Ten things women are afraid of

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Last month Lean In started a social media campaign asking all women to answer the question Sheryl Sandberg posed in her book, “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

The idea was to recognise what stops women from taking on leadership roles in hope that acknowledging these fears will empower us to fight them. Many have posted to twitter using the #notafraid or submitted photos to Lean In’s Tumblr page displaying their answers. Here are the top responses in terms of what most women are afraid of: 

 

1. CLAIMING THEIR SUCCESS

Many women admitted that if they weren’t afraid they would give themselves more credit for the work they do. One woman states, “I just got nominated for my second Emmy and I still can’t say that I am a writer.” Sheryl Sandberg attributes this to the lack of leadership skills girls develop growing up. She says, “studies show that by the time they graduate from college more men than women see themselves as leaders."

This lack of confidence can make it difficult for women to acknowledge and be proud of their accomplishments. It contributes to their ability to accept compliments which is displayed perfectly in this Amy Schumer sketch where a group of girlfriends run into each other on the street and bombard each other with compliments followed by self-deprecating responses. One woman in particular states, after her friends congratulate her on her recent promotion, “I’m going to get fired in like two seconds, I’m legally retarded.” Girls aren’t taught to boast, they are taught to be encouraging and supportive of each other but constantly question their own abilities, success, and appearance.

2. FIGHTING EVERYDAY SEXISM
 
10, things, women, are, afraid, of, (but, shouldnt, be),

The Everyday Sexism Project has more than 50,000 Twitter followers and serves as a catalogue of daily harassment women face across the world. Hollaback is a similar organisation that works to fight street harassment. Together they have played a role in making us stop and question things we never noticed before or at least never felt we had the option to speak out against. It’s sad and alarming that so many women listed sexism as something they would be willing to fight if they weren’t afraid, one in particular stated, “If I weren’t afraid I would tell the guy at the halal cart whistling at me to go screw himself.” 

3. STANDING UP FOR THEMSELVES

10, things, women, are, afraid, of, (but, shouldnt, be),

Sandberg says, “starting at very young ages we encourage leadership in boys but not in girls. When a boy leads even if it’s on the kindergarten playground we applaud him, we cheer him on, and we certainly don’t criticise but when little girls lead they're called "bossy.” Many women listed their fears as asking questions, confronting their bosses, and negotiating a higher salary for themselves. While not having cheerleaders on the playground may not seem like a big deal to some being paid less than a male colleague in the same role, definitely is.  

4. FOLLOWING THEIR DREAMS

Many people listed their desire to pursue a radically different career path. But is a fear of pursuing your dreams a gendered problem? I’m sure many men out there would feel equally daunted by such a proposition. Though career changes can be riskier for women than men. Whether it’s the desire to enter a male-dominated field, the expectations to fulfill traditional gender roles or the lack of supportive work-family policies, the gendered division of labor and persistence of the glass ceiling can make this fear all the more complicated for women.  

5. SPEAKING UP

In Lean In Sanberg says, “I still face situations that I fear are beyond my capabilities. I still have days when I feel like a fraud. And I still sometimes find myself spoken over and discounted while men sitting next to me are not. But now I know how to take a deep breath and keep my hand up. I have learned to sit at the table.” Sage advice for anyone who has been intimidated in to not raising their voice.


6. LOOKING THE WAY THEY WANT TO

10, things, women, are, afraid, of, (but, shouldnt, be),

Women are constantly reminded that they could always look better than they currently do. The pressure on us to be thinfit, or have a “bikini-body” is immense and even those of us with robust self-esteem sometimes have a hard time staying immune to these messages. 

7. TRAVELLING ALONE

A sad but common fear was the fear of traveling the world, or even your street at night, alone. The freedom of traveling alone is one of life’s greatest joys and adventure is something that all genders should be entitled to. While no one can guarantee your personal safety in every corner for the world women are constantly reminded of the potentially dangerous situations we are putting ourselves in simply by being alone in public.

 

8. PISSING PEOPLE OFF

10, things, women, are, afraid, of, (but, shouldnt, be),

As one of the youngest girls in the Lean In video states, “I was always told that being sweet was one of my greatest assets and being nice and polite.” Girls are taught to be subdued people-pleasers not aggressive or opinionated. One of the most liberating things about adulthood is knowing that sometimes it’s okay and even necessary to be pissed off and to piss people off. 

9. BEING JUDGED

Apart from being judged on our appearance, women fear being harshly judged on our actions and lifestyle choices whether it be our career, our sexual activity, relationships, or our desire or ability to be mothers. Women describe being locked in a constant battle trying to avoid perceived or real judgments from individuals in every aspect of their lives.  

