When I told my teachers that my parents were in the Army, they always assumed it was my Dad. I remember very proudly correcting them. “No, both of my parents are in the Army. My Mom is a soldier.” They were far more shocked than I ever was.
Living on a military base, it felt like a sea of uniforms. Gender disparity didn’t click with me until my Mom would talk about PT (physical training) tests. If you’re not familiar, people in the military took 2-4 physical training tests back then to show that they were in good physical condition. It wasn’t complicated - pushups, sit-ups, and a 2-mile run.
My Mom, a two-sport college athlete, was very competitive about PT. I distinctly remember her telling me how she “whooped” the men on the test. That was always her goal - not meeting the women’s standards but crushing the men’s.
I remember asking her why they needed two standards anyway. “Don’t you do the same job?” I saw this feeling wash over my Mom as she realized this was my first run-in with inequity. Instead of explaining the nuances and unfairness of it all subtly (not her strong suit), I got a long lecture about how women had to work harder. “Standards are standards, Katrina. The highest ones are your standards.”
Each time she was the first or the only woman, she didn’t tell me. Instead, she invited me to the promotion ceremonies and let me see her standing among all those men. She would show me the graduating class pictures at War School (yes, a real thing.) She invited me to the office to see how people reacted when she walked into a room.
What I remember most of all was how other women reacted when my Mom walked in. She was usually the most senior female officer, and there was something about how they looked at her that let me know she was remarkable. Their eyes taught me lessons without saying anything.
I didn’t have words for it when I sat and watched my mother get her medals, but today I know the words are simple: Representation is beautiful. Representation matters.
It’s harder to imagine being in a position of power or authority when you do not see people like you. It takes more work - more creativity, more faith, more persistence. I’m thankful to these people who are willing to push through those moments. You’ve woken everyone up to the idea that power should be shared and represented by the identities it represents.
As I read all the posts about our new Vice President, I felt so grateful to her for her endurance and many other reasons. She has ushered in a new era - a world where we can never say a woman has not been Vice President. Simultaneously, she has left the door open behind her for every person pursuing their life as the first.
Those doors are opening in the executive branch, but they also unlock on social media every day as new eyes experience new lives. People who choose to live publicly allow others to experience us - our fear, sadness, and joy. Our firsts, too. Our lives become lessons and sneak peeks into the power they can become. We empower others to see that they can be anything. It’s a beautiful thing.
To every pair of eyes watching this moment and realizing what you can become, I’m so happy for you. To the people who always knew, let’s celebrate.
Be well -