Artwork for podcast Academic Aunties
How do I look?
Episode 2416th November 2022 • Academic Aunties • Ethel Tungohan
00:00:00 00:41:21

Share Episode

Shownotes

How we appear, our dress, our hair, our style, how we carry ourselves are all things that we as marginalized academics are being judged against. Do we look the part of the academic? Do we want to? To talk about this we welcome Dr. Nadia Brown, a Professor of Government and the Director of the Women's and Gender Studies Program at Georgetown University, and Dr. Danielle Lemi, Tower Center Fellow at the Tower Center at Southern Methodist University.

They recently released an amazing book, Sister Style, The Politics of Appearance for Black Women Political Elites, that unpacks the politics of appearance and respectability. We talk about this book and how their study of Black women political elites mirror the experiences we have in academia.

Related Links

Thanks for listening! Get more information, support the show, and read all the transcripts at academicaunties.com. Get in touch with Academic Aunties on Twitter at @AcademicAuntie or by e-mail at podcast@academicaunties.com.

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a commission. Thanks.



This podcast uses the following third-party services for analysis:

Podcorn - https://podcorn.com/privacy
Podsights - https://podsights.com/privacy

Transcripts

Ethel Tungohan:

I'm Dr. Ethel Tungohan, an Associate Professor of Politics at York University. This is Academic Aunties.

Ethel Tungohan:

How do I look? That's a question I think many of us are constantly asking ourselves, not just because we want to look good, but because how we appear, our dress, our hair, our style, how we carry ourselves.

Ethel Tungohan:

They're all things that we as marginalized academics are being judged against. Do we look the part of the academic? Do we want to?

Ethel Tungohan:

To talk about this I am honored to have on the show this week Dr. Nadia Brown and Dr. Danielle Lemi. They recently released an amazing book, Sister Style, The Politics of Appearance for Black Women Political Elites that unpacks the politics of appearance and respectability.

Ethel Tungohan:

The book recently won the Ralph J Bunche best book Award from the American Political Science Association and tells a story of how the politics of appearance shape black women's political ambitions, opportunities, and access to political office. So I listened to the audio book of Sister Style and it immediately made me think about how this labor of calibrating appearance is something that we have to do constantly in academia.

Ethel Tungohan:

I think you'll see yourselves in this conversation. Enjoy.

Ethel Tungohan:

I am so happy to have Dr. Danielle Lemi and Dr. Nadia Brown here on the pod to talk about the politics of appearance and we'll also talk about their book Sister Style. And I just wanted to ask Dr. Brown and Dr. Lemi if you can introduce yourself for the benefit of our listeners.

Nadia Brown:

Sure. Hi everyone, I am Nadia Brown. I am a Professor of Government and the Director of the Women's and Gender Studies Program at Georgetown University.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

And I am Danielle Lemi. I am a Tower Center Fellow at the Tower Center at Southern Methodist University.

Ethel Tungohan:

Fantastic. Well, thank you for coming to the pod. So for my, my first question for both of you is you wrote this fantastic book, Sister Style, you talk about the politics of appearance. How did this book come together? How did you first envision writing a book about appearance and interviewing elite Black women.

Ethel Tungohan:

How did this come about?

Nadia Brown:

So this book has been rumbling in my brain for almost 12 years now, and I had originally scoped out a book that would require me to do a lot of intensive field work, that would require me to go to women's campaigns and to shadow them and to travel around the country. And then I was in a car accident and had children very quickly back to back to back to back.

Ethel Tungohan:

Okay.

Nadia Brown:

So between 2014 and 2019, my life was like, no, you are not doing intensive field work. No. You have to stay home. You, you can do this. Um, and so I already have the kind of the, the gist of how I thought about writing this book, but when it became clear that I couldn't do it the way that I had originally thought because of physical limitations, I called Danielle. And Danielle and I met, I'm gonna get this wrong, I'm gonna get the year wrong.

Nadia Brown:

Um, do you remember Danielle?

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

Oh, it must, uh, I think, I feel like I cold emailed you 2013 and then maybe we met 2014, one of those years, 2013, 14. Somewhere around there.

Nadia Brown:

And so we just had a phone call and chatted. This was before Zoom World. And then the following year, Danielle applied to be a intersectionality dissertation discussion fellow through the APSA short course where Sarah Gershon and I led. And so then I got to really read Danielle's work in depth and get to know her a little bit better over that one day workshop.

