Created By: HeartOfAnAstronaut on June 13, 2012 Last Edited By: HeartOfAnAstronaut on November 30, 2012
Nuked

Feminine Fear

a specific kind of Adult Fear, something that is hard for men to watch but terrifying for women.

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Trope
A variant of Adult Fear. Some works, although scary to anyone regardless of sex, will have a particular resonance for the female viewer. Men and women alike will be able to enjoy these works regardless, but the work will prey on specifically female fears. Might include some of the following themes:

  • Rape.
  • Birth and pregnancy.
  • Most generic parental examples will belong on Adult Fear rather than this, but some might be specifically about motherhood or post-natal depression and may belong here. I haven't seen We Need to Talk About Kevin or read the book. I feel like it may belong here, but may not.
  • Not being taken seriously, especially in life or death situations.
  • Vulnerability to men, or The Bluebeard trope.
  • In historical works, becoming an old maid was a very real fear as (depending on the era and country) women were unable to hold property or support themselves with their own jobs.

This is NOT about saying that men are unable to empathise with feminine experiences. Men can be extremely empathic and I'm sure that a lot of men have been scared out of their minds by a number of the things I've listed here. I'm also not trying to erase the fact that men can suffer from things such as sexual abuse or domestic abuse from a partner. HOWEVER, I do think that the fear of these things affects women in a particular way.

This also has no bearing on whether or not a work or its creator is (explicitly) feminist, although more exploitative works are probably less likely to consider the female viewer.

  • The film Changeling. This is actually a bad way to start because in all honestly, I have not actually seen it, but I know what happens and it seems the kind of thing I'm describing here: not being taken seriously as a woman.
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is about a very real treatment that doctors would prescribe for women suffering from various mental illnesses such as depression. The "rest cure" involved being stuck in bed for days with minimal contact with outsiders and being banned from anything too energetic like writing or painting. This is obviously kind of an outdated example because the modern woman doesn't have to live in fear of the rest cure but I think it taps into fears of bring ignored and mistrusted.
  • Frankenstein is supposedly an extended metaphor for pregnancy, giving birth and associated fears.
  • Rosemary's Baby combines fears of pregnancy going horribly wrong, and mistrust.
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier deals with The Bluebeard and being in a vulnerable relationship with men.
  • Certain torture scenes in the book version of American Psycho are even worse if you have a vagina. If you've read it, you know what I'm talking about.
  • Sex and the City dealt with some of these. For example, fear of leaving it too late to have children, dealing with unwanted pregnancy.
  • Jane Austen novels often deal with the fear of ending up an old maid. Pride and Prejudice has the Bennet family who have five daughters and no sons and consequently live in fear of losing their home if their father should die.
  • The movie Creep is basically a Slasher Movie based around this trope (the main character is a woman who's being stalked and ends up fleeing into a former illegal abortion clinic). Even more so when a character's strapped to a gynecological examination table.
Community Feedback Replies: 41
  • June 13, 2012
    peccantis
    "If you've read it, you know what I'm talking about." <- I've not so please elaborate.
  • June 13, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    I'm not trying to be coy, it's a very gruesome scene so I'd prefer not to describe it (or spook the squeamish). I'll just say that it involves :the use of a rat in a rape/torture scene.
  • June 13, 2012
    jkbeta
    If this includes historical example, how about becoming an old maid? This is a valid concern in, e.g., Jane Austen's novels.

    Edit: Another example of this turns up in the Aubrey Maturin series (Diana Villiers); it should be quite common in historical literature.

  • June 13, 2012
    animeg3282
    Being out at night scares many women due to fear of rape. There's also fear of being raped and not believed. I don't have any useful examples though.
  • June 13, 2012
    emeriin
    This probably isn't helpful, but the description might need to be rewritten. I say this because, as someone who was raped herself and had to ignore male friends so they wouldn't get hurt (long triggery story), the third paragraph gives me the shakes.
  • June 13, 2012
    animeg3282
    The 2nd paragraph is also full of justifications. It also has first person in it.
  • June 13, 2012
    TwoGunAngel
    @Heart Of An Astronaut: If the American Psycho scene is the one that I'm thinking about (the one listed on the Nausea Fuel page), then...yeah.
  • June 13, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    jkbeta: Added, but I will need details on the Aubrey Maturin example.

    emeriin: I'm really sorry about, well, every part of your comment. Most of the description definitely needs rewriting. I've deleted a portion of that paragraph but, you know, it needs rewriting anyway.

    animeg: I'm not going to lie, I got really nervous and was afraid of backlash from male tropers who might argue that I'm wrong. I'm usually pretty bad about writing things in a concise manner. Your example about being out at night being scary is exactly what I mean, but as it translates into fiction and maybe recognising more of ourselves in that fiction than a man might. I also didn't want anyone to think I was accusing men of siding with murderers/rapists/abusers/etc.

