They Didn't Have an Award for the Girls.

When I was in grade 1, I won an award. It was for track and field and was beautiful. I had just won the most powerful thing I'd ever seen. It had this red gem fastened to the base that shined like a ruby and the golden man on top of it was a strong warrior. It was a symbol of my great accomplishment, my hard work, and was awesome. I was going to display it with pride.

But! I wasn't allowed to keep this trophy.

I'm not sure if it was because my mom freaked out or someone else. In fact, I wasn't allowed to even touch it. I was told I would get another one to replace it. A more fitting one. When I looked heartbroken, I was given a popsicle to shut me up. I cried on my popsicle.

I didn't understand why I couldn't keep my trophy when the others could. So I approached one of the other winners from grade 5 and 6 who was obviously better in the know. I will forever remember the pride in that boy's eyes. His smile spoke volumes when he said, "You did awesome, today." Then he explained to me that a girl had never won before and they didn't know what to do.

Um... give me my trophy?

Nope. I was told I would get a better one. I wasn't sure yet what was wrong with the one they'd picked out. Later, I stole the trophy from the Sister (Don't worry, she was used to me not listening to her) so I could look at it. Was I really not allowed to have it because I was a girl? What would they do to it?

My mom explained it to me. It was the man on top. Because I was a girl, I should have a trophy with a woman on it. The trophy wasn't fitting. So of course, I asked the obvious questions, "Why didn't they have trophies for the girls?" The competition had been fair. Both girls and boys had competed for the same prize. So why didn't they think a girl could win? Perhaps the world wasn't ready for me. Because I didn't plan to let the fact that I was a girl stop me from doing my best.

Well. Later, (it felt like years and years later) I was given my new trophy. It sucked. I did not get a cool ceremony like the other winners (the boys) had enjoyed. The beautiful red ruby was gone and had left a mark on the marble since they kept the base. I was now staring at a woman athlete who looked pretty feeble compares the strong man of the others. Yes, she sucked.

I felt singled out and different, yet I was not. I was equal to every other winner and that older boy hadn't looked upset at all that a girl had won. We had been measured by the same standards and I had won fair and square.

Yet. I was ashamed and cheated and pissed off, but! it felt like a challenge.

Someone even told me that I should sometimes let the boys win. A woman told me this as if I missed the memo and this was secretly what women were doing.

I threw the trophy away.

It became a frustrating reminder that when boys and girls were treated the same in competitions that society did not expect a girl to walk among the victors.

The following year, on the award stand there were prizes of equal beauty for boys and girls and even though the divisions of the groups and the pointing system were no longer universal, a boy and a girl won in each group, somehow, through math that only a grownup could understand.

I, however, did not win. I was placed in competition with an older grade instead of with children my own age, but then the points I earned were measured against the girls of my age. Which makes no sense to me. I did win one or two of the challenges because I refused to go down without a fight, but in the end, I did not win a trophy. And I would not win again until highschool where the rating system meant I was competing against only girls, and all of them my own age. Winning had lost all value to me by that time. It wasn't about winning, but about knowing I was walking away having done my absolute best and that I had fun doing it.

This experience changed my view on things and made me who I am. I am only ever in competition with myself. And I am hard on myself, much harder than society or my peers would be.

I am happy to say, though, that girls did win that year. And they enjoyed the same ceremony as the boys. And!! this time, the trophy had a green gem in it, and the woman was just as strong as the man in the statue beside her. Small victory, but only now do I understand how I changed things for some of those future gals; some even went to provincial competitions where they competed against other girls their own age in a very fair system, and they rocked it. I am proud of them.

I did notice, though, that not once was there only trophies on that podium that were all of women warriors.  Just saying.

I wish I would have kept that ugly trophy, because now it means something to me. It means I made change, not on purpose, but because I am me. And I matter. We all do.

In a competition where women and men are being evaluated as equals, the awards should be gender neutral and either should be expected to win. And the winner should be proud to stand among these other winners and tell them they did awesome.

Lately, there's been some questions concerning awards where both men and women are in equal competition. What title should these awards have? I like the gender neutral titles because it means things were fair, and that either are expected to win.

What about you? As a man would you accept an award with a woman on it because it's all they brought to the podium? As a woman would you be proud to accept an award with a man on it because they were sure a man would win?

We might be competing for the same prize, but win or lose, we deserve respect.


DUTA said...

Well, it's the eternal story of boys versus girls, and men versus women. It should be said that under the communist regime, there was more equality given to the two genders, starting with children at the kindergarten. Angela Merkel, for example, the chancelor of Germany, a former East Germany communist activist, proves it by being equal in capabilities and experiences to her male collegues. So far, she has managed to keep her position steady which is not easy considering the waves of migration flooding this country.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Good for you that you only compete with yourself. I made that decision years ago, because I think competition can sometimes be so destructive to creativity. My feeling is always: "Am I better at this than I was last week (month, year). If so, I'm improving and not going backwards."

I'm glad you changed things for others. That must feel so satisfying.