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When I learned to Lindy Hop at the first Friday Night Swing of my freshman year, everyone, including me, assumed  that I would be a follow. In a part­nered social dance context, this is the role that women tra­di­tionally dance, and it involves responding to a lead’s ini­tiative and sug­ges­tions cre­atively. I danced as a follow for a year and a half before real­izing that while I loved swing dance, I didn’t really like fol­lowing. I often ended up ignoring and fighting my leads rather than responding to them. This was frus­trating, until I finally figured out the problem — I wanted to lead.
I loved leading as soon as I tried it, but I had to spend a couple of embar­rassing, dif­ficult months leading nothing but swingouts for entire songs. (For those who don’t Lindy Hop, that means doing the exact same 8-count pattern over 50 times in a 3-minute song.) After that, I poured my energy into improving as much as pos­sible: and by going to work­shops and dancing all over southern Michigan, I managed to become a fairly com­petent lead. More than just a per­sonal success, however, becoming a lead taught me that when we’re con­sid­ering roles, we have to pay more attention to people’s unique char­ac­ter­istics than to our own cat­e­gorical assump­tions.
When I started swing dancing, no one paid attention to the fact that I was six feet tall, that I was assertive, or that I loved cre­ating my own ways to move with the music — all of which are char­ac­ter­istic of leading. I was only seen as a woman, and I danced in a role I didn’t enjoy for over a year as a result. This expe­rience gave me a new per­spective on a problem that I see every­where up the Hill.
At Hillsdale, men and women often try to fit into spe­cific, pre­de­ter­mined roles that are based on their gender — not on who they are as people. It’s dis­turbingly common here for someone to assume that women are not well-suited for stereo­typ­i­cally “male” roles — whether that’s soldier, sci­entist, or even pres­ident — and that they should be rel­e­gated to domestic servitude. Sim­i­larly, it’s a common assumption that men are designed to be leaders, and that for them to do any­thing dif­ferent, like be a stay-at-home dad or serve under a woman’s lead­ership, is a tele­o­logical failure — that their true purpose is left unful­filled.
The problem of assuming that gender is an all-encom­passing def­i­n­i­tional cat­egory plagues men and women alike. I know many men, including my father, whose best skill is their ability to listen — and who torment them­selves because they lack stereo­typical lead­ership traits. However, when they own their talents and listen inten­tionally, they flourish as skilled com­mu­ni­cators. It turns out that by not taking charge in the expected mas­culine way, they are actually making the best pos­sible use of their natural talents and ful­filling the purpose that suits them best.
Likewise, I know many bril­liant, tal­ented, well-edu­cated, and qual­ified women who pre­clude them­selves from lead­ership posi­tions because they are afraid of taking on a role that they believe should right­fully belong to a man. There are also women who don’t want to have children or create a family home, but who feel an over­whelming social expec­tation to be a good wife and mother. I have seen only good things come of com­petent women filling the posi­tions that interest them and excelling in whatever sphere of life they find appealing.
Men and women should feel free to be who they are, not who other people expect them to be, and to do what they do well, not what they are expected to do. The roles that people can fulfill vary widely, and all roles are intensely valuable and important, regardless of who is per­forming them.

The role system isn’t binary, either. People are complex! We can lead in some sit­u­a­tions and follow in others. I have a rep­u­tation for being “ambid­ance­s­trous,” which means that I can both lead and follow, and while I prefer to lead, there are certain dancers with whom I choose to follow. I enjoy fol­lowing much more now because I’m making a con­scious choice to do so, rather than con­forming to an expec­tation.
I am a woman. I also love to lead. I love ini­ti­ating, I love cre­ating exciting ways to move with the music, I love pro­viding the leading voice in a social dance that my partner can then respond to. My intention is to encourage other men and women to not hold them­selves back. We shouldn’t let pre­con­cep­tions about our roles in life keep us from cul­ti­vating our unique talents and gifts.  
I am a woman. I also love to lead. And I don’t think those two state­ments should be incom­patible.