Part II. The Fear Factor
In Part I. of How Being a Nice Girl Can Be Dangerous for Women, I began discussing the factors that explain why women are often too nice for their own good and how Nice Girl behavior can set women up to be used and abused. In this article, I focus on the fear factor. I suggest you read Part I. of the article for context.
Fear is the predominant factor in creating a Nice Girl. Why are women so fearful? There are a multitude of reasons, many of which center around the mere fact that as females we are the “weaker” sex, at least physically. The truth is that most men are bigger and stronger than most women and for this very reason, women are often intimidated by men. We aren’t necessarily conscious of this on an everyday basis, but the fear is there, nevertheless. It is similar to how a small dog feels next to a large dog. The two dogs can coexist on a day-to-day basis and even play and romp with one another. But make no mistake about it, the smaller dog knows his limits. He knows that if the larger dog wanted to, he could overpower him.
The other factor, closely related to the size differential, is that men carry a built-in weapon they can use against women—their penis. Most men don’t think of their penis as a weapon, and most women don’t either. But nevertheless, an erect penis can be used to penetrate, harm and dominate a woman. Again, it isn’t that women consciously think of this on a day-to-day basis, but the inherent fear is there on an unconscious level.
These two physical factors influence a woman’s thinking and feeling on a subconscious basis. We know that our very safety is dependent on the goodwill of men. If we cross them, if we make them angry, we are risking being physically reprimanded. While most men do not use their physical advantage against women, the possibility and the threat, is ever-present.
The other major reason for women’s inherent fear is our history of being dominated by men. Throughout human history physical force has been used to keep subordinate groups in their place by more dominant forces in society. Men have always been physically larger and stronger than most women, and most societies have been male-dominated. Because of this, for centuries, women have been frequent victims of physical assault and intimidation by men and have, in response, been afraid of men. Until recent times, few people viewed violence in the home as a problem. The common notion in the past and in many societies today such as India and Africa, a woman is not a full human being, but considered property, first of her father, then of her husband.
And the third reason girls and women are so afraid is the fact that we continue to be dominated and abused by men. Although much has been done to alleviate domestic violence and child sexual abuse, the fact is that these two crimes are still rampant in every culture in the world. Women are still being physically and emotionally abused by their husbands in record numbers and the rate of childhood sexual abuse is still climbing. Once a girl or woman has been abused, either emotionally, physically or sexually she is overwhelmed by fear and shame. In fact, for many women, their very life is characterized by the fear that they will once again be victimized. Although this would never be done on a conscious level, what better way to keep a female child down than to sexually molest her?
These fears are at the core of most, if not all, of the false beliefs that cause the Nice Girl Syndrome. Understanding these common fears will take away some of the shame many women feel because of their “passive” behavior. For example, many women are unable to leave abusive relationships, even though they know they should. But the reason they stay isn’t that they are weak or stupid or because they are masochists who want to be mistreated. It is because they are afraid. And they are afraid for all the reasons I have written about above.
If you are a woman who is often perplexed by your nice girl behavior, reminding yourself of these fears will help you to 1) understand yourself better, 2) not be so critical of yourself and hopefully 3) feel more motivated to change.
In Part III.of this article I will present the Ten False Beliefs That Set Women Up to Be Used and Abused and will offer some remedies to the Nice Girl Syndrome.
· Please note: although this article is addressed to women, there is information in it that can apply to men as well.
· The above information was adapted from my book, The Nice Girl Syndrome: Stop Being Manipulated and Abused—and Start Standing Up for Yourself published by John Wiley and Sons.