Nadia Brown:

And so I thought about like her skill set. We had similar questions in mind. We were thinking about studying legislators in similar ways. But I did not have the skill set that Danielle has. And so one night I just called her and I was like, Hey, here's like a really random question. You wanna write a book with me? And she agreed.

Ethel Tungohan:

That's awesome. And Danielle, how did you feel when Nadia called you and how did that kinda, you know, how did that kind of factor into your academic plans at that point? Were you expecting to co-author a book?

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

Well, okay, so I, I'm gonna, I'm gonna tell the story of like how I first sent that cold email.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

So, I was working on my dissertation, and so I study elite politics and I was doing some field work asking legislators questions about identity. And what I do in my work is I integrate mixed race politicians, comparing them to everybody else. And so I had already been thinking about how these questions of like, how you look and what are you and are you really this and like, like the politics of appearance.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

Um, I had been thinking about this in my own work and so when I set off to do my field work, I read Nadia's first book and I was like, I don't know how to talk to legislators. I don't know how to do this. But I was like, Okay, I like how Nadia did it. Let me just see what she thinks about my work, and so I, I sent her a cold email and then we kept in touch, and then I don't remember all the details that happened like this whole time. So, but when she called me and she was like, Do you wanna write this book? I was like, Yeah. You know, I didn't, I didn't know, I didn't know like what really that all entailed. But, I was really honored that Nadia invited me to join her on this project.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

It was an amazing experience and so it's fun to get to talk to people that you admire who've influenced your work, but it's a whole other thing when you get to work with them.

Ethel Tungohan:

That's amazing. I thought the book was fantastic and I thought as a gender scholar too, it was really interesting that both of you made the concerted decision to actually center black women and to talk about the politics of appearance for black women. And what I found really fantastic about the book was you've woven together one-on-one interviews also with kind of participant observation. And through these discussions you also could see differences among Black women, right? Uh, when it comes to kind of the role of the politics, of appearance and respectability politics.

Ethel Tungohan:

So really, absolutely love the book. What insights can you share to our listeners about the role the politics of appearance plays on Black women across generations? Like, are younger generations less impacted by, by respectability politics?

Nadia Brown:

So we end the book with more provocative questions, I think, than, than, um, than giving answers. But I, I don't think that respectability politics is going anywhere precisely because respectability politics is a tool that Black women created to combat racism and sexism within a, within a white hetero, patriarchical, supremist society.

Nadia Brown:

And, that culture, that society still exists, right? And, and so although things have changed and we've made some progressions, the rationale why these Black club women? Um, so this is the term respectability politics comes to us from historian Evelyn Hagen Boham, who writes about Black Baptist Club women, uh, at, after the end of slavery and the reconstruction, Jim Crow, and as a tool for them to try to use white, Victorian modes of operation to out um, outperform white middle classness to say that if you're going to treat me poorly, you shouldn't, because look at me. I am just, as you know, upholding of Victorian models and modes of operation as you are. And so I think the part that is always this pushback, always, like it's been, it's respectability politics is problematic, period. However, what we wanted to do in this book is kind of shed light on why it came about and how people reify it, and so it changes and morphs and looks different in different generations, but it's enduring because the issues that Black women faced out of enslavement, again, different, some things have diff, some things have changed and others have not.

Nadia Brown:

So this becomes a tool that we see moving forward. And so all of that backstory to say in our focus groups of sorority sisters in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, there are younger women and older women who were in some ways talking past each other around respectability politics. And then they kind of come to convergence where they understand or think they understand one another and they're being kind and loving to one another and sisterly.

Nadia Brown:

But what we end with is a kind of shape shifting of respectability politics that people recognize as a matter of fact, right? And with this enduring hope that there will be no more need for respectability politics, however, right? Like it is there.

Ethel Tungohan:

Danielle, did you have any other insights to share? What was the process like for you to, to come into this project and to also be part of the research process involving interviews with Black elite women, political elites?

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

Yeah, I mean, I think for me, you know, I'm a non-Black woman. I'm, I'm Mexican and Filipino, but people often read me as Latina. And so Nadia and I made a very intentional decision in both of the focus groups that, like Nadia would primarily be the moderator and I would like, you know, take notes, observe, you know, do the consent forms, all that stuff.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

From my positionality, I felt very honored to be in those spaces because I think in those kind of spaces, people, people share things. Like people will talk about things that have happened to them that they might not just tell me as a researcher if I were there alone or like just tell me on the street or something.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

Right? And so people show a lot of vulnerability and it's a very. These are powerful settings, and I don't, I don't wanna say, um, like delicate, like they're, they're almost sacred settings because people are sharing parts of themselves to you as the researcher. Like as an outsider, I am also, you know, I'm a cultural outsider and so I felt very honored to be able to hear these things.

