Be the Difference You Wish to See

Over a year ago, I attended a national security conference across the country. I showed up to the venue a little late, but thankfully there was a gentlemen outside the door still checking people in. He looked up at me as I walked up and said “hello, which briefer’s secretary are you?” I kindly gave him my name and he offered to walk me to the conference room. He motioned me to sit in a seat in the back row, but instead I thanked him and walked up to the podium. I was one of the main briefers for this conference.

It would be false to say that my upbringing was vastly different from everyone else’s. It would also be false to convey to you that I had a massive epiphany one day that I should choose these career paths in life. Quite the contrary. Instead, one day I woke up and found that I was not only an officer in a U.S. army combat unit but also a federal program manager for an intelligence agency in DC.

To me, being a feminist is about proving it to everyone that women (young, small, blue, red) can do and be anything. Actions always speak louder than words. Just saying “women can do it too” and “women are just as qualified” is not enough to me. I have to be the example that I want to convey. In my mind, women are not better than men and men are not better than women. Women are women. The only difference between us and men is our gender.

As a junior officer in the U.S. Army, I was terrified on my first day on the job. As is everyone else, I hear. However, the entire experience was eye opening. I was quickly informed by a senior enlisted man that women are not wanted in combat units. We are viewed as fragile and therefore ineffective. We are a nuisance in these units and many individuals don’t let you forget it. “You are too smart for a female officer in a combat unit, you should be spending more of your time having a family than learning how to be a great officer. It’s pointless for females.”– My senior rater, a Lieutenant Colonel.

I knew that giving up was not an option. I knew that I had to show these individuals that their perception of females was not accurate. I did not complain to them though, and I did not ask for special treatment. I knew that the first step I had to take was to remind myself that I am just another U.S. Army officer and that is exactly how I should act. Yes, I was not naturally fit and I did not already know all the military lingo nor rankings. I had to work hard on those aspects, but I didn’t view it as a flaw because I was a female. To me, it was just a mundane detail attributed to the fact that I was never interested in those items before.

There were many bets going around my unit as to when the two ladies in Ranger school were going to fail out or quit. Even more disturbing were the comments about how they would have to cheat their way through to finish. Captain Kristen Griest and 1st Lieutenant Shaye Hever fully exemplified what it means to be a women in the U.S. Army: never letting your gender dictate what you are capable of achieving.

I became a feminist when I became confident in who I am as a person. I didn’t choose these career paths in life assuming that they would be easy. All paths require education and training. Though, I can promise you that it never ran through my mind that I couldn’t do something just because I was a female. This is what it means to be a feminist: be the difference you wish to see in the world.

M LightfootMs. Lightfoot currently lives in the D.C. area with her husband and adorable Akita. Ms. Lightfoot is an Intelligence Officer with the United States Army and a Program Manager for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Ms. Lightfoot received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Michigan and is currently finishing up her thesis for her Master of Arts at American Military University.

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