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Yes, women can be leaders

Most people would say that good leaders are strong, decisive and confident, but it always seems that leaders ought to have qualities that are more traditionally masculine rather than feminine (such as being supportive, caring or a good listener). Are women not fit to be leaders?

The first time I was given a leadership role was in high school when I was in the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC). Typically, most urban schools don't teach much about leadership, but this was one program that gave students great leadership roles and responsibilities.

I didn't join with the intention of going into the military; I simply wanted to be a part of something. Through this program of 200 to 250 males and females, I quickly climbed up the ranks, and by my sophomore year, I was the third-highest-ranking officer in the program. It was overwhelming at times, but I liked having the responsibility and helping others.

I quickly realized that leadership can change relationships. A lot of my male friends refused to listen to me and disrespected me. They couldn't believe that I was higher ranked than they were. To me, it was just a program, but to them it meant that I - a girl who they thought of as incompetent - was in charge of them. I remember some of the males even asking me: "You never say 'yes' when guys ask you out. You think you're too good?" or "Are you a lesbian?"

The questioning of my sexuality because I was a leader was common among the males in NJROTC. I felt that it was odd that before I was leader, I got along great with everyone, but as soon as I held a rank, many of my male friends questioned my leadership.

I even questioned my role. Am I a leader? Do I deserve to be? And do I want to be? For a while, I felt like being a leader wasn't for me. Most people supported me in my leadership role, but I couldn't accept the fact that there were some who didn't. I cared a lot about what they thought.

But I asked myself: Do I want to be liked? Or do I want to be respected?

Ultimately, I didn't care what anyone thought of me. I was going to be who I wanted. I wasn't going to dumb myself down to be liked, give up my leadership role to be included or agree to just be a part of a consensus.

I didn't care if the males in NJROTC didn't like me or if they were intimidated. I accepted the fact that I was a leader, and modesty wasn't going to stop me from admitting it.

This experience taught me about leadership and what women in leadership roles go through. It was frustrating, but it certainly didn't scare me away. In fact, it was quite the opposite: Now I feel like forcing my way in and changing the idea of what leadership is and who can be a leader.

Tiffany Vang lives in St. Paul and is a recent graduate of the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn.


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