Skip to Content

Don’t Tell Me to Be Brave

girl jumping
Photo by Germán TR on

Don’t Tell Me to Be Brave

Don’t tell me
to Be Brave,
as if courage
is instinct for
half of us and
Learned Behavior
for XX chromosomes
alone. As if
my going
out is not its own
defiant act
And my speaking:
Bold, Direct
is not akin
to wielding
the sword.
Don’t tell me
Courage is:
holding my tongue
and the serving tray
at a 3rd wave feminist
Dinner Party
thrown for strangers with
pasted on grins
I am no one’s
I am already

The Catch-22 Of Being a Woman and Femme

I’ve been dealing with ongoing sexual harassment from an older customer at work the past couple weeks. Though he swears his comments are innocent, I feel more and more agitated every time he comes in because I don’t know what the correct – but really, the safe – response is.

I read an article once that said women at bars tend to treat the creepers more nicely than the regular guys because they’re afraid to set them off. The creepers interpret this as romantic interest rather than terror, and freak out anyway when the women finally refuse their advances.

I feel like those women at the bar. I work in a customer service field and it’s generally my responsibility to be nice. But when that generosity of spirit is interpreted as genuine interest by people who ask if they can work there “just to look at you,” I’m left without a clear exit strategy.

On the one hand, I absolutely have the right to tell him to bug off. On the other hand, what if that makes him angry and he parks his car next to mine at closing then kidnaps me?

That might sound crazy, but it isn’t really. Even if women aren’t naturally aware of our surroundings, we’re told from childhood not to walk alone or stay outside when it’s dark. We’re told to keep our phones and our keys in our hands, and our finger on the pepper spray. We have to be vigilant if we want to avoid harassment, assault, and death.

But let’s say this man’s behavior will never escalate to violence. I’m still left dealing with the discomfort of having to publicly assert my right to not be sexually harassed at a potential cost to my shop’s reputation. Will other customers think I’m overreacting? Will he post a negative review on Yelp? I’ve been pushed into a corner I have to get out of without kicking and biting and saying nasty things. Because I have a reputation to uphold. It all falls on me, and I hate him for it.

We’re Already Brave

In the past year or so, I’ve seen the phrase, “Be Brave,” tacked onto everything from posters to t-shirts to devotionals. It’s a recurring marketing theme for a couple of women-centered social enterprises I follow, as well. However well meaning the call-to-action may be, I’ve found myself rolling my eyes every time I come across it.

Frankly, I don’t think women need to be told to “be brave.” Women are forced to navigate an impossible set of expectations every day, straddling harmful patriarchal values and an increasingly rigid form of feminism that leaves little room for personal expression. The last thing we need to be told is to be brave.

We’re already sorting out the details of identity formation in the context of societal and relational expectations, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job. We’re already advocating for ourselves when we feel we have the space to do so. If we’re silent, it’s for our own protection. If we’re too nice, it’s because we know that sometimes that’s what it takes to have our voices heard.

What is Brave?

I’m also disturbed by the adulteration of the word, brave, in the context of female “empowerment.” Male bravery conjures images of knights, soldiers, and public figures. Female bravery as its contextualized in the circles I’m in only serves to reinforce traditional female virtues like hospitality, generosity, and meekness. We’re told that it’s brave to say sorry and write letters. We’re told that bravery is being nice when no one’s watching.

I’m here to tell you that none of that is bravery! Lovely qualities to have, to be sure, but we might as well adopt the coercive, polygamist-Mormon phrase, “Keep sweet,” if we’re really only concerned with women staying in their place. I’m not interested in “reclaiming my femininity” or discovering “authentic womanhood.” These terms only serve to further limit acceptable ways of being a woman. I want more space, not nicer throw pillows!

I’m ready to keep being whatever I am in the world. Sometimes sweet, sometimes confrontational, sometimes fearful. But always brave.

We are brave by default. We have to be.

This post still feels unfinished, but I’m publishing it anyway because I want to hear your stories. What’s your take on the “Be Brave” trend?

Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. – Rebecca Solnit

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

Share this post:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Leah Wise

Wednesday 27th of April 2016

On the "write letters" point, I'm really secretly referring to Darling Magazine articles and its overall aesthetic. Doing old fashioned "woman" things that take lots of time and effort are encouraged. I also reference them in my poem. LOL on leaving the church. I feel simiarly about my church tradition. I was encouraged to think for myself and didn't get the memo that it was only as long as I was "thinking for myself" along the same lines as everyone else in that community. Thanks for reading and for your encouragement. I feel ya with the general need to find ways to conquer shyness and lack of confidence. I also feel weak or unable to articulate myself, but I've found that I need to give myself more grace rather than a pep talk in most circumstances.

Leah Wise

Wednesday 27th of April 2016

That's a really great point, and one I hadn't fully appreciated.


Friday 22nd of April 2016

I agree, Catherine! Our intuition is pretty powerful and I really believe it has saved me from some pretty potentially dangerous situations. Leah - I'm sorry you're dealing with this right now, too...I've been in your situation before: once when I was working at a bar, and the other time at the gym I attended while in college. It's never comfortable, often scary, and frustrating when you try to explain the scenario to male friends who don't really seem to see the threat or problem... the weight of mitigating the problem is always placed squarely on women's shoulders, when we really should be teaching BOTH boys and girls from a very young age about not being entitled to anyone elses time or space.....

Free logo digitizing

Friday 22nd of April 2016

great post.your blog always great and interesting. thanks for sharing it.

Addie Talley, Photographer

Thursday 21st of April 2016

oh, that's a hard place to be in... I hope you are brave and can find a good solution....also as an aside to what I was saying... I tell my sons this along with my daughters - so when Im saying that I think its a good message, I mean that its a good message for everything - not just women/girls - that is the part that gets under my skin - how its only marketed towards women, so I definitely agree with you there!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.