    Two Gun Angel: yeah, I think it is. I may change that example though just to point out that most of Bateman's victims are women, certainly the victims of the more graphic scenes and I think it makes you more uncomfortable.
  • June 13, 2012
    jkbeta
    Disregard the Aubrey Maturin example for now, it's actually a subversion(?) - the character in question is expected to feel like this, but doesn't. I'll have to check the second and third novel over the weekend; there may be other examples.

    By the way, speaking as a man: You can leave out the justifications. I suppose most men are aware of the fact that women are much more likely to fear certain things, and oftentimes for good reason.
  • June 13, 2012
    Bisected8
    • The movie Creep is basically a Slasher Movie based around this trope (the main character is a woman who's being stalked and ends up fleeing into a former illegal abortion clinic). Even more so when a character's strapped to a gynecological examination table.
  • June 13, 2012
    surgoshan
    ^^ jkbeta, don't assume as much. There are a lot of men out there who actively disregard and fight against the validation of many of these things. There are some of our gender who will give a sop to "Yeah, women have to worry about being raped sometimes maybe", who will then follow that up with complete and thorough dismissal of those fears, or a litany of "But men have to deal with X, Y, and Z".

    I think the justifications and the like should be toned down and changed for style reasons, but they're not unnecessary.

    Also, regarding the Aubrey Maturin example, it's a subversion, but in a different way. Villiers is a strong, independent woman, but she's actively seeking a husband because she understands that the danger of becoming an old maid, without a ten thousand pound patrimony like her cousins have, is very real. So it's more of a Deconstruction / Reconstruction for modern audiences.
  • June 13, 2012
    emeriin
    @Surgoshan Not to derail, but the statistic for male sexual abuse is one in six (http://1in6.org/the-1-in-6-statistic/). Coupled with what I've said earlier, it's pretty erasing to just assume all arguments are "what about the meeenz?".
  • June 13, 2012
    surgoshan
    And the first two studies linked to on that page indicate that for men it's something like 15% or 16% (which is horrible), but that for women it's between 25% and 33% (which is worse), which that page doesn't mention.

    Yes, a great deal of what MR As say is technically correct (Technically, female soldiers can't serve on the front lines. Modern warfare eliminated the concept of the front line at least fifty years ago), but it absolutely doesn't change the fact that things are worse for women than for men across the board, and some things are absolutely worse, such as the fact that women are far more likely to be the victims of crime, especially rape.

    I absolutely do not want to minimize, understate, or deny the pain of men who have been the victim of such an attack, but I think it would be disingenuous at best to claim that the fear of rape is not distinctly more a part of a woman's daily life than a man's. Again, the links on that page spell it out; the vast majority of males are victimized as children, but it's something women have to guard against their entire lives. That's why this is a special variant of Adult Fear. It's not a part of the average man's adult life that he has to be concerned that, if he lets his roommate's boyfriend in the apartment when the roommate isn't there, that the boyfriend might decide to rape him. It certainly doesn't find its way into our fiction.
  • June 14, 2012
    GuesssWho
    I am a perfectly safe young woman who has never been assaulted in any way. And half the time being looked at by a random man on the street makes me wish I had a knife. I could never sleep in the same bed as my dad without something between us, even though I love him, because it would give me nightmares. I cried the first time I realized that men really are stronger than woman.

    I'm fairly sure I'm not alone on any of this. So yes, your argument is pretty much "what about the meeenz?!11 durr" in the eyes of any woman. Especially when you consider that most male victims are still being raped by other men.
  • June 14, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    Maybe we can avoid arguments by saying that this trope is about the how women experience these fears psychologically. As Guesss Who and animeg have pointed out, this is something that women think about most of the time in our day to day lives. This is not to diminish the (rarer but equally serious) cases of men suffering similar terrible incidents, just that the average man is less likely to live with these fears in the same way?
  • June 14, 2012
    jkbeta
    ^ sounds good
  • June 14, 2012
    TheHandle
    You mean five daughters and no sons, right?
  • June 14, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    The Handle: oops! Corrected.

