Feminism in unexpected places – and the long way left to go

I switched jobs recently, from a more corporate-focused role to an operative position. As you can imagine, the work and the culture are pretty different. I am still learning how things are done around here, but there’s one thing I noticed almost immediately, and it has given feminist-me quite a lot to think about. The facts are straightforward: in order to avoid contamination, people cannot wear makeup in the  clean-room. We would not want purple glitter in our pills (well, on second thought…). So, no one wears makeup. In addition, everyone covers their hair, the clothes are functional and the same for everyone, and so on – basically, the ways to express personality via clothes/hair/makeup are very limited.

You know that feeling when a sound you didn’t even notice suddenly stops? This is the first time in my working life that I do not feel I have to put more effort into my appearance than I want to. The first time in my life without the subtle feeling that looking “professional”, for women, usually includes makeup. I admit, I do miss the ritual of getting ready in the morning, a couple of minutes to prepare myself for the day to come. (I am replacing this with more caffeine because hello, early morning meetings!) But I also kind of enjoy that my appearance, at least while in the plant, has become a non-issue. Of course, I could have ignored the subtle pressure I felt before – no one in their right mind would comment, we have come at least this far. But to not even feel the pressure because it’s just not a thing? Awesome.

Now, I also have to say that feminism still has a long way to go around here. The signs in the ladies’ room telling the female-identifying people “who is responsible? You are looking in HIS face”. The fact that we rarely use the female form of employee when speaking about our colleagues. The fact that despite a pretty even male/female split in local management, you find  instructions asking you to speak to your manager, HE will help you. It’s not difficult to implement gender-respecting language in written texts. Please don’t tell me it’s easier to read – it takes literally a second longer to read both forms. Using the right forms is not even that difficult to implement in spoken language, although I’d be willing to admit it takes a while to train yourself. Before you fight me on this, read this article in the Süddeutsche (sorry, German only). There’s literally no excuse for insisting on the male words as the generic for everyone. It gets more complicated once you take more than two genders into account, as discussed on this article here about gender representation (sorry, again German only – it’s about the german language after all), but we live in a world full tax law and soccer rules. We can handle a bit of complication if it means everyone gets to feel welcome and represented.

There’s quite a bit more to unravel here, and I don’t know yet what’s needed to make things better. But this new experience has shown me that even as a feminist, there’s still a lot of freedom out there that I have not claimed for myself yet. I wonder what else is out there to discover?