Oops, I did it again...
It's a constant uphill climb, eh?
In response to a friend's feminist-dilemma narrative on Not Being Recognized as a Scholar In Her Own Right at a Conference In Her Field Because She Is Young and Female, I wrote:
Misreading of context is everything. You know that I'm often mistaken for being:
1) a student (used to be high school, now I'm at least up to college)
2) anywhere between 5 and 15 years younger than I actually am (and when I lived in England in my mid-20s, I was carded in London at a showing of Trainspotting...to make sure I was at least 16!)
3) Too Young To Be Married (let alone to be coming up on a 10-year anniversary)
4) Too Young to have known my husband for 20 years (we met on June 26, 1987)
5) attending an event as someone's daughter or other hanger-on rather than in a professional or independent capacity
Every now and again I get mistaken in the direction of More Experience or Authority rather than less:
1) once, and only once, when I was 14 and taking Japanese at the USDA night school (which is technically a graduate school, and made a fuss initially about my not being 18 or over, though I'm sure I don't know why that's really necessary to take a 2-to-3-hour-a-week language course as long as I pay them their $$$ and do my work!), have I been mistaken for being older (entirely due to my classmates' expectations in the context, not due to my amazing poise and air of maturity, which had never previously prevented anyone from thinking I was maybe 10 or 11):
"Where do you work?"
Oh, I'm a student.
"At which university?"
Um, I'm in 9th grade...
2)when I'm leading services or doing something else at synagogue (perhaps especially because I wear a kippah and tallit and not all the women there do):
"Are you the rabbi? Are you the cantor?" No.
"Are you a rabbinical student? Are you a cantorial student?" Nope!
"You do a wonderful job!"/"You have a lovely voice!" Thank you very much: I'm glad to be able to help out in our participatory lay-led minyan.
... the subtext of their comments being potentially not too different from the ones that caused you concern, i.e.:
Hey! You're a young woman who seems to be traditionally observant and know how to do things in synagogue--so you must be someone who does this for a living, because otherwise
2) young people, especially if female;
3) congregants/non-clergy in the non-Orthodox Jewish world
have No Idea How To Do This Stuff and need rabbis and cantors to do it all for them!