Saturday, May 23, 2015

Women Who Wear Makeup Get Paid More:

The Beauty of an Even Playing Field

    As Ty Kiisel points out here, humans tend to judge and get judged, consciously, or unconsciously, by our appearances. He references this article by Aaron Gouveia, citing research that our appearances affect
many things at work, e.g. tall people get paid more, fat people [his words, not mine] get paid less, women who wear makeup get paid more, etc. Brian Tracy, a "personal success authority" says
"Your clothes are responsible for 95 percent of the first impression that you make on someone because, in most instances, your clothes cover 95 percent of your body. Your grooming, your hair style and the other ways you can determine your appearance from the neck up also exert an inordinate influence on the way that you are perceived, on your ethos with someone. "

[I realize these may be U.S.-centric examples, but I don't want to speak of things I don't know anything about. So please add your own cultural examples in the comments if you can.]

What is my point?

Connected Courses such as #rhizo15, #CLMOOC, #connectedcourses, etc. create a playing field more even than most f2f learning situations.  We interact with people primarily for the value of their work, their humor, their interactions, their willingness to share and be vulnerable, their willingness to connect reciprocally.  It has little, very little, to do with anything superficial, such as what they look like or wear.

I would like to think that happens in most real life learning environments, too.  But I am not that naive.

Fortunately for most of us, in connected courses, we can work and interact with each other in our pajamas, our farm duds, with babyfood smeared on our hijab, or muddy dog prints on our jeans, no make-up, hair uncombed.

If you met me in person, you would know that I have nine tattoos, short grey hair, and dress pretty androgynously.

This week Kevin made a cartoon version of me, which I loved.  He got the hair pretty close, but I never wear skirts/dresses, and let's just say sweaters don't look that good on me, and we'll leave it at that (LOL).

I have on many occasions been judged for my tattoos, my lack of feminine attire, etc.  But those things are not a factor in courses like Rhizo and CLMOOC. We find out about each other in dribs and drabs, already having had valuable interactions that are far more important than finding out someone has tattoos.

I don't know if you are heavy or skinny, masculine or feminine, sloppy or neat, disheveled or tall or short.  It points out how unimportant our actual appearances are to our interactions.

Many of us have, at different times, made cartoon versions of each other.    

However, I am always mindful of the potential for cultural ignorance (in myself), so I always ask the person directly, if I am in doubt.  We recently made a happy birthday video for Kevin, our cartoon master.  I made cartoon superhero versions of participants, and didn't want to do anything to Maha Bali's character that would be culturally offensive. This is what I ended up with, after consultation with her:

It is rather freeing, really, to be judged by the quality of one's work and the reciprocity of one's interactions. And not by the weight of any other scale.

As you find out more about what someone in an online course looks like, does it change how you think of them? Does it change how you interact with them?

[Maha and I have chatted about how other things aside from physical appearance affect our perceptions of each other, but she has written about that far more eloquently than I could.]

Now I am going to go put on pants.


  1. Identity is going to be one of the first make cycles in CLMOOC so this is entirely apt. One of the advantages of being me is that I really don't care about having jobs that make me buy new wardrobes. Another example of my male privilege (get over it).

    I once wore one tie every day for a year because I was required to do so even though it was dangerous to do so with the kinds of students I was working with. I chose one that would hide the eventual filth in a filigree of patterns. For some reason no one called me on it.

    I buy two consignment shirts and three pairs of consignment pants every other year. Those clothes cycle down to "farm wear" after three years. Any clothes that become unwearable serve as erosion control devices in the many gullies on our farm. Once something comes onto our farm it rarely leaves. I have told my wife that if I cease to be useful on the farm that she is to point me toward one of those ditches and....well, get imaginative. Shorthand phrase--the ditch.

    Although I have my biases for appearance they are my own damned business and no one else's just as yours are yours. That is hard learned and hard earned for us both. Deal with that, too. Blindspots are blind for a reason. Appearance is an American blindspot and pity the fool who fights our love of the superficial. But keep on, Susan, I know you will.

  2. Terry, I have tons more to say about this topic, so I am happy that Identity will be a Make Cycle. Will respond more later....