  • June 17, 2012
    Wii
    This utterly cannot be a trope the way it is. At best, this needs to be about a work or creator intentionally attempting to invoke a reaction amongst the female audience by playing on stereotypes or beliefs about what will strike a chord with women/girls, with Word Of God required to confirm examples. Something like "in Firefly the Operative threatens Kaylee with rape if she doesn't tell him where he can find River, as he wants to capture her. That's the threat of sexual assault and abduction by a Scary Black Man. Two in one." is so far from being a trope I don't even know what to say about it. To quote the Audience Reactions page: "Audience Reactions are opinions, not tropes. Some of them may be very prevalent opinions, or may have inspired an author to play or avert a trope or may even be what a work is most known for, or be on the contrary completely unknown or privy to a selected few. We put a name on them and categorize them because they're a point of interest to both fans and writers, but they should not be confused with tropes. They are highly subjective, argument-causing and aren't a building block of storytelling the way tropes are."

    So there's that. Now let's say that this is made a YMMV item. What could it even be used for? Something like "I'm a woman, and in Firefly, the Operative's threat of rape to Kaylee was thusly more affecting," isn't the sort of thing that goes on YMMV either, it's too personal. As a reaction trope, there is no real way to obtain anything even close to objectivity. Your Mileage May Vary is not for this sort of thing either, it's not about personal reactions, it's about arguable points. "I'm female and this resonated with me more strongly because of that," isn't an arguable point, it's an individual's reaction.

    I have to acknowledge I'm not entirely familiar with the YKTTW; all I see is that my post is failing to go through at the length it presently is. So, I'm sorry if I'm unknowingly breaking proper procedure, but I'm going to use a second post to continue my piece.
  • June 17, 2012
    Wii
    Now then, specific responses:

    surgoshan: "but it absolutely doesn't change the fact that things are worse for women than for men across the board, and some things are absolutely worse, such as the fact that women are far more likely to be the victims of crime, especially rape."

    Actually, rape is the only violent crime that's more likely to occur to a woman than a man. To quote the Wikipedia article entitled "Gender and crime", at least with regards to the United States: "Men are also far more likely than women to be the victims of violent crime, with the exception of rape." I'd also like to add that you seem to want to avoid a "which sex has it worse" argument, and since I would as well, please don't make blanket statements like "things are worse for women than for men across the board".

    surgoshan: "I absolutely do not want to minimize, understate, or deny the pain of men who have been the victim of such an attack..."

    Then as someone who falls into that category I feel that this informal bit of personal input is necessary: any efforts made thus far have failed utterly, at least for me. To try and keep this as far from sounding aggressive as possible (which is not my intended tone for any part of this post) I'll just say there isn't any specific post or problem, but this entire page has me physically feeling sick from a mix of fury and disgust. This is so, so many levels of Not. OK. that I want to vomit, and as someone with longstanding PTSD I could see this setting someone off very easily. I mean, I was planning to go out to breakfast with my father for Father's Day, and now I'm considering just dropping that because I doubt that I'll be able to think about anything other than this for the next hour or two.

    jkbeta: "By the way, speaking as a man: You can leave out the justifications. I suppose most men are aware of the fact that women are much more likely to fear certain things, and oftentimes for good reason."

    Please, please don't ever do this. There's no way to try and contradict the opinion/advice that follows without first saying, "well I am also male, and think that it's incredibly presumptuous to try and speak on behalf of your sex." Which I hate doing (and seeing done), because, even if is stating the all but inarguable "not all men/males agree and can be spoken for or represented by any individual, male or not", it's hypocritical, because that is technically also a blanket statement made on the behalf of others. So moving past that part...

    I strongly disagree. The justifications are absolutely necessary, as - even if it does seem like they're only there to serve as a begrudging acknowledgment that some people might be take issue with the expressed opinions and to give preemptive semi-apologetic recognition to any person who may be offended/insulted - they're the only indication whatsoever of any self-awareness. There is simply no way to bring up something a discussion of a certain sex's disadvantages compared to the other without being flagrantly inflammatory, and there absolutely has to be some sign that the writers/web-site at the very least know that.

