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  • Writer's pictureAriel Tovlev

Advocating for Safety Over Bravery

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

I hate the term "brave space."

I understand that no space can completely be a safe space, and most spaces in the world are not safe spaces, but I think that is exactly what the term is speaking to -- an understanding that most communities do not go out of their way to create an environment that is actively supportive. The term "safe space" is an acknowledgement that the world is not a safe place.

Brave space puts the onus on the vulnerable person. It asks them to be brave and put themselves out there without knowing whether or not their courage will be accepted. It's asking vulnerable people to make themselves more vulnerable, without providing any support or encouragement for them to do so. It does this by shaming the concept that someone wouldn't feel safe in a certain space, and ignoring the validity of how silencing unsafe spaces can be. This does not help vulnerable people share their vulnerabilities. All this does is encourage those who already take up too much space to take up more space, and then allows them to pat themselves on the back for being "brave."

Safe space puts the onus on the community. It acknowledges and understands that in most aspects of our lives, the vulnerable have no support. By creating an intentionally supportive environment, it encourages those who don't feel brave to still feel safe enough to come forward.

I want to illustrate this point with a story. I have been in so many classes where professors have used cissexist language that has hurt me. This is language that indicates vagina=woman and penis=man. There have been times when I have tried to voice these concerns to professors, and was shot down. Because of that, I stopped voicing my concerns, and let myself feel hurt.

I am currently in a class where the professor has voiced repeatedly that she wants us to come to her if we have any concerns at all, and she wants to be sensitive to our needs. We cover difficult topics in this class, and today we were talking about miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death. Throughout the class, when referring to the person who gives birth, she regularly used the word "mother." Because she had established a culture of support and sensitivity, I felt like she might be able to hear me. I went to her after class and said, essentially, it hurts me to hear repeatedly that someone who gives birth is a mother, since I would like to give birth, and I will not be a mother. I then asked if she would be willing to try to use the term 'gestational parent' instead.

She heard me and responded positively. She thanked me for coming to her, made a promise to try and change her language, and gave me permission to interrupt her if she makes a mistake. And then we had a wonderful conversation about the evolution of Jewish law as societies and cultures evolve, and how that tension between tradition and inclusion can actually be a very beautiful space to lean into and exercise Jewish values.

I did feel nervous coming to her, and it was brave of me to do so, but I didn't go to her because I was brave. I went to her because she had created a safe space for me to do so. I had an expectation that I would be heard, and that she would be sensitive to my needs and concerns. She had created that supportive environment that signaled to me that my courage would not be in vain.

It was such a positive and validating experience for me, and it reminded me of how important it is to put in the effort to create spaces that are safe for the vulnerable members of our communities. Yes, most of the "real world" is not a safe space -- and that is exactly why we need them.

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