Women in Leadership: A Personal Anecdote

7 Nov

Women in Leadership: A Personal Anecdote
Jennifer Nudo
GALS, Vice-President
Managing Editor, Galatea

As we begin discussing feminism and gender equality, I want to share a personal experience that greatly shapes how I try to communicate my opinions and views with others.

During high school, I was a part of the speech team and had practice with a science teacher named Ms. Smith (an exceptionally unimaginative name change by me).  One afternoon during my senior year, I went to practice in a jeans skirt, tights, and long sleeve shirt.  When I walked in, my coach immediately warned me that I should be written up for that outfit.

This is not a rant against dress codes.  I feel reasonable dress codes can be very beneficial in high schools as long as they are enforced fairly.  However, Ms. Smith was not strict about enforcing my school’s dress code.  In fact, I had seen girls with shorter skirts than mine walk into her classroom without hearing a word.

So it struck me as bizarre that she would single me out—especially during an after school activity.

She didn’t write me up but I was subjected to a lecture about that I wear is a message to the world. Ms. Smith demanded that I should reconsider how I present myself.  She seemed utterly baffled at how any self-respecting young woman could have chosen an outfit.

I was furious after this encounter.  First off, I looked ridiculous that day—I needed to do my laundry and was short on options.  I was wearing these tacky zebra print boots I really liked back then for some reason with grey tights, a jean mini skirt, and an orange top.   I don’t think I was actually breaking the dress code considering I had on thick tights.  Regardless, this outfit was not a cry for male attention but an unfortunate combination of my poor taste and lack of clean pants.

The most troubling part of this encounter was that she seemed disappointed in me, which is what drove her to single me out.  I think she felt that I was a “smart girl” who was better than that and was falling victim to the social pressures to be sexy or to be what boys want.  She wanted to free me of these pressures and empower me to dress and behave in a more conservative manner.

Empowering young women to make their own choices is very important. This dictum of feminism sadly is not addressed enough in high schools. I understand that Ms. Smith had good intentions.  However, what she did was not empowering. I had made my own decision when I got dressed that morning. She reduced that decision to a reaction to social pressure and in turn decided for me what was an appropriate manner to present myself. Instead of feeling empowered, I felt judged and belittled.

She operated under the assumption that a smart young woman like myself couldn’t possibly want to dress like that. I must have been under the influence of some external force.  She felt she knew what I was thinking and what was what best for me and needed to correct me.  There was no discussion of why I chose that outfit.  She simply told me the right way to dress and to behave.

Looking back at this encounter now, I think this is why feminism is painted in a negative light. Often, feminists are perceived as busy bodies telling other people how to live their lives. People don’t want to be told how to behave or why they make certain decisions by people who don’t know them and therefore they reject feminism.  While this is not what feminism is in general, there are people like Ms. Smith who do act like that and sadly I feel many people view all feminists in that way.

I strongly believe that the fight for gender equality must be focused on giving men and women more options without mandating “the best option”. I know this is difficult to do, as we often have strong opinions on what others should do, but we must keep this tendency to dictate behavior in mind.  In my opinion, the goal of gender equality is not to not instruct people what to do, but to promote equal rights, to give people the freedom to make their own decisions, to empower individuals to make the right decisions for them, and to spread acceptance and understanding.

Jennifer is the Vice-President for GALS and Managing Editor for Galatea. She is in Paris for the Fall Quarter and will return for the Winter and Spring Quarters.  

 

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