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I was on a physics internship at a university in a small town, where there was a large majority of men (not uncommon). I was having a somewhat intense conversation (incidentally, about sexism) with one of the only female professors. We were just wrapping up when an older male professor knocked on the door and entered, saying he had something important to talk to her about, and he had to head out soon. As we were basically done, I got up to go and said goodbye. Now, I’d just been sitting down, leaning forward intently. My jeans needed to be pulled up a bit. This man, who I’d never meet before, decides to tell me to pull up my jeans! I was taken aback, but as I had been planning on doing it anyway, I adjusted them, feeling uncomfortable but not sure how to react. He chuckled a little, and then pointed out how I was blushing. At this point, I was pissed, but now really uncomfortable, so I made some remark about blushing easily and left quickly.
Why did he feel it was appropriate to tell me that? He’s not my mother, or my friend who thought I might not have noticed, or even an acquaintance who might whisper a helpful comment. I didn’t intend to be showing skin between shirt and jeans — but so what? How is that any of his business? And what if that was just how I dressed? That criticism was the first thing out of his mouth directed at me. Looking back, I was really feeling the pressure to be polite. Why? He certainly wasn’t being polite to me.
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