Two articles —Thomas H. Benton’s latest column, “The Year of Dressing Formally,” (The Chronicle, January 25) and “Nice Résumé. Have You Considered Botox?” (The New York Times, January 24) — caught my eye recently because they call attention to the starkly different standards of appearance for men and for women.
Benton described how embracing his age and dressing more professionally gave him a greater air of authority in the classroom:
I am turning 40 this year. I haven’t lost my hair, but I am getting a few strands of gray. More and more, I embrace my age. I don’t want to be like the high-school guidance counselor who wears Converse high tops; nor do I want to be the choral director who covers the classic works of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I admire the sober suits of the Hasidim and elderly librarians with eyeglass chains. I am no longer in solidarity with the young; I want my students to grow up. And what better way to achieve that than by seeming to grow up myself? …
Although it got out of hand, I think my year of dressing formally was a worthwhile experiment. In general, professors at liberal-art colleges are encouraged to be nurturing. But I found that a higher level of formality improved my students’ learning. My larger classes ran more smoothly. I had fewer disruptions, less chatter, more note taking. I had fewer grade appeals, even though I graded more rigorously and made larger demands. I saw fewer bare feet, boxer shorts, bed hair, and pajama pants in my classrooms. E-mail messages to me almost invariably began with “Dear Professor” instead of “Hey.”
While his revelation about dressing age-appropriately hardly comes as a surprise to most women (see New Kid on the Hallway’s wonderful commentary on the subject), let’s face it, folks, older men are generally considered distinguished and experienced, but mature women who “embrace [their] age” often get less respect than their male counterparts, as noted in the aforementioned Times article about a self-help book that urges mature working women to hide the signs of age by whatever means necessary. In fact, the Times reporter, Natasha Singer, cites an academic study that found that “younger women were 40 percent more likely to receive an offer of a job interview than women over 50.”
Kind of unfair, no? Share your thoughts.