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Are Women's Fears Different from Men's Fears?

Fear is a matriarchy; fear is passed down through mothers.

"There's nothing more terrifying than scared people." —Elizabeth Bowen

"Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinion of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face what frightens you." —Katherine Mansfield

Fear is a matriarchy; fear is passed down through mothers.

These are fighting words, and I wish they weren't true, but I believe they are: Girls are still encouraged to maintain their desire for protection by others in lieu of forging their own sets of strengths.

Encouraged to look for protection and defense from their parents and family, girls frequently transfer this desire to a lover or husband as they grow into adulthood. Anxiety and fear are paradoxically often a product—not a failure—of a woman's being both astute and perceptive: The most fearful are often those with the most imaginative intelligence.

The toughest cookies I know are still far more fearful than their male counterparts; the most apparently invincible woman is, I would argue, beset by wild and remarkable anxieties.

Sometimes fear is our ally, true, but often it is no more than a masked enemy.

"Our strength is often composed of the weaknesses we're damned if we're going to show." —Mignon McLaughlin

Why, when presented with precisely the same social and psychological situations, do men become angry while women get scared?

Being frightened is an especially embarrassing emotion because what we fear often seems petty. Someone scared might be reprimanded by a companion and told, "Get a grip–anybody with sense can see that there's nothing to worry about," unless the fear is somehow politically correct. The big worries seem noble—fear of nuclear annihilation, of environmental destruction, of human suffering—but everyday personal fears—fear of elevators, fear of embarrassment, fear of not fitting into last year's bathing suit—creep around coveting the nobility of genuine fears, but never quite making it.

Insecurity about the details of life causes excessive concern for them in the lives of many women, who then permit their fears about the details to obscure genuine threats to their well-being. There are, for example, women with immaculate houses who refuse to go to the doctor for mammograms; they are apparently more worried about their bedspreads than their breasts, but surely this isn't the case.

Displacement of fears from the actual to the imaginary leads not to reassurance, but to a deluded sense of protection from danger. Even when we know that our imagined fears typically outnumber our actual dangers, we continue to displace our feelings of fear onto other, perhaps even more potentially destructive, emotions and behaviors. We can't help it.

Anthropologists from Margaret Mead onwards insist on the overwhelming evidence that women continue to want men who are older, more powerful, more intelligent, and more ambitious than they are. One way to create the possibility for this imbalance is for an otherwise able woman to trip herself up by becoming fearful, but this pattern of fear is finally and essentially destructive to any relationship, no matter how satisfying it might otherwise appear.

(I'm saying this like you didn't already know it, but you do...)

To Be Continued...