Earlier this week, I wrote a sort of depressing intro about pervasive bullying that girls and women get throughout our culture…still. Despite living in a time when even Old Navy and Walgreens sell feminist tank tops for all ages.
There’s a flip to it: The secret weapon of acting out of fear.
First off, if you are beaten down, you have little to lose. But the fear itself can be galvanizing in a way comfort isn’t. In a way even anger isn’t.
I was thinking of this because of passages about fears in two very different books I’m reading right now. (VERY different.)
The first was from Moby Dick, which I’ve been slogging through for weeks. There is something meditative about how slow it is. I mean, they didn’t go to sea for the first 20 or so chapters, and Moby Dick doesn’t even come up until chapter 40-something. But now, more than two-thirds through it, I have to say I get it.
One of the many things Moby Dick is a study of is fear and masculinity. At one point, one of the characters talks about how important fear is to whaling and that he’d never hire a crew who wasn’t scared of whales. Without a healthy fear of the insanity of the mission, whalers would take unnecessary risks. (That’s basically the opposite of what the broconomy would tell you about what makes great startup founders, FWIW.)
The second reference to fear was from a young adult novel I was reading parallel to Moby Dick. It is called Internment and unlike Moby Dick, you could read it in one gripping sitting. While not as high-falutin in literary terms, Internment could one day tell people as much about our very divided 2019 America as Moby Dick has taught me about the New England-centric America of Herman Melville’s day.
The plot of Internment is that America starts to put Muslims into camps. The story follows teenage girls who push to overthrow the seemingly all-powerful government policy from the inside of a camp. In many ways, it’s an exploration of a very feminine fear, just as Moby Dick is about masculine fear. It’s fear of physical danger, but also fear of being treated as less simply because of who you are and the powerlessness that can come with it.
At one point when the two girls are racked with fear and a sense that everything against them is too great, one of them says “I know being scared is a super power.”
She continues, “It’s something my dad told me once, when I was in the district spelling bee. He said that my fear made me more alert. That I could channel my fear into focus.”
Now that’s a teachable moment.
I feel mixed about this idea that fear is good. I hate that so many women feel so much fear, because it speaks to the horrific violence women face. As Margaret Atwood is said to have said, “Men fear women will laugh at them and women fear men will kill them.”
I have been very scared several times in my career. (Read my last book if you want to know more about that…the opening sees me getting kidnapped five months pregnant in Nigeria, and that’s not the scariest thing that happens to me.) But there’s no doubt that fear motivated me more than anger or revenge in my career.
I would still never wish those things on my daughter. She is fearless now, and I want her to stay that way as long as possible. I don’t care if it makes her a sh*tty whaler. I don’t care that she lives in a world where she probably should feel some healthy fear. I think there’s power in feeling limitless as well.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- What’s your take on fear: Motivator or paralyzer?
- Do we send our son back to Montessori for first grade this year or transition to traditional charter school?