In September 2015, journalist Caitlin Moran published a provocative article in The Saturday Times Magazine about ‘What men need to know about women’. She maintained that there were two fundamental things that defined women in the 21st century that men really needed to understand. And if they did understand these two things, they would change the way they behaved – overnight.
It was not about the tiny things – why it takes so long for us to get dressed, or why we can so easily lose our confidence – it’s much more fundamental than that.
The first thing is that we’re scared – and we’re fundamentally scared of men. Not all men; if we’re lucky, we have fathers, brothers, lovers, friends, who treat us well and make us feel safe. But we live in fear of what men can do to us. They are bigger, stronger, and faster than we are. If we are unlucky, they can hurt us, sexually attack us, and even kill us. And there’s not very much we can do about it.
Men need to understand how much courage it takes for a woman to walk down a dark street alone at night, to go on a blind date, or to marry a stranger.
The second thing is that we’re tired – tired of fighting our corner, and making such achingly slow progress. Business cultures, religious and country laws are still often biased towards men. Our pay for the same work done is still a long way behind men’s. We learn to accept the judgements and comments about our bodies, our thoughts, and our feelings. Cultural and religious leaders define what we can wear, if we can go to school or not, and who we can marry. We are often expected to make the coffee at work, however high our pay grade is. And there’s not very much we can do about it.
Men need to understand how much exhausting effort it takes for a woman to be herself, to assert her thoughts and make her own genuine contribution.
At the most basic level, women understand what fear is, how it can drive behaviour and can corrode a life.
Becoming a fear-free woman is all about using our brain, not our brawn. We will never be bigger, stronger or faster than the men who make us feel unsafe, but we can learn to use our brains to understand the context we live in and to adapt in the best way we can. We can even learn how to change it.
The first step is ensuring access to education for all girls, everywhere. Part of that education must include learning how the brain works: not just the human brain with its emphasis on emotions, memories and relationships, but also how men and women’s brains differ.
Armed with an understanding of how men expect to behave in business meetings will help make the lone woman perform better. Being aware that violent responses in a partner are more to do with his psychology than anything to do with the abused woman will help her to make the decision to leave him sooner. Knowing how to engage the ‘attachment’ emotions of love/trust and excitement/joy in others, instead of the ‘survival’ emotions of fear, anger, sadness, shame or disgust will create the environment where men and women can both thrive and be fear-free.
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