The only thing we have to fear is being female


“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  

Franklin Roosevelt could say that because Franklin Roosevelt was a man.

Women know better. Women know – because we learn very quickly – exactly what we have to fear.


We fear sexual assault. We fear domestic violence. We fear abduction. If we are poor, we fear being trafficked. If we are rich, we fear what researchers say all women fear the most – we fear rape.

But it does not stop there. If we are unlucky enough to experience any of this, and most of us are, we fear disclosure. Every report that deals with violence against women will tell you one thing: it is woefully under-reported. Only 14-16% of cases in Australia are reported to the police.

It’s worse if you’re young. What’s the most likely cause of death, disability or illness if you’re female, aged 15-44 and living in Victoria? Intimate partner violence.

In short, we have a lot more to fear than fear itself. When 70% of the world’s women have experienced sexual or physical violence, most of us have a lot more to worry about than anything so abstract. Again, the younger we are, the more vulnerable we are.

Half of the world’s sexual assaults on women are committed against girls younger than 16. In Australia, if we are younger than 24, we are almost twice as likely to experience violence than if we are older than 35.

And fear itself is powerful. That is why violence against women works so well. Because often it is our fear of what could happen that constrains us. The UN describes gender-based violence as a ”social mechanism by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men”. We are subordinated because we have experienced violence; even if we haven’t, we are subordinated because we know that we might.

All this fear isn’t good for us. A report from the Australian Institute of Criminology states that for women, fear of crime is almost as serious as crime itself. The ABS tells us fear of crime is bad for the health and wellbeing of communities. The good statisticians then inform us that

The disproportionate number of women who felt unsafe alone compared with men may be attributed to women’s greater sense of personal vulnerability.

I wonder where on earth we get that idea.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, a woman went missing from my neighbourhood. She was last seen on the path I take home each Thursday evening after seeing my friend at the pub.

This is the same area in which a woman had her throat slashed last year. I have taken to avoiding the path on the other side of my neighbourhood. There have been a number of sex attacks there. I have a bike, but I wonder if I’m fast enough.

I am wealthy, I am white, I am young, I am educated. I live in the inner suburbs of the world’s most liveable city. The lottery of my birth tells me I should be OK. Like so many women, in so many neighbourhoods of so many cities in the world, I should have it so good. But still I am afraid; and no one has given me any reason not to be.

Because, unfortunately, there is still no safe haven from being a woman.

This post was originally published here and has been republished with full permission.

Megan is the Deputy Section Editor (Politics and Society) at The Conversation. You can find her on Twitter here.