I’ve come to the conclusion that women are more afraid of things than men.
Not that men are braver, I’m not saying that, indeed I think it takes more bravery to be scared of something, and still do it, than to be unafraid in the first place.
It’s just that the whole fear thing has come up a lot in conversations recently with women that I know, strong women, independent high-flying women, who are still scared.
I’ve touched on it too in previous blogs, especially my last where during a wonderful trip riding in the Alps, I also spent a good proportion of it being very afraid. Afraid of going up a mountain on a ski lift and afraid of going down the mountain again on a bike.
So it’s got me thinking, do women feel more fear than men or are men just better at hiding it? And does this fear deter women from cycling, especially mountain biking?
Downhill biking is not after all without risks. It says this on the bike hire agreement in my pocket so I know it for a fact.
After one particularly snot and tear filled meltdown on the bubble lift, after it had stopped moving mid-ride and I was convinced the world was coming to an end, I quizzed my partner M over his feelings (if any) of fear. Ok, so not everyone hates heights like I do but didn’t the mountain biking scare him…. Even a little?
The short answer was not really. Even allowing for a bit of inflated machismo, it was apparent he didn’t experience anywhere near the same overwhelming, exhausting grip of worry.
He has, he says, moments of fear, out on the trail when things get a little sketchy, heart in the mouth moments when things start to go wrong…..but, and it’s a big but, his is a reactive fear rather than an anticipatory one like mine. He’s only afraid when something goes wrong whereas I’m afraid about the potential of it.
We were riding down the side of mountains for goodness sake, over some very gnarly terrain. I’m riding with laser-like focus on everything, the trail, on my bike handling, on the potential for falling off…..and there it is. From the top to the bottom and back up again, I’m thinking of all the things that could possibly go wrong, how easy it would be to fall, of the chance for serious injury.
To be fair this is not unfounded, after all I’ve spent 9 months recovering from broken bones caused in mountain bike accident. I’ve also fallen off more times than I can count but still, M has fallen off plenty too, far more regularly than me but he just seems to bounce back, physically and mentally.
Is it just me then? Talking to other women I know, some cyclists, some not’ it seems maybe it isn’t, it seems in women fear is possibly more of a universal trait.
I wonder if it’s in our biology? After all, in cave-dwelling days the food-gathering, family raising women may not have flourished well if they ignored those innate feelings of fear and started hunting down tigers or fighting other tribes. Losses of women would mean no more little cave-babies and ergo, no more humans. Whereas for the discerning cave-male that willingness to rush headlong into the fray was probably an asset. Hampered by too much fear, men wouldn’t have made the best hunters and the family would starve.
Genetically then, fear, for the Neolithic woman, was a useful tool for staying alive.
Fast forward a couple of millennia and I wonder, is that biological residue still there? Has the thoroughly modern mountain biking cave woman retained that ability to anticipate and assess danger and to feel scared in an effort at self preservation? Modern research would say it’s true. One study of reactions to horror movies researchers found that women became more scared than men because they had more anticipation of the scary scenes, picking up on more audio and visual clues i.e. changes in music and lighting.
If it’s true, and women do experience more fear, it would go a way towards answering why there’s a distinct shortage of female mountain bikers as noticed in the Alps and closer to home, in the groups I ride with but surely it can’t all be down to a residue of biology
Of course it’s never that simple, women don’t mountain bike or road cycle for a whole raft of reason including upbringing and expectations, time; child care and family commitments to name just a few of the top contenders.
Lack of opportunity and lack of suitable bikes/equipment also mean it’s a catch 22 with biking as well, manufactures don’t want to make female-friendly frames or protective equipment if there’s few women to buy them and of course women then ride less if they can’t find the right kit.
Age also plays a part, as you age the potential for recovering well from injury reduces, it hurts more for longer. Age also brings you face to face with your own mortality, I definitely think I’m more scared now than I was in my 20’s and 30’s. But maybe that’s just experience and a cumulative exposure to potential dangers.
Whatever it is, it won’t stop me riding because, despite the fear I genuinely do enjoy it and get a real thrill out of riding trails well/staying upright/not hurting myself. As a friend describes it, it’s Type 2 fun (the kind you only enjoy afterwards). But I also find it comforting when I talk to other women, especially some of the excellent, skilled mountain bikers that I know, that they too are scared.
So, maybe men are braver by biology or maybe they are just better at hiding fear as that’s what’s expected of them. Maybe for women it’s some, all or none of the above?
What do you think?
And finally, in the words of Franklin D Roosevelt, remember, the only thing you have to fear is fear itself…….and spiders.