Gender Does Not Determine Capability

When Suzy, an officer in the US Army, came to talk with the class about gender inequality within the military and the various trials and tribulations she faced while being a soldier who is female in the US Army (not a female soldier), an entity that is predominately male, I sympathized with her on various levels. While I cannot imagine the isolation and humility she must have endured or the strenuous measures she took to assimilate into posts (applying Old Spice deodorant and wearing a wedding ring to give the impression that she was “taken”), I can understand how it feels to be made to feel like an outsider, like someone who is less worthy or unable to perform the task, simply because I am a woman.

Yes she's a woman, and yes she's a soldier.

Yes, she is a woman. Yes, she is a soldier.

Throughout high school I dedicated myself to Model UN and Mock Trial, two clubs that were time consuming, competitive, and as I learned over the years, surprisingly sexist. No matter what level of competition I was at, how prepared I was, or even if I was the best in the room, the males were always preferred.

In Model UN, I learned as early on as my first competition of freshmen year that I had a disadvantage due to the fact that I was a girl, and that my appearance was not one that people associated with intelligence. For every moderated caucus (which is where you raise your placard and speak about the issue at hand) I not only spoke eloquently about the topic, but also had the data and statistics ready to back up my stance on the issue. When we entered into an unmoderated caucus (where people walk around the room to create resolution papers to solve the issue), I found that everyone instantly went to the males in the room, those who were significantly less prepared than I was. While I didn’t receive the equal respect I wanted, I did receive many notes from males around the room regarding my appearance and asking for my number, which I can assure you I did not want.

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It was much cooler than it looks, I promise.

Perhaps even more frustrating was the sexism I encountered in Mock Trial, a club that I devoted a large part of my life to, and something I was incredibly passionate about. In my junior year of Mock Trial my co-attorney was a male, and while we saw each other as equals when it came to practice and competition, others did not. In every round of competition from districts, to regionals, and to states, I always felt second rate to him. For each pre-trial our opposing counsel would go straight to my partner for questions, almost entirely disregarding my presence. And within the trial itself, when he made many objections, had strict control over the witnesses, and acted, for lack of a better word “cocky,” he was heralded as being charismatic and possessing the qualities that would make a great lawyer. When I did these same things, I was told that I appeared too curt, too bossy, and that I was annoying the judge. My coaches told me to not let my voice get too high or shrill because this gave off the impression that I was uptight and, again, bossy. This advice was not once given to my male co-counsel.

I was even told once by a male on the opposing side, that he was surprised by my performance, because he didn’t think I looked like someone who would be good at Mock Trial. I’m still not entirely sure what that means.

I was not alone in the things I experienced in Model UN and Mock Trial, other girls felt it too, and it became something we all tried to rebel against and overcome. We, just as Suzy had, wanted to prove ourselves. My senior year of mock trial, we formed a team with six girls and one boy. This was the only team in our school (there were 18 teams) and the only team out of all the ones we faced in competition that had a female majority. We set a goal to prove that girls could be just as talented as boys in Mock Trial. After districts, regionals, and four rounds at states, we ended up being state runner up in Ohio. Being told by freshmen girls that they hope to be as good at Mock Trial as the girls on my team one day made all of the hard work we put in more than worth while. It was not only a victory for my team, but also a victory for the women involved in Mock Trial in my high school.

Girls can still rule at Mock Trial

Six girls, one boy, one huge trophy.

So while no, the discrimination I faced was not anywhere near the level that Suzy encountered during her time in the military, I understand her frustration. The frustration of being told my appearance didn’t fit the work I was doing. The frustration of having to change the way I did things to be more accepted. The frustration of constantly being made to feel inferior to my male counterparts. Yes, Suzy and I are women, but no, that does not make us any less capable of doing our job, and doing it well for that matter.

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3 comments

  1. abklee · October 28, 2014

    This post is really well-written and sadly unsurprising. Gender discrimination, while illegal and not as obvious as it once was, is still very present in our society. Your anecdote about your experience with Mock Trial made me realize how many males I know from high school who participated in the club, and how few girls, even though it was always something that seemed interesting to my female friends and I. Your post also reminded me of experiences I’ve had at the University of Michigan. While applying for a club, an older (male) friend told me I should have no problem getting in, because I am a girl. This was not comforting, as I wanted to be accepted based on my merit and my qualifications, not my gender. I’ve often heard the same thing when telling someone that I plan to apply to Ross, that it’s “easier” for girls. It is unfair that achievements are downplayed by attributing them to a person’s gender.

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  2. rplamp · October 30, 2014

    I too was in Model United Nations in high school and experienced the exact same things that you mentioned above. Our club was mainly dominated by females with an all-female board and two female teachers advising us. This did not strike me as weird or uncommon at first, but when we went to our first conference we realized that we were one of the only schools, besides the all-female schools, that came with more women than men. Within committee itself, there was a very present discrimination when the men would team up and try to form alliances and the women would have to fight to prove themselves for their allies to take them seriously. It felt like we were there more for the entertainment of our male colleges so that they could try out their very uncomfortable puns on us and have someone to dance with at the delegates dance. It’s sad that we worked just as hard as most of them and we were not taken nearly as serious as they were.

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  3. sgoldberg18 · October 30, 2014

    Your experiences in mock trial and Model UN are great examples of the simple, everyday sexism our society is dealing with today. Many people may argue that women are equal to men today, but experiences like this show us that this is not true. Women and men are different. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have the same mental capabilities needed to be great lawyers or representatives of a nation. Our society is so bogged down by years of this somewhat unconscious sexism that most people don’t even acknowledge that it still exists. Women today have the difficult responsibility of proving themselves equal to men and fighting for that equality to become a simple fact. Suzy’s extreme cases of discrimination in the military show us what happens when little, everyday cases like yours in high school are allowed to manifest. Boys in high school clubs are heralded for being professional and in control while women are called bossy; they are treated with more respect than women. This starts at a young age, but eventually, the boys in high school become men in real world positions who have the ability to cause harm with their sexism. Unless we, as a society, attack these instances of sexism and discrimination at the tiny levels, we will never be able to fix the big problems.

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