Last week, I attended the American Legion Auxiliary’s Cornhusker Girls State. A valuable learning and leadership opportunity, it also included much discussion about the challenges faced by today’s women. As a young woman, I experience the pros and cons of being a female every day, and both will make me stronger as I move into the next phase of my life.

One of the best parts about being a woman is that I get to be a big sister. As the oldest, I set a positive example for my brother, take care of him and put up with his various shenanigans. Whether it means becoming my brother’s show and tell project or dressing up as a teenage mutant ninja turtle, I do my best to be a fun sister. After all, there is only one person in the world who gets to call me a sissy, and he is very special to me.

Another fun and special part of womanhood is being a daughter. My mom has been a great influence in my life and has taught me nearly everything I know about fashion, finance, computers, laundry and cooking. Unfortunately, even with great teaching, I probably won’t be a chef any time soon. My dad has taught me the value of hard work, encouraged me to pursue my dreams and made me laugh often. With Father’s Day approaching, I’m sure he’ll have plenty of dad jokes at the ready. I love my family very much and always want to make my parents proud.

Being a female also has its downfalls. While nearly everyone is judged by their looks at some point or another, women deal with much more scrutiny when it comes to physical appearance. Body image is a big issue for girls, especially teenagers. Many young women already struggle with eating disorders, and social media simply worsens the issue by bombarding young women with the idea of the “Instagram girl” — a perfect swimsuit body, perfect makeup, perfect hair, and a seemingly perfect life. The main thing to remember is that it is far better to be healthy than to be skinny, and that being above a certain size does not make one “fat.” Part of being beautiful is being unique; that is why people come in all shapes and sizes. As long as I know that I am healthy, I will be proud of my body, not ashamed of it. Society expects girls to dress, look, and act a certain way, and girls who do not fit these requirements may be left out, looked down on, or outright bullied. All of these things are unacceptable; no one should have to change who they are or how they look to try to fit in.

Another problem that has already affected me and will continue to do so for years to come is the inequality in both the school setting and the workforce between males and females. To begin with, there is a serious gender bias in the field of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), both in schools and in jobs. For a long time, the stereotype has been that women are inferior in math and science. Although this is not the case, the bias was proven in a study conducted by six universities in which applications for a STEM-related job were given to evaluators. The applicants’ qualifications were exactly the same, but male names were placed on half the resumes and female names on the other half. The study found that the evaluators deemed the female applicants less competent and hirable than the males despite the fact that their qualifications were equal. In addition, the hirers offered the women a much lower starting salary than the men, which points out yet another problem for women: the gender pay gap. According to the US Census Bureau, women make around 80% of the amount that men in the same jobs do. This is wrong and must be stopped. People doing equal work must receive equal pay; it’s that simple.

While it is unfair that I or any other woman should be viewed or treated as inferior because of gender, I know that I will face these challenges as I move toward college and the workforce. The best way to conquer this inequality is to push forward and prove the stereotypes wrong. For me, this has meant earning a perfect ACT score, proving that I am skilled at math and science. It has also meant becoming confident in my own skin. I am proud to be a woman, and I believe that women and men should always be treated with equal amounts of respect and admiration. We are all people, we can all learn from each other, and we can all work together to stop inequality and improve our world.

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