Ethel Tungohan:

Absolutely. And I think that's another question I wanted to queue up as well. I mean, we're both, well, we're all political scientists, right?

Ethel Tungohan:

And I think what I found so fantastic about this book was you focus on appearance, you focused on hair, you focus on the impacts, appearance has on how these women navigated their everyday lives as politicians, right? Do you find the field, well the discipline receptive to these arguments, were there people who pushed back?

Ethel Tungohan:

Cause I mean, in the study of kind of, you know, racialized women and women candidates, I've never really read a lot of studies that talked about appearance specifically. Right. And so this is what I found so, so brilliant and so unique about your work. So how did the discipline receive this? Were you both kind of, when you were figuring out this book, project thinking?

Ethel Tungohan:

I dunno, like how like the dude bros of Poli Sci would receive this, Right? ,

Ethel Tungohan:

What do you think?

Nadia Brown:

So we won the 2022 Ralph Bunch Best Book Award in the section for racial ethnic politics. Yes. So our book, , our book was, um, well received. However, they I'll speak for myself, I don't wanna put words in Danielle's mouth.

Nadia Brown:

This book, I mean, so we wrote it during the pandemic and it was... we weren't able to go to conferences, we weren't able to kind of like workshop or share much of, much of the, of the book. I needed it to be done in order for me to go up for full to come to Georgetown. And so we kind of had like a clock, you know, like if we had to get this out.

Nadia Brown:

So I was really feeling, um, I dunno to... to risk kinda exposing my, my imposter, the, the imposter syndrome. I really felt like this book might not be good. And, and it wasn't anything to say about Danielle, right? So I'm, I'm owning all of this, right? It's my feelings. I'm not trying to put anything on her, but I felt like, this might just be a hurried book for me to make full, and then I can sit down and maybe try to do justice to this in a fuller time and space later on.

Nadia Brown:

Maybe Danielle likes working with me and will work with me again. Right. I was like kind of having all of these little things open my brain. Then we submitted it to all these awards and we didn't get any except that one. And that one came out really, really late. Right. So other, um, like the other awards were coming out, um, like in March or something, right?

Nadia Brown:

Like March, April of last year. Um, we got the notice of the APSA award like early summer and so like all these other things that come out and they were coming and good books we were up against, like books that I read, I served as reviewers for. People that are like my friends. I'm so, so happy. But I also just was a little sad for me and I thought it wasn't, it wasn't good.

Nadia Brown:

So to receive that book award meant, I think more because again, like it was under a rock. No one saw this, right? We didn't go to conferences, we didn't workshop it. Um, it's really just me and Danielle writing back and forth. There's really not really, there's no outside influence. Um, and then just really quickly, and I don't wanna hog all the, the podcast time, but when I first started this project, it was 2013 I believe, or 2012 maybe around there. Cause it was before I had the first kid and I went to the Midwest to, and I gave, I gave kind of the general of like what this book was going to become and the panel, the discussant on my panel told me, that this wasn't political and that what I was really talking about was someone having a bad hair day and that he's gotten a bad haircut at super cuts.

Nadia Brown:

Oh my God. And therefore, it's the same thing as what black women were saying. And I was floored, right? Like I, I still like, have flashback, like was that out of body experience where I was like, What the hell? and the, um, and there was a grad student sitting next to me and she put her hand on my thigh and I thought like she was going to, and I was, I was, um, I was, I think it might be on my second year in the tenure clock, and the grad student next to me was a senior grad student that we had kind of been in similar circles, but she put her hand on my thigh and I thought it was going to be like a, Oh, you know, it's okay.

Nadia Brown:

You know, he's a jerk. He doesn't understand. And she whispered to me, you know, He's right. And then I just remember what my face, Yeah, I mean everything. I remember my face getting red or like red for black folk. I don't know , but like just hot hot and like angry tears streaming down my face. Oh. And it took me a a while to kind of come back to myself in the, in the panel, but there were several people I, I remember in that panel who made similar kind of comments and I don't remember all of them, cuz that one was enough for me to just like, kind of shut down and, and then when I finally kind of like got myself together towards the end of the panel.

