The Sseko Brave Manifesto that sits above my desk says to “do things that scare you”, to “practice radical generosity”, and that “like a girl is a compliment”. There is nothing in it that mentions bravery as a synonymous with brawn or power or toughness. As I’ve grown older, I have come to understand that each of us has to define bravery for ourselves.
When I was little, I wanted to be a spy. I wanted to use cool gadgets and chase down bad guys and save the world. I wanted to be strong and stealthy and wickedly clever. I thought it would be so cool to wear leather and be tough and unafraid of anything. I read books about how to look for clues and how to track fingerprints. I tumbled around in my backyard through my make-shift obstacle course, getting dirt under my nails and scraping up my knees. I was training myself to be tough, brave, and fearless.
Then a boy in my neighborhood told me girls couldn’t be spies. He said he’d be a better spy because he was bigger and stronger, and boys knew more about cars and guns. He said he would be a better spy because boys are tougher and braver than girls. I asked my mother if this was true and she told me that spies weren’t real anyway, at least not like in the movies. She told me that I shouldn’t want to do dangerous things; that I was too pretty, too soft, and too gentle to want those terrible things. This is when I started learning about the things girls couldn’t be.
Here at Sseko, we talk a lot about being brave. It’s written in our manifesto and it’s one thing we strive to be every day. In the dictionary, “bravery” is defined using words such as courage, valor, showiness, splendor, and magnificence. The concept of bravery has been built around these words. Being “brave” means being fearless, hardened, confident, and powerful. The thing is, we feed this image of bravery to boys much more than we do to girls. We tell boys they have to be strong, tough, confident, courageous. We teach boys to play rough, to take risks, to climb up high and jump off head-first. We tell girls to smile pretty, to play it safe, to get all A’s. We teach our boys how to be brave. We teach our girls how to be perfect.
So, what then, does bravery mean for girls?
Growing up, it seems there are three things that girls are applauded for: being beautiful, smart, and quiet. Our dads call us “princesses” and tell us we will be “good wives and mothers someday”. We are rewarded for listening to directions and being diligent and coloring inside the lines. We put on our dainty dresses and sparkling tights and twirl around on freshly-painted tippy-toes. We stop playing kickball on the playground, we stop saying the answers in class, we stop reading books about solving crimes. We start “being girls”. We hide the fierce parts of ourselves and tuck our emotions away because we are not allowed to be “too much”. We cannot care too much or be too sensitive, too reserved, too smart, too attentive, too careful, too honest, too emotional. We begin to tone it down. We want boys to think we are cool and girls to invite us to sit at their lunch table.
But many of us can’t shake off the itchiness of it, the irritation, the feeling of being shoved into a too-tight sweater. There is something in us that keeps stirring, a voice that tells us we were made to be more. There is more we want to be, but we just can’t think of what it is. What more could a girl possibly be other than lovely, smart, and still?
The path to bravery is different for girls than it is for boys. We are working within a different paradigm. To become brave, we have to strip away so many of the labels and layers that have been thrown on to us, the “girl” mold that has been cast for us. Bravery for a girl means unlearning all the things she was taught to be sorry for. It means fighting for all the things we were told we couldn’t be or couldn’t do or couldn’t say. It means leaning into the parts of ourselves that we were told were “too much”; the vulnerable parts, the compassionate parts, the tender parts. Bravery for girls means learning how to take our soft spots and use them to heal and reconcile and create trust. It means taking our harsh spots and using them to take more risks. It means taking more chances and inevitably making more mistakes, unlearning how to be perfect. Being tough and strong isn’t the only way to be brave. Compassion is bravery. Honesty is bravery. Learning how to say “no” is bravery.
Becoming who you are, unapologetically, is bravery.
That is what bravery means for a girl: being anything and everything she wants to be.
This post was written by our Summer ’16 Marketing Intern, Karlynn.