I ran for Student Body President in high school. I was a junior, and at the time, I led my classmates as Student Body Communications Director. I was a member of Student Government, actively participated in other clubs such as the National Honor Society, held a 3.9+ GPA, and believed in who I was as a strong leader.
I was one of two candidates that participated in the election, My opponent was one of my closest friends at the time. We worked closely together in Student Government and many other classes over the years. Our competition was a friendly one because I knew he was a great leader, and I believed I would be happy with either outcome.
I believed that I was qualified to lead my classmates through a great year, and on the surface, others appeared to feel the same way. As Student Body Communications Director, I was supporting our Student Body President and planned to carry on several successful initiatives he had implemented during his time in office. My friends, many teachers, and my mentors supported me and my ideas.
When campaign week came around, I was thankful to have so many people who believed in me and stood by me. My team plastered handmade posters with my name and slogan through the halls, I gave speeches to various classrooms explaining why they should vote for me and what I planned to change, and my support system rallied behind me to encourage others to vote for me. On election day, my classmates and I recounted our previous Student Body Presidents, many of which, we realized, had been men. It was no secret that the position had been male-dominated in years past.
At the end of election day, despite not knowing the results of the vote, I felt accomplished and proud of myself. I risked putting myself out there to stand up for what I believed in, and I was hopeful that I would have a chance to share what a strong leader I was with my classmates.
I lost the election. My opponent was qualified to lead and it made sense to me that my peers had chosen him. Over time though, I learned that many of my classmates chose my opponent based on his gender and justified their decisions by stating to one another that they would rather have a gay man lead the school than a woman because a woman shouldn’t be in charge. Often stated jokingly, I knew there were strong, discriminatory biases against both of us behind their giggles. For the first time, at the age of seventeen, I fully understood the magnitude of women’s inequality, particularly in positions of leadership.
The Student Body election of my junior year was not a defining moment in my life, nor was it life-shattering; however, the memories have stuck with me throughout the years. I’ll never let anybody tell me that I’m “less than” simply because I’m a woman. If I’m not qualified, don’t meet the requirements, or don’t have the necessary experience, I’ll gladly accept those reasons as answers. What I won’t tolerate is being overlooked because I’m a woman when I am qualified for a position, a job, or what have you.
As a result of my experience, I choose to call out gender bias when I recognize it. I am proud to use my experience, one that might seem small and unimportant, to amplify the voices of other women and celebrate all women who have overcome barriers to hold leadership positions in all areas of their lives. I’ll always champion women and their achievements they’ve had to fight for.