Are Women Too Fearful?

Did you see the archetypal serial-killer looking guy lurking around our place the other morning? He was wearing a hoodie drawn low over his eyes. He might as well have been holding up a sign that say “Cross the street or I will eat your liver with fava beans.” Yes, I crossed the street. After I watched him continue past our house. No, I didn’t notice the small dog he was walking. Maybe if the dog had been wearing a hoodie, I would have.

But am I more fearful than the average woman? Hyperbole aside, no. I’m not afraid to leave the house alone, nor am I afraid to do recreational activities by myself. I do admit to a heightened awareness of my surroundings, as I was raised by a former FBI agent. (One of my best friends is also the daughter of a G-Man and she reacts to situations exactly the same way as I do. High five, progeny of J. Edgar Hoover.) But am I more fearful than my husband? Yes, it would seem that I am.

The world is unquestionably a dangerous place for women. The “gift of fear” is often bandied about in pop culture without really revealing what that means. Yes, it’s a good to be on your guard in a dark parking lot. It’s a good to check to make sure the shady-looking person you just passed on the street isn’t following you. It’s good to lock your doors at night. But I’ve never thought of fear the same way I’d think about, say, a charitable donation or a new handbag. It doesn’t feel like a “gift.”

Fear likely doesn’t feel like a gift to the people for whom it has become debilitating. Anxiety disorders, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorders or neurotic fear, are very real and best addressed by medical professionals. Nor am I talking about the fears someone might experience living under totalitarian rule. Rather, I’m talking about the natural, everyday concerns that surround our lives which can be rooted in, simply, fear of the unknown.

These are fears than can pervade women’s lives. But when do they hold us back? The fear inspired by a nightmare is probably the closest many people get to real terror. Women often attest to a gut-wrenching explosion of terror if they wake up thinking someone is standing over their beds.

But if you think about it, isn’t it the same feeling some of us have carried through our lives? It was the fear we felt as children when we thought something was under our beds. The fear some of us we felt as adolescents when we dreamed of walking into school naked. This became a fear of career failure, a fear of a young mother, a fear of the bogeyman on the street. Namely, it’s senseless, primal, reasonless fear – and often, it seems to call on women.

What would a world without fear look like? Via ScienceBlog, the Journal Current Biology recently reports on a woman who cannot experience fear. She is a 44-year-old American who suffers from an extremely rare genetic condition called Urbach-Wiethe Disease. She can feel other emotions but not fear. She’s been studied for almost two decades by researchers. According to the journal, “based on interviews with her and her three children, the authors suggest that she probably has not experienced fear at all throughout the whole duration of her adult life, despite having encountered an unusually high number of traumatic and life-threatening events.”

This woman has had a knife held to her throat by a drug addict and was once nearly killed in a domestic violence attack. And yet, she is completely unafraid. After all, as Discovery points out, fear is nothing but “a chain reaction in the brain that starts with a stressful stimulus and ends with the release of chemicals that cause a racing heart, fast breathing and energized muscles, among other things, also known as the fight-or-flight response.” This woman’s fear response doesn’t work.

Do we envy her…or fear her? What would our lives look like without fear?

Images: Claus Rebler, showbits

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.