Nadia Brown:

I think I tried to say something intelligent, but who knows what came out. But at that point, um, I was like, I have to make this tighter. I have to make this, you know, I have to be able to make this legible to, um, to political science bros because they clearly don't get it. And so shout out to a good friend Camille Burge, who sat with me that night while we drank a lot.

Nadia Brown:

We drank a lot that night. Um, so and like to help me feel a little bit better, but then she also gave me the pep talk to be like, you know, that was some bullshit. You can do this. And helped me to kind of like, get my confidence enough to be able to say, This is a good project and now I wanna move forward.

Ethel Tungohan:

Thank you so much for that. I didn't realize that it started way back then. Right? And it started because, you know, you wanted to share this at the Midwest and that that asshole was like, No, it's like me having, Well first of all, like... no, it's not comparable it, it's what? It's, Yeah, just, just say it. Yeah. But then, you know, years later to get this award then it kind of shows what a long, kind of decade long journey this project took, right?

Ethel Tungohan:

Danielle, did you hear about, did you know about this kind of origin story? Almost did Nadia share it with you?

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

I learned about the origin story when we were doing what it, like we were giving a, a talk and something. It was, it was in the zoom time when I first learned of this story from Nadia. But I mean, it does not, it's, it's not surprising that, that that happened.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

I mean, poli sci, it's like we're so behind, and so like for me as we were getting through the book, like I actually was like, this is a really rich project because we had so much data and we were just tackling this from so many angles and so it didn't really matter if we found super huge experimental results like that, that stuff did not matter.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

It was that we just had so much evidence bringing to bear, like on, on these questions and so much different kind of evidence. And so I was really excited. I thought the book, um, to me I thought it was very innovative and, you know, political science, I mean, I think about this a lot because I studied descriptive representation, and to me it seems like why would we not ask questions about appearance when we're studying descriptive representation. Right? And so of course there's gonna be diversity within ethno racial groups based on how they look. And of course there's gonna be different experiences, you know, different outcomes for all of these different kinds of descriptive representatives. Why would we not study those things?

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

But political science is like, what? I don't get it. What does this mean? So, you know whatever.

Ethel Tungohan:

Absolutely. I mean one thing I wanted to ask you both more about is, you know, Danielle, you had said earlier that there were a lot of similarities in hearing about these women navigate the politics of appearance and in politics.

Ethel Tungohan:

And kind of there's similarities between that and the way racialized women and Black women navigate the politics of appear in academia. I mean, when doing this project, were there moments, where both of you were like actually, I, I share kind of a similar experience.

Nadia Brown:

So this is how the project started for me was I, when I was in graduate school, I wanted to go natural and I was toying between like for the whole, almost all the time in graduate school I would grow it out, that I would relax it again, then I would say I was gonna stop and I would relax it again. Um, and I remember just like, kinda like casually talking to one of my dissertation co-chairs, and I said, I'm going to, you know, I'm not gonna relax my hair anymore. Um, but sidebar, I was still getting it like blown blow dry, straight at the Dominican Doby shot, right?

Nadia Brown:

So it was still bone Dr. You know, it was just still straight, but it wasn't relaxed. And, um, and she looked at me with all earnest and said, You can't do that. You're already, you're already, um, studying Black feminism. People are gonna think you're a scary black feminist and they're not gonna hire you. Now, this was, so I came out, um, in 2010.

Nadia Brown:

So 2009, 2008 were really scary job market, right? It was the great recession. And so 2008, most jobs have been shut down 2009. Some jobs were, were popping back up. And in my year there were only four RAP jobs that were on the market and I got one of them. And so it, it could, I could have like in hindsight, right, I could have like internalized, it was like, man, I'm badass, right?

Nadia Brown:

I got this, you know, outta these very scarce, um, um, amount of jobs. I got one. But no, I didn't feel that way cuz I, I was super insecure. And so I kept my hair straight and it was an awful, awful, awful first job. And I write about this elsewhere so you can read how negative it was. But when I was, it was time for me to go and I got the job at Purdue, I stopped relaxing my hair and I was like, I'm not gonna do this. I can't keep doing this. This is not what I want it to be. And this project started because when I was doing my dissertation research, a woman just started, like a legislator just started talking to me about her hair and that she was natural and she's in the, you know, and she's in the state house and voters have two years to get used to this, basically, right?

Nadia Brown:

If they don't like her because of her hair, they could vote her out. And so that was a really empowering thing for me. I kept coming back to it, kept coming back to it, and then the women would just kind of start opening up and talking to me about their hair and their decisions and how they were trying to, you know, to navigate this professional setting.

