Fear is one of the most destructive emotions out there. It can shield us from dangerous situations, but it can also hold us back from life-changing experiences. And it's ingrained in women from a very young age. There are so many things women don't have to be afraid of but feel like they should be. For that reason, fear is a feminist issue. Women will not achieve everything they're capable of until we stop teaching them to be afraid of these achievements and the risks necessary to attain them.
A number of studies have shown that women are more anxious than men, especially when they make less money than their male counterparts, and that's understandable. Throughout our lives, we are taught to be afraid: of being fat, of being too aggressive, of being too sexual, of being too thin or too passive or not sexual enough. We're afraid to fail, and we're afraid to succeed. We spend our lives walking on a tightrope, scared that if we lean too far in any direction, we'll fall.
Given all the messages we receive from the media and the people around us, how could we not feel this way? It's understandable to be afraid. But the fact that we feel afraid doesn't mean we have to take that fear at face value. We can probe it, dissect it, and choose to say "F you" to it.
As someone who struggles with fear myself, here are some fears no woman should ever have to be burdened with — and how letting go of them can liberate you.
Many women grow up thinking that if they're not perfect, they're not lovable — but the truth is that even if you get all Fs on your report card and run a business into the ground, the people who love you will still love you — and you can still choose to love yourself. Giving yourself permission to fail opens the door to trying things you never would have tried otherwise. When you're not willing to fail, you're not willing to take risks. And when you don't take risks, you stay within your comfort zone and your life becomes stagnant.
2. Getting Bs
Forget about failing — some of us are worried about getting anything less than an A, literally or metaphorically. Blair Blackwell, manager of education and corporate programs at Chevron, writes in Fortune that the "B-phobia" could explain why there are fewer women in STEM fields: They don't study these subjects in the first place because they're scared they'll get Bs. "This risk aversion can undercut career success—necessitating we show women, in STEM careers in particular, that trial-and-error fosters, rather than hinders, learning and innovation," she writes. "Some of the greatest ideas and most impactful companies were founded 'by mistake.'"
The fear of Bs confronted me in the literal sense when I got a B in a college biology class after getting all As in high school. In my neurotic desperation, I decided I needed to do everything possible to compensate for my B — which led me to apply for a teaching assistant position in the same class so I could learn whatever I missed. During my interview, the lab manager told me she needed TAs who got Bs because they could sympathize better with students who were struggling, and she hired me on the spot. You never know what a perceived failure might lead to. For these 15 innovators, it was an invention. In my case, it was a job.
3. Making The First Move
According to OKCupid's data, women are less than one-third as likely as men to start a conversation on the site — but they shouldn't be. In fact, women should be making the first move more, since they're more successful when they do. Women who send the first message are twice as likely to get a response as men. Women — particularly straight women — are too often held back from making the first move because they've been taught men want the thrill of the chase and that they'll look unfeminine if they go after what they want. But if that were the case, men wouldn't be responding at such a high rate to women who send the first message on dating sites. If anything, straight women who make the first move are probably providing men with a welcome break from being the initiator.
4. Disappointing People
I've gotten myself into a lot of situations I was uncomfortable with because I feared disappointing people. Looking back, these people probably wouldn't have even been mad if I didn't accommodate them — and even if they were, sometimes making pissing someone off is worth it. From dragging out a date I didn't want to continue because my date had traveled an hour to see me to not taking an apartment I wanted because I was scared I'd have to eventually leave and disappoint my roommates, the guilt I've felt about potentially disappointing others was always self-imposed. Women are taught to be people-pleasers, but when you give yourself permission not to please everyone, you start to feel a lot more free and less resentful.
5. Gaining Weight
Women put themselves through all sorts of torture to lose weight or avoid weight gain. A survey by SELF magazine and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that 10 percent of women have eating disorders and 65 percent more suffer from disordered eating. Our society's concern with weight goes well beyond concern for health, and the link between weight and health is dubious to begin with. Without even realizing it, many of us strive to lose weight or avoid gaining weight not for our health but because we associate being thinner with being better.
Think about it: Other forms of "unhealthiness" are far less stigmatized. When someone gets cancer, other people don't make them feel bad about themselves and blame them for whatever behaviors supposedly led to the disease. There's no industry geared toward helping people avoid being underweight. Sure, there are people above and below the size at which they're healthiest, but that's OK. People can still be desirable, happy, and important without having perfect health, and they can most certainly be healthy without being thin.
6. Being The Center Of Attention
Like many women, including Emma Watson, I loved to perform as a kid and didn't mind being the center of attention. But as I got older, I learned to step out of the spotlight and let other people shine. After years of getting interrupted, having their speech policed, and being told they're too aggressive, women learn to downplay their accomplishments. After internalizing these messages, I got into the habit of speaking very little in conversations. I asked a lot of questions, and when people asked me questions, I gave one-word answers and asked, "What about you?"
While I still value taking an interest in others, I've realized people weren't getting to know me, so I've tried to answer people's questions more fully and talk a bit more about myself. I've learned not only that people are more interested in me than I expected but also that speaking about myself gives them the opportunity to share similar experiences and discover what we have in common. It's only human to like attention and validation, and most people won't penalize you for taking up some of the spotlight.
7. Turning Someone Off
Since women are taught their their purpose in life is pretty much to turn men on and please people in general, being a turnoff is a huge fear for many women. Women aren't supposed to have bodily functions, be too aggressive, look conventionally unattractive, or do anything else men supposedly don't like — which makes it all the more liberating to realize that leaving the house looking unkempt is not a crime, nor is making raunchy jokes, being a nerd, speaking openly about your personal struggles, or anything else you've been taught is a turnoff. It's okay to turn people off, and ironically, the confidence that comes with letting yourself be a turnoff usually just makes people respect you more.