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.
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.
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.
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.