By Jerry A. Boggs
A VERY SHORT SHORT STORY: At a house party, Tom, a daycare worker, announces that he’s going away for a few days’ training. His wife Sue, a manager of a large department store, anxiously tells everyone she’s afraid to be at home alone overnight despite living in a crime-free area. Several friends offer to take her in or stay with her until Tom returns. End of story.
Boring? Ok, a rewrite: At a house party, Sue announces she’s taking a business trip. Her husband Tom anxiously admits he fears being at home alone overnight. Several friends…do what?
Somehow it’s easy to picture a few of them suddenly plucking at imaginary lint on their clothes, others hiding chuckles in their drinks, and finally someone jesting, “Sure, Tom – and you want me to come over and hold your hand, right?” There is no serious offer to come to Tom’s rescue.
The two stories are fiction but perhaps to many of us the different reactions to Sue and Tom ring true. That may be because in real life we see the woman who expresses fear usually being taken seriously and getting sympathetic offers of help, and we see her male counterpart, if he’s brave or careless enough to admit to a fear, often being ignored or teased. A real-life Tom in the second story would know that teasing is exactly what he’d get if he revealed – especially in the serious, anxious manner generally comfortable to women – the slightest uneasiness about spending a night at home alone (unless he was elderly or disabled). That’s why, rather than saying, “I’m afraid to be alone,” he’d likely quip, “At long last — peace!”
Herein hangs a conundrum. Although for the past 30 years men have been importuned — if not harangued — to let their true inner self emerge with all its genuine fears and foibles, they are still socialized from childhood, says William Pollack in Real Boys, to “cover up the more gentle, caring, vulnerable sides of themselves.” Covering up the vulnerable side means no talking about fears (especially the fear of staying at home alone!). Thus, conditioned to come across as fearless and invincible, males are considered by many to have actually little to fear in society. They are in fact widely regarded as the sex that has a lower risk of being harmed.
For females, I think, it’s different. Long permitted to freely air their apprehensions in private realms, women have for some time now taken their fear of being harmed to the public arena, frequently as a political strategy at the urging of feminists. Their outpouring, doubtless aided by women’s “weaker sex” image, has helped mark women as being especially vulnerable. Female vulnerability is an idea given much life by the media, and appears to have convinced us that women are at greater risk of violence than men. This is reinforced when we hear regularly “A woman is raped/killed/assaulted every (fill in the blank) seconds.” Yet Rene Denfeld writes in Kill the Body, the Head Will Fall: A Closer Look at Women, Violence, and Aggression, “Danger doesn’t stalk women more than it does men. Fear does.”
Women’s greater freedom to express their fear of violence and the female’s image as more at risk have come with a price: we’ve constructed laws and policies that brazenly seek to protect women more than men.
Take the Violence Against Women Act. Men are three times as likely as women to be murdered, and many more of them than women are assaulted, even when rape is included. Yet Congress passed this unconstitutional act to allow only women to sue in federal court attackers they’re in relationships with, and thus violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection provision.
Consider, too, the unofficial policies of some employers. At a Michigan high school, a 17-year-old student tried to choke a male teacher. The teachers afterwards received no additional protection. Yet two months later at the same school, a 14-year-old student tried to choke a female teacher. Immediately all the female teachers were pulled from the school, reducing the staff of twenty-nine to nine.
“The male teachers,” writes Warren Farrell in The Myth of Male Power, “were still expected to remain but now they had to handle classes that were more than twice the size. The larger the class size, the greater the chance of violence. Protecting every woman put every man in jeopardy – without the men’s consent.” [Italics Farrell’s.]
So to get equal protection, must men become hand-wringing Woody Allens who prattle endlessly on about their “fear issues?” No, most wouldn’t anyway. Men can no more stop hiding their fears, I suspect, than women can stop hiding their faces with makeup: men’s “mask” of fearlessness and toughness, like women’s mask of makeup, helps ward off rejection from both sexes. What men can do is demand that Congress, employers, and others stop oiling “squeaky wheels” with unfair laws and policies that protect one group more than another. Regardless of who expresses more fear of danger, everyone must be protected equally.