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The tough fight for equality as a female leader

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The tough fight for equality as a female leader

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Mary-Joy Sidhom, R3 News Editor/Longform Editor

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For my entire life, I’ve watched successful women in my family defy gender stereotypes: all the women in my family are in STEM, my sister is receiving her Ph.D. in biology, my mom barbeques and we are all very stubborn. My mom and sister are some of the strongest female role models in my life and they are people I never felt could be undermined because they are women.

Because of my role models, never have I felt that my gender limited me. Never did being a woman discourage me to pursue what I want. Never have I classified any disrespect I’ve received as misogyny. Never have I experienced sexism firsthand—that was until this year when I was put into a leadership role.

My senior year, I stepped into the role of drum major, the conductor for the marching band, and I had two male co-drum majors by my side. It was difficult to gain the same level of respect, especially since the marching band is predominantly male. Oftentimes, members would mock me or outright ignore my requests.

Even though marching band season and my days as a drum major are over, I still feel undermined when assuming responsibilities in the band program. The Wind Ensemble took a trip to Indianapolis, IN in March and I was in charge of taking attendance. Despite the simplicity of the task, it took an extremely long time to quiet everyone down and by the time I did, people would start talking again. Eventually, I would just have one of the male co-drum majors quiet everyone down.

I was talking to a couple of friends, and fellow female leaders, about this topic and we talked about how female leaders are viewed versus male leaders. One of them said that assertive female leaders are viewed as “bitchy” while male leaders are seen as powerful and strong.

However, these stereotypes are not confined to student leaders. One of the most saddening things I had to experience was hearing someone tell my sister to tone down the fact that she is an M.D.-Ph.D. student because it “intimidates” men.

The reason why I didn’t believe sexism was a problem was because I didn’t see it in any extreme form. Sexism isn’t just the wage gap or outright discrimination. It’s giving an assignment and receiving an eye roll, it’s reprimanding someone and having them laugh it off or being labeled as “bossy,” it’s having to work twice as hard as my male counterparts to gain half the respect they have—it’s feeling like I can’t make a mistake.

Being a female leader was one of the hardest positions I’ve ever held. Seeing the privilege my male co-drum majors had was frustrating and dealing with the pressure of extremely high expectations was stressful. But knowing that I didn’t even have it that bad when compared to other female leaders, well, that’s heartbreaking.

However, this position has also been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. There is a great thing about the opportunity to inspire other girls. My freshman year, there were two male drum majors so by being a strong female leader as a senior, I can show the underclassman girls that, even though it may be difficult, they can be incredible leaders too. And if I persevere through the grievances, break through a few stereotypes and withstand some eye rolls, perhaps the next generation of female leaders will have to fight for their respect a little less—and that makes the struggle all worth it.

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