I once had a conversation with my husband about what it was like to be a woman.  It was an unusual part of a typical discussion but for the specific aspect I was interested in – FEAR.

I took it for granted that as a woman I was rigorously and intrinsically aware, all the time, of where I was, how dark it was, what sounds I heard, etc.  Somehow, along the road to my coming of age, I had been warned and continually instructed to be focused, to be vigilant. It became part of the way I moved thru the world.

I’m not saying that I had been attacked once, or that I was paranoid or compulsive, just on guard. It was a practiced skill.

I remember when the rape crisis centers began to educate and told women to beware in shopping center parking lots, in garages; they even suggested we look under our cars before we opened the door.

Typically this advice acknowledged the sheer physical size differences, the strength factors.  We may be Equal in many ways but physical strength is not one of those.  Sheer brute strength would take down most of us. In the heat of a moment, testosterone becomes a lethal weapon.

I think about getting into an elevator, I think about walking down a dark, empty street at night, I think about a crowd up ahead, a bunch of boys sitting on a stoop — and I’m wary.

I guess men might be concerned as well, but I dare say they are not acutely sensitized and it is not the first thing on their mind in those circumstances.  Unless the atmosphere was crackling, I don’t think they’d particularly notice.

We were instructed to take martial arts classes to defend ourselves years ago. Good advice.  I think that many of us took them out of fear not because we were interested in the art form.

Men are typically taller than women, sometimes a foot taller. I had my husband walk around the house at my level one day, just for the experience. It was eye opening.

He would love Times Square in New York, a bustling, crowded pooling of people.  I hated it.  It wasn’t until I stood on a street light base one day and saw the view from above that I could relate to this thrill. For me, the experience was like being surrounded, like being kept from seeing what was here there and everywhere around me.  I just saw backs and butts. I felt very vulnerable.  People don’t see me much either, cause I’m short.  I get bumped into a lot and it’s very unpleasant.

I do believe that the conversation was an eye opener for him. There were a couple of other men in earshot that day and they too never considered this.  I bet it changed the way they understand women and some of their behaviors.  Maybe it made them a little more sensitive and protective.

And the other day I had another thought about all this.  Have you ever know a man who had a “startle response?”

I haven’t.  I do however, know many women, including myself, who totally jump if someone walks in on them unexpected, or comes around the corner, unexpected.  I always apologize for clutching my chest, uttering a small muffled scream.  And then I thought, how perfect.  Being hypervigilant has not so much to do with bad things having happened, but with being aware that they could, so easily.  And that it’s so easy to drop your guard.

I know there are subtleties to this awareness, but I do think it’s telling. I also know that there are always ranges in responses, but I have a hunch, this is way more typical of women than of men. I’m curious.

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