I did a lot of media for Women in the Line of Fire and I was struck by the number of women who thought they had a vested interest in being weak and fearful. (One woman told me that I should know there are differences between men and women, especially menstruation, and that to want women to be strong and have stamina was to want them to be men. I finally lost it and told her that since the historic feminine norm was for women to do hard work on less and poorer quality food than men doing similar, work, often while pregnant or nursing, maybe it was time we women gave the masculine-strength-and-stamina thing a try.)
Then I started pondering why women think that being weak and fearful is in their best interests, since it is objectively true that anyone who wants you weak and fearful is your enemy.
This is the resulting essay.
Before you are 40, death comes from outside: wars and accidents.
After you are 40, death comes from inside: cancer and heart attacks and other disease.
If you’re a man, it’s been this way for all of time.
If you’re a woman, it has been this way only in the developed world since about 1940, when in the United States, maternal mortality—a woman’s chance of dying in childbirth—first dropped below one in a hundred. In modern Afghanistan, one in six women dies in childbirth, a figure that does not include deaths due to delayed complications: this is probably close to the historic human norm.
Since time out of mind, for women death has come to us first from inside: the onset of puberty, especially menarche, marked us for death. To be explicit, by men, whether we loved them or not, but most especially if we did and they returned that love. All other causes of death, including war and the aftermath of war, were secondary.
To understand this is to understand the weird dichotomy men have traditionally felt towards women: a mix of genuine protectiveness towards the fragile and precious, and genuine contempt for the less-than-human.
How else, as a group, could men maintain their sanity, when the natural drive towards sex for procreation often resulted in their partners’ deaths?
But these tragic facts did not only corrupt relations between men and women, they also corrupted the relationship of women to our own bodies and to the world we live in.
When the man you love is the man most likely to kill you—not because he is abusive, but because he has given you the child you wanted from him—men sui generis become fearsome and dangerous.
When you bear the physical demands of pregnancy, as well as the pain and danger of childbirth, you perceive your body as weaker than and inferior to the male body. Far weaker than it in fact actually is, because the female body has had to cope with all the hardships of evolution and the environment that men also bear, as well as the demands of reproduction that men do not share.
And when you think of yourself as weak by nature, you are far too likely to think of yourself as passive, if not helpless: to shape your world, to control outcomes, even to defend yourself.
So you fear.