    1. I think discussions of clothing mores really get at both cultural embodiment and cognitive embodiment. They also help us see blindspots, structural disconnects and system limits. We are considering promoting ongoing inquiry projects like this in CLMOOC and this would be a perfect fit. We ought to talk about this via a Hangout on Air or a movie night?

    2. That is a great idea if we can manage timezones....

  3. I think your point is well made and one of the reasons I liked CLMOOC so much last year. Glad to hear that the first cycle will center on identity again. I'm hoping to get some of the folks from my building on board this summer.

  4. Appreciated this so much. A stream throughout #rhizo15 has been how to incorporate marginalized folks or whether that's possible with the kinds of readings and the preponderance of university types and this might have been a good place to start, or maybe a way to start #rhizo16 :) That it didn't occur to me is probably an aspect of my own privilege. *damn, not again*

    But I really like how this keeps it real and appreciate the vulnerability here. One of the most brilliant profs I've worked with was a plain dressing radical feminist who gathered and supported a whole lot of LGBTQ and other minority folks and told us that where we were standing, in that space, some a--hole was not standing. if we left, someone "more suitable" would appear and continue a cycle of power and control through knowledge. so, she would say, how can we help each other stay in these unfriendly spaces? i learned so much in her classes and from working with her after she got me a couple of wonderful research assistantships there, but one of the things i remember 25 years later with PTSD clarity is that during her contract review the head of the department suggested she dress more femininely to "fit in" - maybe still wear her favourite baggy sweaters but she could find some that had sparkles in them? i had watched her fearlessly take on whole departments and the local society for semiotic analysis and even Edward Said but after that review when i walked into her office she was sitting there weeping.

    interestingly, she's the person who introduced me to Garfinkel's theory of successful degradation ceremonies...

    the near-normalisation of being gay that's occurred over the last years, at least here in Canada where i live (pretty urban west coast), has been odd in its de-marginalisation of voices like mine. when i started teaching adults i would always begin by talking about being gay, because i'd spent so much time in those institutions feeling alone, and i hoped that if someone there was also feeling alone or powerless they would feel less so, but if i didn't say it out loud people would always assume i was straight. in the other part of my life i was living in what was affectionally known as a gay ghetto, eating in gay restaurants, shopping in gay stores, etc. so it was weird to leave that and go to campus and have a whole other set of assumptions place on me.

    but now, when i go to visit my daughter's college, which was my first college, in a spot where i used to sit alone because i felt i couldn't talk about who i was, there is an actual LGBTQ student centre. a big rainbow flag and a welcome sign. bowls of condoms and apples on the coffee table of the retreat room "safe space" there. hmmmm.... and, though the young people with multi-colored hair seem unaware of it, there are many ghosts of my co-students, professors and students who died of Aids there, in hospitals that didn't want them, and signs about how more gay people than straight people smoke and what are the implications of that, and the stats about homeless youth in which so many have been kicked out of their family homes after coming out. less compelling and less inciting and newsworthy...

    i have to do this in two parts it says because i'm being too wordy :)

    1. i hadn't been thinking about any of this as it pertains to online education really. i am more aware of age and agism, both in the ways that it is directed towards me, returning to school in my 50s, and in how it infiltrates my own perceptions. when i went back to university i probably wouldn't have been able to stay in the online environments except that this fella just showed up and kept helping me - and then he friended me on Facebook and I found out he was, like, 21. he showed me the tech stuff, which he was so familiar with and all new to me, but also a different set of values in how to deal with what he perceived to be a simple system that was just there to award diplomas for minimal effort. if we had to write a paper on something i'd be sweating and rewriting and revising and editing a hundred times and he'd start the day before and set his computer up to let him know when he'd reached the right number of words. 80% of the time we got the same marks and the other 10% were profs who really cared about the thinking that was evident in the papers and would make him do things over and responded best to what i was doing, while the other 10% loved his approach and seemed to dislike how i was working at the edges of things in more passionate, creative ways. they wanted evidence that the factory they were invested in was working. i'd assumed we were off to university to become better people (in an arts / humanities discipline) and he assumed we were there to get paper that would allow us access to other environments and becoming a better person would happen in "real life." rhizomatically, it was a whole other education than the one we'd intended on getting.

