The Hidden Meanings Behind the Damaging “You’re So Brave” Compliment.
The word ‘brave’ contains a duality that warrants unpacking. ‘Brave’ refers to the people who speak and act against oppression, as well as those who are forced to endure oppression, without having a genuine alternative.
We do NEED bravery. It’s all too easy to absorb messages that prompt hate for the parts of ourselves that deviate from a prescribed norm, or affirm that workers must be complicit to any conditions, despite any ethical, health, safety, or sexual violations. It takes so much work, and so much risk to ignore these messages and instead inform everyone surrounding us, verbally or with action, they can ignore the BS too.
When society communicates bravery with the line “You’re/They’re so brave” it’s often uttered of certain groups, people that defy the constructed bounds of what a ‘normal’ body, sexuality, race, gender, mind, etc. are, or of people who have no choice but to be in a risky situation to survive. ‘Brave’ is a concept reserved for those who either dare to unapologetically take up space or those that have no choice but to be denied it. Either way, bravery is about fighting or being trapped in oppression that is built by patriarchal, supremacist, capitalist structures. These structures maintain that a body is only worthy if it looks a certain way or provides the labour needed to make a profit. It’s also worth noting that capitalism further preys on bodies, by marketing to insecurities; juice cleanses and diets to make you thin, protein shakes to make you toned, hair dye to erase age and heritage, etc. We are taught that we can become model people if we buy the products that erase our ‘unpalatable’ characteristics.
If bravery can be synonymous with oppression, we have to ask ourselves what do we really mean by ‘brave’?
When we use it to describe frontline workers, we should insist on acknowledging that many of them are marginalized, and don’t have the choice that the word ‘brave’ implies. The only real choice that seems to be involved; get paid and stay silent, or speak out and go without.
When ‘brave’ is used to describe the people who disembody oppression, there’s an underlying message that goes along with it. ‘Brave’ becomes a coded description that says “I wouldn’t dare be unapologetic about the space I take up’, ‘I wouldn’t want that body’, or ‘This is not normal’.
This isn’t to say that the people fighting or trapped in oppression aren’t brave, but the unacknowledged problems and underlying messages we absorb from media and governments about what it is to be ‘brave’ are problematic. I want to live in a world where there isn’t a need for bravery, where loving ourselves and prioritizing our safety without compromise is an unquestionable norm. At the base of this dissection, is the cowardly capitalist system and its puppet masters, who sit in their safe havens, pushing messages of perfect bodies to sell products, and abolishing labour rights to ensure human capital is available unobstructed for the continuation of profits.