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A New Kind of Hero

Modern Women Forging Brave Paths Around the World (and how we can join them)

Who deserves to be called a hero? What does it take to earn an award for bravery? According to the Australian government, 9 times out of 10, it takes being a man. It means performing a physical rescue or feat of strength.

Surely that’s an exaggeration, right? Wrong. Take the Australian Bravery Decorations list for example. Of the 86 people on the list, 80 were men. Where were the women? Where were the moral and spiritual acts of courage? Are these a lesser form of bravery? Are they less deserving of recognition?

Today we examine tales of extreme heroism performed by women around the world — from bravely facing political attacks to choosing mental health over prestige and accolades, these stories must be celebrated for what they are: True Bravery. By changing how we define and celebrate bravery, we will unite to fuel positive, generational change for women and girls around the world.

What is Bravery?

According to Merriam-Webster, bravery is defined as, “the quality or state of having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty.” It’s a word that in some contexts today, has lost its power. In others, it feels perfectly fitting. The word “brave” in and of itself is at once incredibly broad and also stiflingly narrow.

Consider how widely we use this term:

Are you ready to brave the rain, or should we wait for it to let up?
She fought a brave battle against cancer.
It was so brave of you to speak up at the board meeting.
He was awarded the medal of bravery.

It’s that last one that, despite the broad application of the term “brave” to everything from walking to one’s car in the rain to battling cancer, that ends up being ridiculously narrow. Why is it that, when asked to define and honor brave people, the courageous firefighter is put on a pedestal, but the breast cancer survivor is not? Why do we issue a medal and hold a press conference for the man who pulled a child from a burning car, but not for the single mother who survives long work days on four hours of sleep so her children have food, clothing, and shelter?

The Australian government publishes semi-annual bravery lists, celebrating “the courageous actions of individuals who, in a moment of danger or peril, chose to act.” These awards consistently go to people who performed a physical act to save someone else from harm — and they are, more than 80% of the time, awarded to men.

As you scroll through the list, you’ll see names and stories of many courageous and brave individuals. It’s also hard to miss the fact that the majority of those names belong to men. The acts of bravery consist of physical situations in which someone rescued another from a fire or flood waters and some who intervened during a dangerous assault or robbery. All of these are without a doubt heroic and brave acts that deserve to be honored and recognized.

And yet, it begs the question: where are the women? Are we to believe that women do not show up as bravely as men? Do women play it safe more often when faced with moments of danger or peril? Look the other way when we see a burning building or a drowning child? Or are our stories perhaps quieter, less celebrated?

Do not misinterpret: Of course, men and women who accomplish great physical feats should be celebrated and recognized. None of this discussion is meant to diminish the bravery displayed by the people who appear on these lists.

This is not an either/or discussion. We must recognize both physical acts of bravery and moral acts of bravery. It is past time to radically shift how society views bravery. We must celebrate all forms of bravery.

Spiritual bravery.
Emotional bravery.
Moral bravery.

Each of these deserves to be celebrated and held on an equal footing alongside physical acts of bravery.

It’s time to set the record straight. Women can wear capes too. Acts of bravery are not gender-specific. Women, too, deserve to be recognized for our acts of bravery whether they are physical, moral, emotional, or spiritual.

So, today, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect on the stories of brave women who deserve to be celebrated.

Naomi Osaka’s Display of Emotional Bravery

In 2021, then 23-year-old tennis star Naomi Osaka bravely took a stand in prioritizing her mental health. Rather than continue on the path that was expected of her, she bravely chose to protect herself, serving as a beautiful example that mental health matters.

The situation began innocuously enough. Osaka released a statement ahead of the Roland Garros tennis tournament that she would be foregoing the mandatory press conferences for the sake of her mental wellbeing.

She shared this at the time:

“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one.We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”

Osaka determined that it was more important to be true to herself and her emotional state than to comply with the outdated and unnecessary requirement that she attend press conferences during the grueling two-week tennis tournament. As she argued, if she had broken a leg or torn a rotator cuff, no one would have questioned her need to step away from the spotlight. The fact that Osaka was suffering from “invisible” ailments such as depression and anxiety garnered little to no empathy in sports media and larger society.

Well, the backlash said it all: shut up, sit down, and do what you are expected to do.

Women who refuse to comply, citing concern for themselves, almost always face disproportional backlash. At the end of the day, who did Osaka’s actions harm? The institution behind Roland Garros? The ability for reporters to get more clicks on their stories?

Rather than comply, Osaka’s courage stands as an example for people everywhere. For anyone who has ever pushed themselves beyond their own limits for fear of offending or inconveniencing others. The unfortunate reality is that many people continue pushing past their limits until they simply can’t go on anymore.

