“It was tough for me because I don’t like to tell people to shut up.”
Hold a Conversation
In addition to the questions below, please see How to use the questions for reflection.
- Why doesn’t the speaker want to say gender is an issue at boot camp? Why does she say “it’s definitely there?”
- How does she describe the “general assumption” of a strong female leader?
- Why is she annoyed by the offer to carry her rucksack?
- What does she mean by being perceived as a “meanie?”
- What happens when she interrupts and does a “karate chop through the air” during the team building exercise?
- How would you describe the dichotomy she references?
- Why does she have to find the balance between being direct and “being a jerk?”
- In what ways is being a female leader different from being a male leader? In what ways is it similar?
- In what ways do you see dichotomies of leadership in your work and community?
- Where do you find yourself caught between two different perceptions of your leadership?
- Are there times in your work where you’ve had to cut in and do a “karate chop” in a conversation? Or a time where you wish you could have, but couldn’t?
Transcript for Strong Female Leader
My interest in ROTC started in my freshman year. One of the people that lived down the hall from me, she was in Air Force ROTC. I took to boot camp—the boot camp environment pretty well. I was used to, you know, getting up early. As far as the physical aspect of boot camp goes, it wasn’t that different. I’ve always been physically active. I’ve done Taekwondo for as long as I can remember and that’s—Taekwondo is a Korean martial art. Push-ups have been a pretty standard part of my life for awhile now. You know, there aren’t that many girls that can do push-ups at all, much less, you know, fifty of them in a row.
Gender at boot camp and in the military in general is—I don’t want to say it’s an issue, because that makes it sound like it’s kind of a bad thing, but it’s definitely there. Especially being a female leader, and this really comes out at boot camp. If you’re a strong female leader, how you are perceived by those whom you are leading is usually not exactly what you want because the general assumption is a strong female leader is a…word I’d rather not say. If you have like, a male leading, it’s like, ‘Oh, man, look at him! He has got his stuff together!’ But if it’s a female doing the same thing, it’s usually, ‘Oh my gosh. What a meanie.’ Like, ‘Would she just stop telling me what to do?’ And then there’s also, you get a lot of, I guess it’s the macho complex. Males in the military, especially at boot camp feel like, ‘Oh let—let me carry your rucksack for you.’ Or, ‘Let me take some of the load off because you’re a female and I should do that. Like, you can’t carry it for yourself.’ Which, it’s nice, but at the same time, it’s a little annoying sometimes. It’s like, ‘I’m not going to get any better if you just take it from me and do it for me.’
I didn’t really have to worry about being perceived as a meanie as a female leader because I’m really soft-spoken. I represent kind of the other side of the female, like, dichotomy. You’re either the meanie, or you’re just this random female soldier who’s there. So…you’re just there, and that’s where I fit in, so. It’s just—it’s tough. To find a balance between ‘Listen here’ and not being a jerk. During one of our team building exercise sessions, we were trying to discuss some options. All of the male members of my squad were very open, they’re putting in— had a lot of input, you know, arguing with each other, you know, having this sort of alpha fight. Finally, I just had to cut in, and I—I kind of like, raised my hand and did a kind of karate chop through the air and said, ‘Everybody stop talking! Now!’ They all just looked at me. This one guy was looking at me with his mouth wide open like, ‘Who are you?’ There was definitely a transition moment like, ‘Are we going to listen to her or not?’ And then they were like, ‘Ok, maybe.’ And then they kind of went with it. It was tough for me because I don’t like to say—I don’t like to tell people to shut up, but sometimes, I’ve learned that I have to.