his own collar was left unbuttoned. Dressing the part was an expectation of me but the guy sitting outside who was hoping to be his intern too and competing with me for this position was wearing a polo shirt and slacks. Casual much? But on second thought, was i buttoned-up much? Both literally and figuratively.
Years have passed since I graduated from medical school. I have gained distance from that quick judgment and shrewd interrogation before I was turned down for the candidate who was sitting outside, who casually spat his chewing gum in the trash can right outside the room before walking in confidently. I have owned many suits since then, each with a more vibrant color shirt inside a monochromatic shell, confidence choosing me as I chose confidence over judgment and rejection.
But there is that occasional moment almost everyday when someone makes me self-conscious about what I wear to work. A quiet remark like “Why would I wear my best clothes to work” or “I could never get away with shopping so much” or “Do you spend all your money on shoes and blazers?” or “I wanna see your closet” is enough to make me doubt my choice. May be these sentences were endearing and complimentary initially. With time they became boring, routine and sometimes, invasive.
I’m not a bad dresser. In fact, by popular opinion I’m a good dresser. I’m just not wearing what people expect a doctor to wear. People don’t like to see their physician come into the room with a chiffon blouse with a light embellishment . People don’t like to see their physician wearing red or green or blue or pink or purple. People don’t like to see a woman physician being a colorfully dressed person because somehow that’s again the Hippocratic Oath. It’s not.
People don’t like physicians wearing shoes with bling. People don’t like physicians wearing jewelry or heavy watches. We have to watch the color of our lipstick.
For some reason I’m expected to be shabby, drab and lackluster. Instead I show up colorful, lively and stylish. The expectation isn’t met. This leads to some disappointment. Even though it should lead to a pleasant surprise.
A shabbily dressed physician is usually better received. If he chooses to wear scrubs then that’s even better. After all, scrubs are the universal doctor suit, thanks to all the misleading hospital shows.
But I think, based on my experience, the problem is also because I’m a woman. How dare a woman change the way doctors are supposed to look? How can she be an independent thinker and organizer of her wardrobe? How can she break the age old custom of the “doctor seriousness?” This I think is more the reason.
So I’ve become a little more stubborn which is kinda the norm with most millennials. We become more rigid as the hand around our choices becomes tighter. It’s also a quality that women have. May be because they’ve learned the subtle art of silent rebellion.
We dress up loud. We dress up bright. We dress up like we want. Women physicians really have a stylish side to them and that side goes with us everywhere. We can doctor just fine with our pretty outfits on. Just because we are wearing pretty glass slippers doesn’t mean we have come to a royal ball to dance with our Prince Charming and look delicate.
We are strong women who can wear glass slippers and break the glass ceiling while wearing our glass slippers. We can do both. We can be stylish and professional. We can be beautifully dressed and kick ass at what we do. Really a woman can be many things at the same time. She is so multifaceted that mundane things don’t limit her. The glass ceiling doesn’t limit her. And the glass slippers certainly don’t limit her. Sometimes, they might even help her reach higher.