Nadia Brown:

And I was doing that too in those same ways, but didn't have the words to articulate it because Right. Unlike legislators, right, like, I'm not putting out, you know, head shots of me on campaign materials. Um, but I was scared to show up with my natural hair and it really wasn't until 2015 when I locked my hair.

Nadia Brown:

Um, because I had my first daughter and one, it was just like, I can't, It's too much work and I can, I can't. I'm just gonna lock my hair. It's way easier. But the other was that I really wanted to have locked hair. I was like, why can't I do this? Why can't I do this? And having a Black daughter, I really wanted her to love herself, love her hair, and all the things that I felt with my hair growing up I did not want her to feel.

Nadia Brown:

And that for me was like the initial change, right? It was the bad job. I'm going natural. And then the having the daughter and I was like, the discipline can say whatever at this point. Now, it also helped that I was tenured right at that it also helped that I was tenured. I'm not, I'm not even gonna front, but I do think that this would've been a different, a different book if I were not transitioning along with writing the book or thinking about the book.

Nadia Brown:

So the book for me is a love letter to myself and my hair and a future for what my girls-- I have three little Black girls that I affectionately refer to as brown girls-- what they could be and what they would look like. And if I didn't love and embrace my hair and talk about this, how could I expect them to do the same?

Ethel Tungohan:

I really love, uh, this, this, this story, cuz I think it shows that, you know, through, through this time period, the way you've kind of navigated the politics of, of appearance shifted as well. Right? So what you're saying is that it depends on where you were, it depends on whether you even have tenure. It depends on your position as well.

Ethel Tungohan:

Right? And it depends on, you know, whether you have children and then you start thinking about what lessons you want them to learn, right? Yes. Um, yeah, I mean, I. You know, one question. One other question I have though is, do you see, I mean with Danielle as well, do you see more people in academia pushing back against these standards?

Ethel Tungohan:

Do you see like younger generations of scholars being, being dissatisfied with, with a desire to render themselves visually legible?

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

I don't know. I think it depends. I think it depend on the circles that you run in, in poli sci because I think like when there's an event that is specifically for women of color, like I, I don't, I see every, like, everybody's just doing their own thing, right? I don't, I it's, it's not like when you go to the conferences and everyone is like wearing very conservative clothing.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

It's not just the colors, but the kinds of clothes that they wear and like how the clothes are cut. It depends on what spaces you're in, where you, you, you can observe. Are there, are more people adhering to these norms or are they breaking against these norms? Um, so I think it depends, but I don't know.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

Nadia what do you think?

Nadia Brown:

So, um, my first female graduate student went on the market last year and I looked at all of her, um, like I wanted to prepare her for all the things. And one of the things that she asked to do, and I was also like this is a good idea, was via Zoom. Like, look at what she planned to wear and that she would take pictures of her hair and her outfits and the shoes and right all, all of these things. And she was locking her hair, and so it wasn't fully locked. So it was a little fuzzy . And so we were talking about like, what's the way to, um, you know, how do you wanna wear your hair? How, how do you want this to look? And, and I don't necessarily say it's like, it's, that's not a unique experience.

Nadia Brown:

I think many, uh, women graduate students have a similar kind of relationship with their, with their female mentors. Or femme presenting, graduate students. But I think the difference is that I gave advice like, you should fully present as you, right? Like you don't need to look any other kind of way and be completely happy.

Nadia Brown:

You just want something that is functional. And so my, my advice was like, is this comfortable for you to wear in an uncomfortable situation? So if you're gonna pull your hair all the top of your head for a big bun, how long do you think you're gonna be able to wear that? Right? Like that was kind of like, it's already a bad situation.

Nadia Brown:

Job talks are, are hard. But I also, I hope to be that change and that shift, because I remember what it was like for me, you know, almost, you know, 12 years ago coming out and 13 years ago coming out and someone telling me I couldn't present the way I wanted to. So I wanted to give advice that was like, yeah, the world is changing, right?

Nadia Brown:

Like you can show up as yourself. But also let's be real practical, right? Like, yeah, those shoes might be cute, but you don't need to be, you know, don't pack them because you can't be walking around campus in those kind of things, right? Um, you might need a good loafer. So it was more along those lines, but I also wanted to be really clear on, as a Black woman, how people might view her. So if her. Whether, you know, whether her skirt was deemed the cut was too tight or too short. Right. She would have the additional burden of being sexualized because we know that that is how Black women are read.

