Should Women be Afraid of Men?
Recently, someone I used to work with shared on her Facebook page a link to an article from The Times magazine by the feminist writer Caitlin Moran. The substance of Ms Moran’s piece—rhetorically addressed to men in general (notwithstanding that newspaper colour supplements are primarily marketed to and read by women)—was that women are, in general, scared of men (barring immediate family and friends) because they are bigger and stronger, and that it would be as well if men knew this. My former colleague—by all accounts always a well-balanced and sensible person—prefaced the article with the following comment: ‘I guarantee these are thoughts every woman you know thinks every single day’.
Not only do I not have such thoughts every day; I don’t have them any day—and I said so. While it is indeed true that most men could easily overpower me if they were so minded, why would they want to? And why—with so many other women to choose from—would they happen to pick on me? The truth is that men are more likely to suffer physical violence at the hands of other men than are women; while sexual assault is most often perpetrated behind closed doors, by someone known to the victim (in other words, the very men of whom Caitlin Moran does not have a routine fear). In our society, the incidence of strangers jumping out of bushes and attacking women, or luring them into traps, is—thank God—rare. For every Sarah Everard, there are several million females walking the streets undisturbed. In the United Kingdom in 2021, it is simply not rational for women to be habitually afraid of the men we encounter, or to plan our daily lives around the possibility that a testosterone-crazed lunatic might creep up behind us and grab us.
And yet fear is often not rational, arising from involuntary responses deep within our limbic system; and to say that a thing is not rational is not necessarily to say that it is irrational. For centuries, women were commonly referred to as ‘the weaker sex’: nowadays that epithet is rarely heard; but here we have a feminist author saying, in so many words, the same thing. In many places and cultures, unaccompanied women in public places are indeed at high risk of assault from men—a problem recently imported into Germany, Sweden and some other European countries, as has been reported. In India, sex attacks have a special name, ‘Eve teasing’, which belittles the seriousness of the crime (and, indeed, the seriousness with which the authorities there take it).
It seems that the ability of women to go about in safety is a product of our culture, and one that—in our society at least—owes much to Christianity, with its emphasis on personal restraint (especially in matters concerning relations between the sexes). I worry, though, that it is fragile. At one time, every man knew that it would be ungentlemanly to speak and act in ‘mixed company’—a phrase which has now all but disappeared from our common vocabulary—as he would when hanging out with his male drinking buddies. Nowadays, men frequently think nothing of speaking coarsely within earshot of—or even to—women. Perhaps, then, it is not altogether surprising that some women feel nervous, and are seeking renewed respect from men.