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Women's Outreach and Resource Collective | A collaborative community for advocates of gender equity and social justice

Fear in Decision Making

By: Maggie Davis

I do not want the title of this post to come off the wrong way. When I say “fear in decision making,” I do not mean to assert that women are afraid of making decisions, or that women cannot make decisions. I mean it literally: fear in decision-making, or that women unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) incorporate fear into every decision that they make.

This is not horror-movie fear, for it comes in many forms, both mild and extreme. What makes this fear unique is that women must accept fear as a normal part of life and must work around that fear in the choices that we make.

Fear, as defined by Wikipedia, the greatest source of all time, is “an emotion induced by a threat perceived by living entities, which causes a change in brain and organ function and ultimately a change in behavior, such as running away, hiding, or freezing from traumatic events.” This threat includes a number of different facets in a woman’s life given the diverse positions that women hold in society and the lack of credit they are given for such positions – as businesswomen, as mothers, as lawyers, as artists, as a variety of statuses.  For this, women experience these threats to their way of life in a way that men cannot understand. I can think of at least two categories of fear that are characteristic of common thought processes for women.

First, there is the fear of physical and bodily harm, which often takes the form of sexual violence. The reasons why this type of fear would influence decisions is clear; a woman might choose a certain place to live, a different route to work, or even to stop participating in an activity to quell her fear of sexual violence. Second, women fear mental harm. This category encompasses more types of anxieties because they are less obvious and sometimes kept hidden from conversation. Minor forms of sexual harassment, such as receiving a catcall while walking down the sidewalk or fielding a sexual comment about clothing choice, fall into this category. But this second type of fear also includes the fear of rejection that women often feel plays into the daily decisions that we make. This fear stems from a plethora of double standards that mandate a woman to be smart but not assertive, sexy but not sexual – the list goes on. Failing to fall into the happy middle ground between these standards guarantees rejection, and this can in turn change the way a woman acts in a variety of situations.

After working at the Main Library for two years, I have realized that I do not have the luxury to walk safely from the library to the North Campus Parking Deck, even though the distance is well under a half-mile. I have realized that anecdotes from my friends, who have been approached and taunted by men on North Campus and Jackson Street on numerous occasions, tell me that I should be afraid, and I should be afraid because I am a woman. This has changed my decision calculus in one way, but I have also come to realize that this fear is also coming from a very privileged perspective. This privilege comes from my attendance at UGA, from my social class-based opportunities to live in a place that is safer than many others. And, as a community we need to understand that we have had the opportunity to live in a place that has made progress in changing the way that women experience campus life for the better – something that is definitely not true of many other communities.

However, I think we should still attempt to work against this culture of fear, and should still consider the unique conditions that can induce instances of fear in a woman. At UGA, we have the chance to create an environment where the level of fear women experience is minimized day-by-day and year-by-year. We go to an exceptional school that has impressed me in so many ways since arriving in the August of 2011. We can continue to be exceptional in our treatment of women, and make this a place where fear is not the norm for women, but a passing and rare occasion – just as it is for men.

Photo credit: Jisc

Decision MakingFearHarassmentSexual Violence

worcuga • April 22, 2014

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