Nadia Brown:

Um, and but not looking, dowdy not looking frumpy. Right. It, it is a, it's a distinctly fine line because Black women have to navigate these stereotypes and I really wanted her to be aware of that and, and not reify in ways like, Girl, this is what it is. But like, I want you to be aware that it's out there and that hopefully it won't be as much, you know, in the future, but you should think about how to present yourself in ways so that you can get the job.

Nadia Brown:

And then once you show up on, you know, August 15th, show up on August 15th, right? Like, do do what you would like to do.

Ethel Tungohan:

It seems like a really hard line to draw. I mean, even listening to you kind of narrate what advice you were giving her. It's almost like, you know, be yourself. You know, go, go for it, but also be aware of how people might be responding to you.

Ethel Tungohan:

Right. So, I don't know. I mean, I think like how this is so this is, you're try, it's like it's, it's so hard to navigate.

Nadia Brown:

You know, it is, it's, I mean, and also I think it's kind of impossible, right? Like it it is, it is sort of impossible because we know that the structures that are in, you know, outside, in the dominant discourse around, right, white supremacy and heteropatriarchy are in the discipline here and that black women, you know, Latinas and native women and Asian American women are viewed through these historic stereotypes, right? So we have to be more cognizant in ways, right, that men don't have to be, um, we don't have a uniform, right?

Nadia Brown:

That's one of the things that the candidates talked about was that there was a standard candidate uniform, right? So like you could, men can put on a suit, you know, a dark suit, a white shirt, and you know, um, you know, some sort of, I mean, a pattern tie even, but like women. There is, you know, all the things that you can wear and the amount of head space that it takes up to figure out how to get dressed in the morning, to be professional, to be deemed professional, right, is something that women deal with that men don't have to deal with, but it's an extra layer when you are a woman of color.

Nadia Brown:

Um, and, and so I wanna be able to, to call that out, and not just for the women to say that you have to change yourself, but to also think about, right, men, how are you showing up for the women that are being going on these job candidate talks? Right. Are you looking like, okay, she has on, you know, four inch heels.

Nadia Brown:

I don't know why, but let's not take the, let's not take the campus, you know, walk around the tour on the cobblestone bricks if it looks like this is not something that this person can do at this point, right? I don't know. I mean, that's a silly, a silly example, but, I mean, I wanna underscore that there are just ways that our discipline reifies some of the very worst things that enable us to just continue to see why being a woman of color matters.

Ethel Tungohan:

A hundred percent. And I think what Danielle says really resonated with me as well. Like it depends on the space, right? Like it depends on, it depends on the community that you're engaging with. So certainly, you know, I feel that, um, when it's like regular APSA, I do put on, I do desexualize myself. I don't know if that makes sense, right?

Nadia Brown:

Yeah, yeah.

Ethel Tungohan:

Because you've gotta put on the power suit, you've gotta put on almost a mask, right? To be rendered visually legible. But when it's, when it's, I don't know, like Western and it's, I don't know. The, the PGI like reception, who cares? Then you can kind of just show up as your real self. Right? But it's so hard to navigate because it's so context specific.

Ethel Tungohan:

I don't know, Danielle, if you've had the same mental negotiations, you know, when do you kind of show up, and how do you show up? You know? Does that matter the spaces that you're in? I mean, , how do you navigate?

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

Yeah, that's, um, that's a really good question.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

I mean, for me, I don't think that I understood how to dress in academia and I still don't. And I also don't want to learn because, you know, like that said, you know, we're often instructed to change ourselves when a lot of people just need to mind their own business. And so, you know, for me, I remember when I went on the market as a grad student I made a point of getting my nails done.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

And as a grad student, I couldn't afford to do things like get my nails done regularly. But I remember getting some acrylics with French tips because I wanted to be fully put together and polished. And so I grew up in the Bay Area. Like I, I had, I did not have a lot of experience with majority white settings.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

My, um, I don't know what the specific demographics of my, my high school was back then off the top of my head, but, there it was not a majority white school. It was a majority minority school. And so growing up in that setting, like, I mean, everybody had acrylic nails, like you get acrylic nails to look really nice.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

Um, and so I, I remember when I would shop for outfits to wear to conferences or interviews, I'd select, you know, wide leg pants, bold prints, cuts that accentuated my waist. I like body con dresses. I think they're flattering. You know, I'd wear a pink lip, pink eyeshadow, hoops I'd, I'd slick my ponytails and buns down with, uh, thrust Flos.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