    The thing about this is, for as personally evocative as this is to me, I could leave myself to stir and move on like I do with the Double Standard: Rape tropes, which are incredibly uncomfortable to read but I know have a necessary place on this site. However, the first two paragraphs still apply, and that's what bothers me about it: this just isn't a trope, and it shouldn't be a trope, and it doesn't work as YMMV. Again, if this were "the writer/creators intentionally tried to bring on a specific emotional response in the female audience members by invoking these points that are perceived to affect them more strongly" and were composed solely of examples where Word Of God confirmed that intent, this would be a valid trope. That is something that happens, and it is a noteworthy part of a work's production. But as it is now, all I see is "I am a woman and this gave me a particularly strong reaction," or "the series seemed to be trying to evoke a stronger reaction with women when this happened." It needs to be something more substantial, or at the very least less subjective, in order to validate it as a trope.
  • June 17, 2012
    darkclaw
    I can see that a writer could make a story which they feel will affect women more than men in terms of fear; but I disagree with the belief that something scares women more than men. That's assuming one gender fear something more than the other, but not taking into account people as individuals who have all had their own struggles. The things listed as some of the themes are things men and women can all go through escept for the historical one (due to time more than gender) and birth (although a man could still go through many feelings related to it, men can't give birth outside of experimental reproductive technologies, but that's a totally different subject). As for The Bluebeard, it has a Distaff Counterpart in Black Widow.

    Still, I feel like gendering things is a slippery slope, especially in today's society. It would be like if I said, fighting is masculine. Although it could be argued men are more often told by the media to do things like join the army, the fact is that many men and women are in the military and many women know how to fight as well, hence the Action Girl trope. So, in my opinion, I wouldn't really try to gender "fears".
  • June 17, 2012
    jatay3
    Every time someone mentions a gender difference, darkclaw, someone argues that "because someone doesn't varies from that, therefore there is no difference". If we are to keep talking that way there is no such thing as gender. If we keep speaking that way the English language has wasted a lot of time and often it is better to decide in favor of language then personal philosophy when these clash because most people will know what you are talking about.

    The whole thing refers to averages or trends. Not to every single member. If there are no averages or trends then we have no way to define anything. Including tropes. After all every story is different and every event in a story is different therefore there is no such thing as tropes.
  • June 17, 2012
    darkclaw
    I see your point, as I do tend to focus more on psychology than sociology. However, I still feel at least for this trope, it is a slippery slope to gender things as some people on this YKTTW already seems to have different opinions. If this trope were to be launched and said that women fear -insert fears here- more than men, I feel as if some people would object. I know it has been said before, but maybe if we collected Word Of God examples that were specifically written with women relating in mind, the trope could work. Or maybe In Universe reactions, like if a woman is more noticeably scared about something than a man. It just still feels like Unfortunate Implications to me to say one gender fears something more than the other.
  • June 17, 2012
    jatay3
    If there is no such thing as gender then there are no Unfortunate Implications, and like I said protesting whenever someone says one gender does or not does anything more then the other is saying there is no such thing as gender.
  • June 17, 2012
    InvisibleJester
    No, dude, I really think this is still Unfortunate Implications. It might be that women ARE statistically raped more often than men, but it seems to be a stretch to say that all women fear they will be raped, or that women fear rape MORE than men fear rape. I have no problem with the trope being a trope, but just take the rape thing off. We don't even have Rape tropes anymore, they were renamed; I just don't think we need to bring up the unfortunate "Rape only happens to women or it happens to women more often" implication here. It's not necessary, and it's not even true to begin with.
  • June 17, 2012
    animeg3282
    ....women fear rape more. This is why the whol PROTECT YOURSELF FROM RAPE! NEVER GO OUTSIDE!!! forwards are aimed at women not men. Maybe it's a cultural issue. I'm from the US, and men's movements are usually not curtailed for fear of rape.
  • June 17, 2012
    Wii
    darkclaw: "I know it has been said before, but maybe if we collected Word Of God examples that were specifically written with women relating in mind, the trope could work. Or maybe In Universe reactions, like if a woman is more noticeably scared about something than a man."

    As the person who said that before, I agree wholeheartedly.

