Here’s a vastly incomplete list of all the things I’m afraid of: Heights. Guns. Dogs. Mice. Actually, all animals bigger than bugs. Bugs. Roller coasters. Divorce. Horror movies. Physical confrontations. Verbal confrontations. Being alone for more than one day. Drugs. Blood. Car crashes. Lightning. Fire. Teenage boys. The ocean. Guys at clubs in Las Vegas. Women at clubs in Las Vegas. People at clubs in Las Vegas whose gender is not immediately evident.
While it might seem as though that list prohibits me from making a woman feel safe, it does not. That’s due to the equally long list of things I’m not afraid of: terrorism, Ebola, bedbugs, eating from a street cart, sharks, kidnapping, BPA, black mold, inoculations, GMOs, zombies, clowns, clown porn that doesn’t have zombies in it, identity theft, changing diapers, the Democrats turning America into a socialist country, gluten, food past its expiration date. I’m so annoyed by airport security that I would vote to completely eliminate the Department of Homeland Security. If I lived alone, I would happily give whatever I’m paying ADT just to get rid of my home alarm since its record of being correct about break-ins is now zero times out of 145.
Not coincidentally, the things I’m not afraid of have almost no mathematical probability of happening to me. They’re mostly just sensational things that, thanks to the sudden ubiquity of information, we hear about all the time and thereby freak us out. Our great-great-great-grandparents never heard of a single shark attack because they didn’t have the Discovery Channel. Also, people didn’t surf much back then, but mostly the Discovery Channel thing.
Which brings me to a fundamental difference between men and women. Women go into anxiety spirals based on a single Facebook link to a dubious health study. Can instant ramen cause cardiometabolic syndrome? Can a cell tower’s radio-frequency waves cause cancer? Has listening to all of this stuff taken four months off my life?
A woman once told me she couldn’t eat fish because of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster—even though she lived in America. This was a woman who wouldn’t eat tuna out of fear for her life and yet texted while she drove. You start typing “Ebola women” into Google and it suggests “Ebola women’s health”; you go with “Ebola men” and it gives you “Ebola mentioned in The Walking Dead.”
A study in England reported that 80 percent of eight-year-olds went to school unaccompanied by an adult in 1971; by 1990, only nine percent did, despite the fact that crime had decreased. I’m going to guess that preventing kids from walking to school alone was the decision of moms and not dads, because dads in England are too drunk to make decisions.
Because women are wired to worry more about health and their surroundings, it’s not quite as annoying when they make life decisions based on what they see on Nancy Grace. When I see a woman melt down on a plane before takeoff, I think both “That’s cute” and “I’m glad she’s not my girlfriend.” When I see a guy shake in terror on the runway, I assume he was once on a flight that crashed on a deserted island where there was weird time travel and an unsatisfying ending. When a guy tells me about all the chemicals in his food, I know he truly loves and respects his wife.
Part of the reason women are more anxious about random horror is that the vast majority of random horror is committed by men. By exclusively dating women, I’ve radically reduced my odds of disaster. I’d be studying Lifetime movies too if I were exposed to all those guys on Tinder creepily posing with power tools. Fifty Shades of Grey was a huge hit not because of the S&M but because it was like a Lifetime movie with a happy ending.
Women are also allowed to have more fear because they’re nurturers, and shark bites are not very nurturing. Men, meanwhile, are supposed to fearlessly explore the unknown, responding only to immediate dangers. A caveman didn’t have the luxury of panicking about the long-term effects of cooking meat directly over fire. He was too busy responding to that moment’s danger: a wild animal, a warring clan, a lightning storm or someone mentioning the word bet, which would send him into a gambling binge so severe it caused him to stammer. (Much of my knowledge of cavemen is based on The Flintstones.)
So even if the news sometimes does frighten us—Will keeping my cell phone in my pocket cause erectile dysfunction? Will eating soy cause erectile dysfunction? Will this drug that says it might cause erectile dysfunction cause erectile dysfunction? Will reading four questions about erectile dysfunction cause me to worry about erectile dysfunction and thereby lead to erectile dysfunction?—men have to be brave.
Bravery consists of recognizing our illogical fears and overcoming them, whether that means jumping out of a plane with a parachute, taking a trip to Israel or eating an undercooked hamburger. The news, we need to remember, is what happens to other people. And if women become scared by what they read, we should be glad for the opportunity to comfort them. There’s a reason, after all, that boys take girls to see horror films. And that reason gives girls yet another thing to fear.