It's like a, it's like a pomade. It's, it's made it a... It's like a pomade basically. Um, and I always wore pointy heels. And so I remember being in settings where I was like, I don't want to go on this huge campus tour. Like I, I can just look at the pictures. I'm good. I don't have to walk around. But like, you know, I wanted to wear heels.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

But throughout all of that, it didn't occur to me that I looked inappropriate or too feminine in academic settings because all of those things together, they made me feel professional. Done up. They made me feel like I was doing something formal. But what I learned was that it made senior scholars not take me seriously.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

And it made me look like I wouldn't fit in with them socially. And so, you know, the way that we do these interviews, these two, three day job interviews, the dinners, the expectation that you socialize with your coworkers and become friends with them. Like the way that you style yourself is a tool for people to interpret if you have shared interests.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

And I didn't, and I wasn't interested in pretending I did just to make academics feel better.

Nadia Brown:

Yeah. And I will say, um, yeah, Danielle, I would always comment on Danielle's makeup and like just how put together and styled she was. And even when we, we, we did the focus groups in, um, in Texas we went to Sephora, I think, or Alta and Danielle like, was like, Nadia buy this.

Nadia Brown:

Like, no one uses a blush anymore. I'm like, I'm old. I don't know. I don't know how to contour anything. I don't know what lipstick colors are in. I like, I've had this in my bag for the last two years and I'm still wearing it. And Danielle was like, no, try these. I mean, it was, it was, I mean these conversations, um, were organic, but they were kind of like a sister kind of a... like you would ask a friend. Right. And so for us to act like appearance doesn't matter in the profession is, yeah. Is just ridiculous.

Ethel Tungohan:

I'm loving this conversation right now cuz I feel like, you know, I agree with you in some ways, Danielle I don't wanna look dowdy. Right. But then when you try to kind. Put in a little bit of your flare in. Look, I have like, you know, teal nails, right? And I've been at like workshops, academic workshops the last two weeks. I would always get like comments like, Oh wow, look at your nails. And I'm like, are you complimenting me? Really? Like, is there, is this a microaggression?

Ethel Tungohan:

I like, I like my nails and I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna apologize for that. But when people say it, I'm like, is this a true compliment or are you just kind of being like, are you, are you throwing a little bit of shade here? Right? Mm. Um, and I think what's hard as well is that in male dominated professions, like political science, I mean sometimes what we wear is to protect this as well.

Ethel Tungohan:

Like I remember wearing like a sleeveless dress at a poli sci conference and then this like, older white dude was like, wow, I, your, your arms are really toned. And I'm like, then I put on my jacket. Right? So,

Nadia Brown:

Right. That's inappropriate.

Ethel Tungohan:

It's inappropriate, but then why should I? But then, I don't know. So it's, it's such a hard, it's such a hard world to navigate cuz on the one hand you want to kind of push back a little bit, put in a little bit of yourself, but on the other hand, you're also aware of how you're being received by the outside world, especially in spaces like poli sci . I dunno if my, if I'm making any sense, but...

Nadia Brown:

Oh yeah. Complete sense.

Ethel Tungohan:

My last question is, you know, I feel like appearance dressing up, going to Sephora, putting on makeup, that is also a side of joy, right?

Ethel Tungohan:

Um, for me it is. I like dressing up. I like, you know, straightening my hair. I like putting on makeup every once in a while, but then in the discipline we're kind of saying you can't do too much of that because you won't be received as being a serious scholar.

Ethel Tungohan:

And I just kind of wanted to ask both of you where you stand on that, especially for early career scholars who are so hyper aware of the politics of appearance. And there's a lot of like self-consciousness too, when it comes to making sure that they are rendered legible. I mean, what advice would you give our listeners, especially those who are racialized women, Black women who are so hyper aware of how the world perceives them?

Nadia Brown:

Um, so I just think about, my culture says that we wear like lipstick and earrings. We put on like my good friend Christie Greer and I always joke about like, you could be running to CVS with, you know, sweatpants with bleach stains on it and you know, like yesterday's run over sneakers, but you're gonna put on some earrings and some lip gloss to go out the house.

Nadia Brown:

Like whatever it is about Black girls that say we have to do this, this is to be presentable. That's what we do. Like for real, like they're in the pandemic. We're still, we're still in a pandemic, but like wearing my mask um, I just like, I, I feel naked because I don't have on my lip gloss, right? Or there, there's no like color pop.

