[Content Note: Misogyny; harassment.]
There are a million garbage misogynist narratives demeaning women as less than—women aren't funny, women can't get along with each other, women can't achieve the extraordinary genius (or the depths of depravity) that men can, etc.—all of them self-evident crap to anyone who has interacted with women and cares to move beyond patriarchal narratives of institutional diminishment.
It's an impossible task to rank the capacity for rage-making these Myths of the Lady Monolith, but one of the tropes that most infuriates me, every time I have the misfortune to stumble across another of its endless iterations, is that women are weak—and its rubbish corollary that women aren't brave.
In order to maintain this illusion, bravery is typically defined in ways that have traditionally favored men. But even using traditional narratives, there are women who demonstrate courage: Among the staff and commentariat of this blog are women who have served or are serving in the military, female cops, female firefighters—women in a number of professions that require they put themselves in harm's way in the commission of their daily jobs.
If we expand the traditional definitions of bravery to include that which requires courage based on a circumstance of potential harm, all the women who publicly disclose concealable identities in public spaces where they may risk retributive harassment, physical abuse, employment insecurity, familial estrangement, community ostracization, or face other meaningful consequence are brave: The women who come out; the women who transition; the women who identify as feminists, womanists, atheists, survivors; multiracial women who can pass as white; women with invisible disabilities, including and especially mental illness; women who have had abortions; women who provide abortions.
That is hardly a comprehensive list, because it takes gumption just to walk out every day into a world that hates you.
Sure, there are female cowards, who are cowardly about some things or lots of things. But the point is not that there are no women who are cowards; the point is that there are women who aren't.
My friend Ari recently celebrated her 40th birthday. Shortly after, she got up onstage, in front of a packed house, and did stand-up comedy for the first time. And then, last Friday night, for the second time.
Now, despite my bias, I will tell you that Ari is a hilarious woman, who can make me laugh until tears roll down my cheeks. She has the capacity to command attention in a way I cannot fathom, and when she finds all eyes on her, she has the tremendous gift of elevating everyone in the room.
But on Friday night, it was not as remarkable that she was funny (although she was!) or charismatic (that, too!), but that she was one of five comedians, the rest of whom were all straight white men whose acts can collectively be paraphrased as: "Women are the worst, amirite? I am definitely a stalker. Also: I HAVE A PENIS! Goodnight!"
The only other woman onstage that night was a waitress, beckoned by the headliner to bring him a shot from the bar, then sexually harassed as he instructed the audience to check out her ass as she walked away.
Ari, a woman of color, smack in the middle of the group o' dudes, stood on the stage in pursuit of her longtime dream—and she told jokes that were not cruel, jokes that were not self-hating, jokes that celebrated female bodies, jokes that demanded the audience see her as a confident, strong, sexual, smart woman. She didn't compromise or conceal herself: She challenged us to love her, just as she is, in a space that was explicitly hostile to women in multiple ways.
It's not dragging someone off a battlefield in a hail of shrapnel, but I defy anyone to tell me that shit ain't brave.
My kingdom for a world in which women's bravery is celebrated in its every expression.
(Full Disclosure: I do not have a kingdom.)