On Vulnerability and Being a "Badass"

Have you ever been called a badass? In what context? I've been called a badass when I tell stories of driving a motorcycle in northern India, or moving to China a couple days after graduation, or playing rugby in college. All of these were risk-taking, physically intense, uncompromising situations. I'm not often called a badass when I explain that I played rugby to meet good friends or that I moved abroad partially to deal with Jordan's death far away from everything related to it. So is being a badass as much about being as stoic as you are daring?

Ann Friedman recently penned "On Being a Badass" about what being called a badass usually means. She talks about Mac McClelland, a journalist famed for many tough jobs, including chasing a warlord in Democratic Republic of the Congo. When she's called a badass, she wants to make sure it's the right definition of badass. She'd prefer not to be exalted for being as disaffected as she is tough. The thing is, she does care, she is touched by things, and she does feel deeply. In her memoir Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story, she discusses trying to heal from the traumas of being threatened and seeing awful things. During that time, she also felt immense pressure to downplay her experience of the trauma and appear calm, cool, and collected.

The article discusses how expectations to downplay emotions can be emotionally taxing and psychologically harmful to all genders.

There’s pressure to prove that [women in roles they were historically excluded from] are just as capable as men are, which can turn into pressure to ignore your emotional responses and downplay the tendencies you have that are traditionally considered ‘feminine.’...As women continue to break into traditionally masculine professions...we should also make clear that we understand this work is hard, that it often takes an emotional toll...and that, when they acknowledge their feelings and admit their struggles, they’re all the more badass for it. This wouldn’t just help women with challenging jobs or in dangerous situations. It would also benefit men who have long been expected to bury their emotional responses and carry on as if they are unaffected by trauma. It’s not “badass” to survive a horrible situation without shedding a single tear. The real badass move, as women like McClelland...show, is to fearlessly acknowledge how something has affected you and make space for others to do the same.
— http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/02/on-being-a-badass.html

Next time you're called a badass, ask that person what he or she means. And explain, if you agree, that emotional vulnerability (and allowing for it in others) is probably the most badass thing there is.


Posted on April 8, 2015 .