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The Gift of Fear – why it's a good thing.


Margaret Atwood, a Canadian author and feminist, said “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” 


If this doesn’t ring true for you, then you are a lucky woman indeed. For many of us, even if we have not been physically or sexually assaulted, we’ve been in situations where that was a very real possibility. In this particular case, we are the weaker sex. For many women this fear plays out in their daily lives. They gain weight to hide their vulnerability. They try to shrink in social settings. They dress down to not invite looks. In so many ways, women limit ourselves by this pervasive and unspoken fear.   


Many years ago, I read the book, The Gift of Fear. It changed my life. I’ve given it away so many times and have found myself talking about it A LOT recently which is why I’m blogging about it. The author, Gavin de Becker, runs a security company for celebrities and uses Atwood’s quote in his book. I can’t say for sure what his intent was for the book. I believe it is not to scare women but to talk about the realities of our lives and our role in their occurrence. 


Gavin states that humans are the only animals on Earth who will walk into a situation knowing that it’s dangerous. Have you ever ignored the hair on the back of your neck? The author tells countless stories of women being violated because they had lost the gift of fear. It’s not a gift that we feel we must hide, shrink or change our behavior, but it is a gift to acknowledge the fear and quit being so damn nice. 

Yep, you heard me right. de Becker goes on to convince the reader that niceness obliterates the gift of fear. We’ve been conditioned to be nice above all else. To never hurt another’s feelings even if it puts our safety in jeopardy.   


As women, we feel there are really only two options – either we are nice, or we are a bitch. Yeah, I’ve read all the yaya about women reclaiming this word and changing the meaning. I wholeheartedly disagree. Let’s agree right here and now to never use this word in reference to a HUMAN, especially a woman again. For crying out loud, it refers to a female dog. NOT even a human, and certainly not a woman. 


I digressed onto my soap box….what I realized when I read the Gift of Fear was that I was willing to put myself in uncomfortable, awkward and potentially unsafe positions by being “nice”. The book gave me the freedom to say “bugger off” when the situation called for it. Trust me, it’s not easy. Not only have I embraced societal conditioning, I am imbued with a very healthy niceness gene. Not long after I read the book, a friend and I were having a drink in a bar when a man started hassling us to have a conversation. I was polite several times over – you know how that conversation goes. I finally had enough and said bugger off. He got huffy, called me a bitch and we ended up leaving. Sadly, it was a woman bartender who could have stepped in but choose to let US leave.

This whole gift of fear has come up recently because I have several friends who have almost gotten into potentially “bad” situations. They are both highly educated, competent, assertive women who still feel compelled to be nice. Both said, “I agreed to this, but I have an uncomfortable feeling”. STOP the madness!


I’m not advocating being a jerk randomly to people. Today, I would just remove myself from the bar situation, but I needed the practice in saying bugger off. I believe in being nice but when your body says, “Don’t do it!”, trust yourself! You cannot be replaced – start treating yourself like you are valuable. No one likes it, but your world won’t end if someone calls you a bitch. It’s better that they are eliminated immediately from your life. And please, I beg you to not be afraid to step in and help a woman who is being hassled – we’re in this together! Most of all, TRUST yourself – it could save your life. 

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