The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is an old parable poem. The kind that weaves a lesson into the lines. Then it sits back too see if you understand. You can look up the story yourself. I will give you the Lizapedia version in case 1800's poems aren't your thing. A ship is lost in the South Pole. Things are bad, really bad. An Albatross bird flies next to the hopelessly lost ship. The men aboard rejoice as they see this bird as a navigator and source of hope to find a way home. In ignorance, one man kills the bird, dooming the ship. He is made to wear the dead bird across his shoulders a symbol of his stupidity. So to wear an albatross is to wear your shame for all to see.
I was 16 or 17, high school at least. Those details aren't as sharp. Flashbulb memories are like that, grainy around the edges and sharp in the center.
This part is grainy, like a TV whose bunny ears need fixin' or like when your YouTube video is buffering. I'm partnered in adult karate class with a male black belt. He's revered by his counterparts but I don't know him well. He's been gone from the dojo for over 7 years. I know this because I've been there since I was 9 and don't know the guy but for the few classes he's attended since returning from some long hiatus.
We're sparring each other. I do remember distinctly not being concerned about his ability. I'm beating him on speed and skill. I had been competing all over country for years. I was well adept at this, winning at most tournaments I went to. He's out of breath when were done. I move on to who ever was next.
This certainly would not have created a memory worth storing. That is, until we finished a couple more rounds and bowed to leave the mat. He turned to me, and with full sincerity said, "You spar pretty good for a girl." Lights, camera, Flashbulb memory. It is in my head like a sitcom. Like when the main character breaks the 4th wall to talk to the audience like, "Errrr, what did he just say?" Zack Morris and Fresh Prince Style.
I truly believe he intended to give me a compliment. Instead though, he gave me an Albatross to wear on my shoulders for the next decade and a half (and counting).
He wrapped a dead bird, some shameful reminder of my audacity to be born and express as a girl, across my shoulders. I beat him. Yet, he did not qualify it such because...I happen to be girl.
I read online another coach give another "compliment" to another girl, wrapped in white feathers today. "She shows us that girls can be as good as boys." If she feels like I felt, she will write about this when she finds her voice and plucks the feathers too.
"BOY" is not the benchmark women are trying to rise to. You guys aren't the standard for talent or hard work or discipline or any the other adjectives in the world. Neither is "girl."
We are all just working. We are all just striving. We are all just trying. Please stop lacing our successes with an asterisk. "Good, but is still a girl," is not a compliment. Our gender isn't some plague were training to overcome, then to be praised for having done so.
Our dreams, skills, aspirations, and goals are no longer antiquated and shaped solely on our gender at birth. Our boys are no longer tied to narrow definitions of masculinity. Our girls can flex their physical acumen. Our language, culturally, can grow too.
It is OK to be challenged to improve. Anything not growing is dying after all, and we all have life to live. There are a thousand ways I am trying to improve my character every day. I am flawed in so many ways, but my gender is not a character flaw.
And honestly, my gender (his gender, hers, theirs, yours) isn't what made me disciplined, practice all those hours, or develop
my talent. It was just me.
You're not "being a man" when you work hard. They aren't girl push ups when you modify. We have to stop slamming each other for being human. Leave the gender out of your compliments. She was just good. I was just good. He is good. They are good. WE are good. No more dead birds need to adorn the shoulders of our successes. Little girls don't need to be told our gender is a disability to rise above. Little boys don't need to be surprised when girls work hard. Little boys don't need to be shamed for modifying workout, or being beat by a girl.
We're all in this existence together. Let's make the best out of it