Naomi Osaka’s bravery sends a powerful message: It is okay to prioritize mental health. Even when the world is watching. Even when it’s unpopular. It is always okay to protect your boundaries and challenge the status quo.

The Spiritual Bravery of Gabrielle Union

Spiritual bravery, in a broad sense, refers to facing pain with dignity or faith as we seek meaning and purpose in life.

Gabrielle Union is another woman who has exemplified what it truly means to be brave. After facing years of infertility and more miscarriages than she can accurately count, Union had to confront the spiritually gut-wrenching truth: she would never experience pregnancy and childbirth as she had always envisioned it.

Rather than forge ahead, suffering silently, she made the courageous decision to go public with her struggles in a uniquely raw and transparent way. In her first book, We’re Going to Need More Wine, Union revealed the truth about her journey through grief, loss, and loneliness. She was met with countless stories from other women, strangers who came to her from similar places of isolation and vulnerability.

Women who needed the strength to begin one more round of IVF.
Those who needed the courage to discontinue fertility care for good.
And everyone in between who was grappling with difficult, soul-level questions of life, death, parenting, and one’s purpose in the world.

Union’s words, openness, and vulnerability touched each type of person, simply because of her courageous choice to share.

When she was told her last chance of having a child would be to work with a surrogate, Union struggled with the reality of this. She struggled mentally and emotionally with thoughts of being a failure. Overcoming these thoughts and beliefs, she and her husband decided to move forward with surrogacy, and she continued to bravely share about it along the way in the media and in her second book You Got Anything Stronger.

Union and Wade found the strength to know it was time to pursue surrogacy. They were matched with an incredibly brave and giving woman who helped them to become parents to their daughter Kaavia. Their surrogate stepped up, willing to sacrifice her own body for nearly a year to help complete strangers have a healthy child — yet another true act of bravery and heroism.

Union continues to face difficult spiritual struggles about her reality of becoming a mother, stating:

When they say having a child is like having your heart outside your body, that’s all I know. We met as strangers, the sound of my voice and my heartbeat foreign to her. It’s a pain that has dimmed but remains present in my fears that I was not, and never will be, enough.

It takes immense courage and bravery to speak those words into the world, and even more to use your platform to inspire and comfort others.

Exposing Adela Navarro Bello’s Moral Bravery

Next let’s turn our attention to the moral bravery exhibited by female journalists who refuse to be silenced despite persistent harassment, threats, and violence.

Simply for choosing to report the truth, to investigate issues of moral and cultural importance, women journalists around the globe are faced with an appalling amount of criticism and harassment both online and offline. Yet, they continue to do so out of a strong moral sense of duty — one that requires true bravery.

Take Adela Navarro Bello for example. The first time she was targeted was in 2010, when representatives from the US Department of Homeland Security informed her that she and her editor-in-chief at Zeta Tijuana, an investigative publication that covers organized crime and drug trafficking in Mexico, were targets of a drug cartel kingpin. Because of her relentless reporting on his drug cartel, he had ordered a hit, requiring Navarro and her colleague to live under the protection of Mexican Army officers.

Though she faced a very real and credible threat to her life, Navarro and her team continued to report on the cartels, exposing vast crime networks and public corruption. Soon, that particular threat passed, only to be followed with multiple instances of horrific sexual harrassment via email, mail, and text message. Smear campaigns were coordinated against her on social media, slandering her name and reputation. The same attacks started on other female journalists. Rather than be silenced, Navarro and 120 other Mexican journalists rallied together to demand government change. Ultimately, those behind some of the attacks faced accountability, though the issue is far from resolved.

At the end of the day, journalists like Navarro decide each day to push ahead, exposing corruption and crime from a place of deep moral bravery. Our world is quite literally a better place because of their brave acts.

Amplifying Brave Women Together

Though society tends to view bravery as being physical and heroic acts, there is so much more to it. Being brave goes far beyond physical strength. It’s time to amplify our voices and show our support to not only the women highlighted here, but the brave women all across the world.

We must stand together to teach the generations to come that women, too, demonstrate bravery every single day. And while Osaka, Union, and Navarro may never receive a shiny medal or official commendation for bravery, their stories deserve to be heard.

If we continue to raise our voices, we can not only change the demographics of that list, but also positively impact the future of women for generations to come.

The way society seems to view what it means to be brave is obsolete. Our traditional definition is no longer fitting for the world we live in. It’s time we look beyond the physical, masculine acts of bravery and show recognition to the many women who show courage and bravery every single day.

Are you ready to wake up every day and live your bravest life?

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