It's well-established in my field that women report more anxiety than men do. For several years I have assumed this was not a reflection of actual experienced anxiety, but rather a lack of social acceptability for men to admit to any sort of mental distress. I began to question that assumption this summer.
Sitting at a conference in a roomful of men and women in late July, a question was posed to the audience: "How many of you have had a hinky/I'm-not-sure-I-should-go-down-that-alley-by-myself type of experience in the last month?" The hand of every female in the room went up (including mine); not a single male raised his hand.
The presenter continued. "How many of you have had an experience like that in the past two weeks?" Again, every female raised her hand.
"How about in the past week?" A few of the hands stayed down this time.
"The past 24 hours?" Only one-third of the hands went up this time.
The presenter looked around the room. "Every single female has been afraid at least once in the past two weeks; many of them have been afraid in the last week. Several of them have been afraid today."
She went on to suggest that fear is the experience of most women much of the time. Fear of being raped, persecuted, mugged, having her power taken away by a man. Men, she explained, don't feel that level of fear. Most men have no idea what it's truly like to be a woman because they don't live in fear.
This got me thinking. Yes, it is certainly possible that the men in the audience didn't want to raise their hands for fear of being labeled "weak," but I doubt that was true of every man. It is also possible that some women raised their hands because they saw other women do so. Again, I doubt that was true of every woman in the room. Thus, I'm back to challenging my original assumption, maybe it's not just a difference in social acceptability; maybe it really is a gender difference in experienced anxiety/fear.
So I took an informal poll of my female friends. What are you afraid of? I asked them. Here's what they said:
- Not being able to financially support myself despite all efforts to simplify and pursue work I enjoy and believe in
- I won't find a job that I can enjoy
- Fear of not having a home
- Fear of failure
- Oh lots of them... my kid's health and safety, my health and safety so they aren't left without me, money, and failure
- Fear of being successful, fear of heights and small spaces (claustrophobia)
- Being judged
- Loneliness, small spaces I can't get out of, and not living the life I truly want to.
- Being doxxed -- or worse. Slightly afraid of getting thrown from a horse, and of heartache. But mostly rapists.
- I'm afraid I'll "settle."
- Wasting my time!!!
- My fear: What I am doing doesn't matter. I want my life to matter and I want to make a BIG impact on this planet for good.
- I'm afraid of leaving the comfort of my current job in pursuit of a new career.
- Losing the people I love
- Fear of strange patterns also known as Trypophobia. Didn't even know it was a phobia until I looked it up today. Weird as it sounds, it's something that I've dealt with since I was about 6 or 7.
- Fear of not contributing as much as I possibly could or know I could before I die...
- One-lane mountain roads (otherwise known as suicide roads) and chronic illness.
- Something or someone hurting my children... and grasshoppers
- Violence against my children... My daughter was talking about practicing a lockdown and it just made my heart drop
- Being alone at the end of my life....
- Telling everyone I was bipolar. I did it anyway.
Out of all of these women, only two reported overcoming their fears:
- Interesting question because at this point in my life, I can't say that I fear anything. Sure there are circumstances that I can imagine that I'd rather not deal with or experience. But fear. No.
- Fear is something I don't give into anymore... False emotion that takes away living one's life.
And one woman shared her worst fear coming true:
- Mine was losing a child. Then it happened. And as a side effect, my lesser fears dissolved and I started to really become who I was meant to be. I'm pretty sure it was Conan O'Brian who said, "There are few things in life more liberating than having your worst fear realized." Though I wouldn't wish it on anyone, it was a strangely true side effect. For what more could I be afraid if my very deepest fear had come to pass? That's when I started "kickin' butt and taking names," so to speak.
While I find all of the answers insightful, the last three really inspire me. I personally would love to get to the point in my life where fear isn't a daily occurrence anymore. I'm not sure how realistic that is for someone with an anxiety disorder, but it gives me hope.
Hayley Williams says in her song, Last Hope: "It's not that I don't feel the pain, it's just I'm not afraid of hurting anymore."
I like that. Yes, life happens, but I hope my fears don't keep me from living my life.
What are your views on fear? What are you afraid of?