America the great. So great, that we, as a country, fail to treat women with the same respect as men. Before you men get all defensive, let me tell a story:
On Saturday, I attended a statewide journalism conference. Dozens of people attended and I was the youngest by at least five years, which didn't bother me much -- that's kind of been the case since I started working as a full-time professional journalist at 18 years old. That's fine.
What isn't fine is that on Saturday, while sitting in on a panel discussion at the conference, a woman who was about 45 sat down beside me, looked me up and down and didn't say a word. After introducing myself and starting a conversation, she asked what newspaper I was with, to which I replied appropriately. I answered some questions and gently corrected her when she referred to me as an "intern," which really shocked her.
"You're never going to get any good stories dressing like that." I was wearing a very modest tan dress, about knee-length, with a cardigan on top. Somewhat casual next to her business suit and gelled hair. But still an outfit I would wear, and have worn, to work.
I was so taken aback that it took me a moment to gather my thoughts. And when I did, saying that I'd never had a problem until that moment, she rolled her eyes and said something to the effect of "You don't understand."
I'm pretty thick-skinned, so what she said didn't really hit me deep in the heart, but it did light a fire that has yet to flame out. All around us at that conference were men in jeans and polo shirts. Yet, to feel they were being taken seriously, the women were generally dressed in more business-formal attire. I honestly don't believe that this woman did, or would, approach any of these men and say that they wouldn't be successful because they didn't wear formal business wear to a convention.
This isn't really uncommon, either. Women have to fight for respect, whereas, oftentimes, it's given to men. And they have to fight for that respect among other women. Why? I do not understand and I never will, though I don't believe it's something that will change.
Not two hours later, I locked eyes with the same woman as my name was called for a first-place award for my reporting, beating out several outstanding competitors -- both male and female -- in the hopes that she would then realize the importance of the quality of work over the brand of your blazer or your gender.
Believe me, I do understand the importance of being professional and presentable. Truly. But there is a fine line there. I, as a woman, refuse to let how I look define my success. I will build my credibility through the work I produce, not the outfits that I wear.