Nadia Brown:

And so the part that, um, The part that I would say is like, you have to be true to who you are first, right? So culturally, for me to step out with no earrings and no lip gloss, that is not me. I feel uncomfortable. I don't feel like, I don't feel like I am, can present myself as my best self. And I would tell other people that if you have your own cultural markers for what makes you feel ready or dressed or done in this space, always do that because when you show up in ways that aren't authentic to you, people see right through it and you don't get the benefits of behaving more like the dominant discourse.

Nadia Brown:

And again, like I have no idea what it is, right? Like as like little Black girls, um, or like preteens young women, it's your mother... do you have your lip gloss on? Right? Like, do you have your lips like that is earrings. I mean, these are just. I have no idea why or what it is, but I do the same thing to my girls now.

Nadia Brown:

Like, let me get your earrings in. So this, it's just something that I, I couldn't imagine taking away from me to be in political science.

Ethel Tungohan:

I love that. Danielle, what advice would you give?

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

I think at the end of the day, you have to do what's gonna make you happy with yourself. And I think your happiness in academia should be number one.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

And I think that the choice structure is different depending on your positionality, the kinds of, um, constraints that you face with asserting your autonomy or like the, the various things that go into decisions on how you're gonna decide how to style yourself. But I think at the end of the day, you know, try to focus on what is gonna make you happy.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

And I think that people who have a problem with junior scholars asserting their autonomy and breaking from dominant norms, they should just mind their own business. It's 2022.

Nadia Brown:

Oh yeah.

Ethel Tungohan:

I love it. It's also like, I feel like, you know, I think the norms are shifting cuz I feel like, I don't know if any of you were at APSA but I feel like gradually the fashion's getting a little bit better.

Nadia Brown:

Oh yeah. . Well cause like we've just spent the last two years wearing yoga pants and a blouse. Right. It's, it's gonna be hard. I was telling a friend, like it's either, it's either wearing shoes or a bra. Like I can't go back to wearing them both at the same time because being in Zoom you was getting one or the other.

Ethel Tungohan:

A hundred percent. And I do think a friend was speculating that it's because the profession's getting more diverse and younger and there's more women. So that's why the fashion game is, is starting to increase as well.

Nadia Brown:

I love that. I love for that to be the case.

Ethel Tungohan:

Well, thank you both so, so much. I'm so excited about your book. Congratulations on the prize. Um, and I will definitely make sure that we plug the book in the podcast and we'll link it to the show notes. Thank you so much for this conversation.

Danielle Casarez Lemi:

Thank you so much for having us.

Nadia Brown:

I love the podcast. Thank you. Thank you.

Ethel Tungohan:

When I reflect on the conversation we just had, what I really appreciate about Dr. Brown and Dr. Lemi's book is that they point out rightly so that appearance is political. The Black female elites in their studies show that hair is political, clothes are political, makeup is political.

Ethel Tungohan:

To think otherwise is to be well facile. I'm also thinking of how staying in these professional spaces, be it politics or academia, often places huge burdens on us to be seen as legible through our appearance. Doing so can be particularly challenging when the communities we come from are seen to be fundamentally incompatible with academic spaces that are profoundly white and cisgendered.

Ethel Tungohan:

More often than not, these spaces try to erase the cultural context we come from, and oftentimes our religious context too. Sometimes though, truncating ourselves, making ourselves legible isn't really possible or even really desirable. So there are moments when we can push back at these expectations.

Ethel Tungohan:

Perhaps academia is slowly shifting expectations regarding professional appearance. Maybe as more and more of us are aware of, how what is construed as professional oftentimes have gendered and racialized undertones more people will be less judgmental about how people wear their hair and what clothes they wear.

Ethel Tungohan:

Maybe just maybe academic conferences can look less dowdy. One can only hope.

Ethel Tungohan:

And that's Academic Aunties.

Ethel Tungohan:

Listeners, before you do anything else, go out and get Sister Style. You can find a link to purchase the book in the show notes or on our website at academicaunties.com. And like I said at the beginning of the episode, there's even an audiobook version. You can get this on your Kindle. If you want to get in touch with us, you can reach us on Twitter at @AcademicAuntie.

Ethel Tungohan:

We're also giving this Mastodon thing a try. You can reach us there at AcademicAunties@mas.to. And as always, email us at podcast@academicaunties.com.

Ethel Tungohan:

This episode was produced by myself, Dr. Nisha Nath and Wayne Chu. Tune in next time when we talk to more academic aunties. Until then, take care. Be kind to yourself. And don't be an asshole.