10. FAILURE

Underlying all of these concerns is the fear of failure. Women feel that they are set up to fail, that society is not structured to help them prosper. There's a feeling that they should fear failing more than anything else because failure isn't acceptable, it's shameful. Sandberg argues the opposite, "it’s amazing what you can do when you’ve looked failure in the eye and decided you’re OK with it," she says. 

A version of this post originally appeared on Policymic.

 

31 comments

  • Really? I'm surprised so many women are scared of the above. Well, actually I shouldn't be. I stood up and confronted management about the pay level of myself and my colleagues and it got raised simply because I saw it as unfair. Some of my female colleagues were wary of my action but why complain if you won't stand up and confront management on the issue. Sure I was seen as aggressive by some but more praised me for having the courage to lead.
    Stand up and speak to those you fear, even if your voice shakes." A high school teacher quoted this to me, I'm not sure from whom it originates but it has become something of a mantra for me.

    Commenter
    MJ
    Location
    Auckland, NZ
    Date and time
    June 27, 2013, 7:51AM
    • I just think there are a lot of people (male and female) who seem to revel in making themselves miserable, simply because being content is boring for them.

      Days filled with trivial, easily resolvable problems that they would rather spend the next 6 months complaining about, potentially because it's more interesting than acknowledging that they are boring people who have nothing better to do than complain about anything and everything.

      Commenter
      Markus
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      June 27, 2013, 9:21AM
    • I have to completely agree with this article. Being in my early 20's and new in full time employment, I'm learning to find my voice as I am afraid to speak up. I am overwhelmed with fear and people judging me which has always held me back. I was always taught to just listen and accept things, not to voice my opinion. MJ, you've given me great encouragement and your quote gives me great motivation to speak up. I know I'm one of the lowest paid workers at my workplace even though I have a degree & am committed to my job. If a male was doing my job, I know he would be paid much more..

      Commenter
      Clii
      Date and time
      June 27, 2013, 2:50PM
  • Oh God, save me!!

    Commenter
    Melanie
    Date and time
    June 27, 2013, 7:55AM
    • Perhaps these comments are true for American women (though certainly never in my experience - they're ball busters over there - and good on 'em). I don't believe these comments apply to Australian women. We're not afraid to speak up - to do a great job - to show our astounding and outstanding capabilities - but it's damned hard to overcome the dyed in the wool sexist attitudes that prevail in the 'higher echelons' amongst those with the power. We try and try and we persist in the face of unnecessary and unfounded enmity based on fear of our gender but to little avail. Sadly Australia is still a backward country but I am filled with admiration for the population of women who continue to fight the good fight. We are not afraid, we are oppressed! I think the fear resides with the other gender.

      Commenter
      Overit
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 27, 2013, 8:01AM
      • Oh god, the claiming success thing kills me. When I say I've done something awesome, even if I just happen to be stating facts, and don't make a snide comment about myself afterwards, people look at me like there's something wrong with me, and I am sick to DEATH of having to convince my female friends that they're great every five seconds.

        Of all of these, I think that one's the worst.

        Commenter
        H
        Date and time
        June 27, 2013, 9:37AM
        • The things you describe are annoying, but neither are an example of systematic discrimination against women.
          Women (and men) pull that compliment fishing on men all the time as well. Nobody is legally forced to oblige the person.

          With the look, it could have just been surprise that your response was unexpected based on how your personality comes across normally. Does it immediately have to be assumed it is because of your gender?

          Commenter
          Markus
          Location
          Canberra
          Date and time
          June 27, 2013, 12:25PM
        • I stopped being friends with lots girls because I got so sick of them self deprecating attitude towards themself. I got sick of every word they said about themselves being horrible and insulting and I couldn't be bothered trying to remind them of how great they were because they couldn't see it themselves. I also have no time for girls that are indecisive and talk in hush girly voices.

          PS: I am girl.

          Commenter
          Flat White
          Date and time
          June 27, 2013, 12:55PM
      • I would love to see the list of 10 things women aren't afraid to do

        Commenter
        david
        Date and time
        June 27, 2013, 9:53AM
        • 1. Ask for a payrise 2. Travel to a foreign country by myself. 3. Piss people off 4. Be assertive. 5. Being fat and overweight. 6. Apply for a job when I know I don't have all the required qualifications 7. Brag about my achivements at my annual performance review. 8. Worry that I'm being judged for my looks, or what I'm wearing. 9. Expressing a political view. 10. Calling out someone for being sexist.

          Commenter
          Mj
          Date and time
          June 27, 2013, 10:31AM

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