      interestingly one of the first disclosures we made to each other was that i was gay and he was a devout christian in a not very gay tolerant church in an untolerant city and we had to walk through lots around that, but then in the middle of our degrees he took a course on gender identity and suddenly came out. even that was a learning opportunity because whereas i'd come out in secret, 30 years earlier, slowly finding my people in the shadows so to speak, he *came out* in this new-to-me way - he joined a group for gay writers, he met someone else who had just come out, they were virgins together and got married and bought a house and he went to work for the local LGBTQ centre and recently sent me pictures of him and his partner escorting members of the local coming out group in their first gay parade. a whole new world :)

      anyway, thanks for this and for making me think. i've enjoyed spending time with you in #rhizo15 and your thoughtful posts.

      now back to the (real) garden.

  5. Great post, and something I've been thinking about a lot for a while. One of the reasons I encourage online participation at school (9-12) because the online spaces always surprise with kids who are not comfortable expressing their ideas in class but find eventually that eg blog writing allows them some sort of security - not sure that's the right word. So it might be an appearance thing or a confidence thing, they might be very self conscious. Nobody can see you sweating and blushing online. Nobody can interrupt you because you are not a charismatic speaker.

    1. Tania, this may also be why so many people who feel like they are "introverts" do well in connected courses....

  6. This is very interesting thinking. Five or so years ago I would have never posted a video of myself for a course, and if I go back to university days I was removing myself with scissors from photos with friends. I was teased for being skinny and sometimes I find people don't take that seriously, but I went through my teens & 20s feeling hideous. How I felt about how I looked that made a dent in my education as it translated into someone who could never match up in person to their writing. I even met my husband through writing (on the www pre-graphical web ) & was terrified that in person, I would dissapoint. I won awards for powerful writing and never turned up as I thought I didn't match up. this day, writing is still my preference and I love online courses for that. More often now though, video presence is expected and that's why I have forced myself to into being ok on camera, but this is very recent and exactly why I posted a video to the rhizo facebook page - because it does teach you to let go. I think writing though, does have some difficulty as the main medium. We post from phones & keyboardless devices and may be judged based on our typos, grammatical errors or brevity, so our writing does in some sense become judged on its appearance too. Great post & made me think of my own demons which are always worth re- acknowledging when you've managed to kick their ass - they are always on the periphery, waiting for vulnerability. Based on my own experiences, I would never force young students to contribute to video & always have multi-format choice. Video can exacerbate our perception of ourselves in ways that live presentation can't and is a medium that amplifies those demons. I don't jump in front of video, but I do run away more slowly and sometimes turn back. ;)

    1. Angela, I shy away from video for a variety of reasons. It is brave of you to make yourself do something that is not your preference. Maybe that can be one of my subjectives this summer. :)

  7. Great discussion. I'd like to turn the insight on its head: there are challenges in the online-only environment that arise from our judgements and reactions to the appearance and presentation of our communications, much like the ways we judge face-to-face appearance. A post with grammatical or spelling errors, awkward syntax, unfamiliar vocabulary, or confusing phrasing can be ignored, dismissed, or criticized, rather than examined for its content and potential merit or interest. Makes me want to ask Paul Allison about whether this is an issue that's been addressed in Youth Voices...

  8. In my opinion wholesale clothing for women always making the good impression!:)

  9. Wonderful post; you touched on something I have thought about many times though have not been able to process enough, especially given how often I am online and intentionally shy away from video and photos. I suppose I am text focused, though find myself recognizing people more by their avatars than by their names. At one point somebody started to talk to me in a group conference call as if we were long-lost friends, and not knowing who the person was at all had to do some quick online searches to realize I knew the person based on a Twitter name and avatar, and really had no idea what the given name or appearance of the person was like. While in many ways I wish online education and groups and such were more prevalent years ago when I was growing up, I find much of my online work helps me process meaning making that has somehow never happened in other ways. To this point, I have no idea what anybody in your post looks or sounds like, Susan, and to Terry's point, that may be preferable in many ways depending on a variety of socio-cultural factors.

    Thanks for pointing me to this posting . . .

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