    The main problem here is that as is, this just isn't a trope. It's an Audience Reaction at best, and even if it were made into one of those, all it could be is "this scared/frightened/disturbed affected me, and I'm a woman, and I think because I'm a woman it was a stronger reaction than that of a man's." For this to be trope-worthy, it needs to be about specific instances where the writers/creators in some way acknowledged that they tried to get a stronger reaction from the female audience by playing off of what they thought would resonate more strongly with women. And it doesn't even need to be about fear: say we have an interview by someone like Beyonce where she claims that she writes music for a female audience only/primarily, and that while men can enjoy her music, it really isn't "for" them. Something like that. Make this about creators aiming for a reaction among a specific side of sexes, and it's a trope.

    If you were to go for an In Universe sort of thing, than it has to be about works where say, a female character comments on having more to be afraid of than a man, or something similar. Call it "Females Have More To Fear" or something, and include examples like, "in Durarara multiple characters comment on it being dangerous for Anri, a teenaged girl, to be walking home alone while the Slasher is prowling the area. Two policemen stop her and offer to escort her home (but are interrupted); later, Kadota's gang drives by and notes that she's being reckless walking out by herself at night. One could say that they were exactly right, as Kadota and his friends later save her from being attacked that night, but the trope is actually subverted very, very hard, as Anri is in fact the current wielder of an Evil Weapon and more than capable of taking care of herself, so much so that she later confronts said Slasher and takes them out in a complete Curb Stomp Battle. Subverting this trope even farther, the Slasher that everyone was worried about Anri being attacked by in the first place was also a teenaged girl."

    Those are both tropes. This, as it presently is, is not. Not in the least.
  • June 17, 2012
    jatay3
    Invisible Jester, it sounded to me as if darkclaw was questioning, not fear of rape but the legitimacy of the concept of feminine or masculine fear.
  • June 17, 2012
    Wii
    Plain and simply, this just isn't a trope, and as an Audience Reaction, it doesn't work. This has been pointed out multiple times by more than just me, so I think it's safe to say that until someone addresses that issue, this isn't going to go anywhere.
  • June 24, 2012
    darkclaw
    @ jatay3

    Yeah, I was questioning the legitmacy of feminine or masculine fear.
  • June 28, 2012
    GuesssWho
    If this isn't a trope, how is Adult Fear a trope? There are smart kids who would get Adult Fear . . .
  • June 28, 2012
    Psych3d3lic
    I'm not sure you want to write this in first person. It sounds unprofessional, and you also sound rather unsure of yourself.

  • November 29, 2012
    PurpleAlert
    I absolutely think this is a trope, but I think it should highlight that female characters are subjected ONLY to this type of violence (Heavy Rain might as well be the trope codifier. The male protagonists suffer the following: drug addiction/dependency and workplace bullying, child abduction and subsequent torture/mutilation, heroics in the line of duty and loss of a budding romance. The female protagonist? Nothing but sexual and sexualized violence for the entire game.) because female characters can't fight back effectively. You might get her throwing things in the way of her pursuing attacker or bashing him (because it's always a him) with something, but the goal is always to escape, never to defeat, in order to preserve the threat of what happens when she's caught.
  • November 29, 2012
    KingZeal
    I asked for mod intervention. We need the "this is a trope/this is not a trope" bickering to stop.
  • November 29, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    Psych3de3lic: To be honest, I was rather unsure of myself. Sexism is, understandably, something that people have a lot of opinions about. That said, you're right and I think getting this written up right would have to be a collaborative effort.

    Invisible Jester: I am a woman and admittedly unable to quote any rape statistics off the top of my head. However, I can assure you that women are made VERY aware of the idea that we might be attacked, on the street at night. I'm not saying that women are cowardly because it's more awareness than fear. Women are told that they should carry mace, not dress "provocatively", not go in certain areas, etc, effectively, alter a lot of our behaviours in order to avoid attackers. Other female tropers have already commented on this and I hope that whatever you may think of this trope (if you think the idea is flawed then that's fair enough) you'll accept that this is a real phenomenon.

    King Zeal: I think you're right about mod intervention.

    I'd just like to add that if it helps any male tropers see what I was getting at, the male counterpart to this would be fear of castration, or on a lighter note, getting injured in the genital region. When men see a male character in a film get injured in the crotch, they wince. Women can empathise, because we are human and because we have experienced pain, but it doesn't provoke the same instinctual reaction because we never have and never will be kicked in the balls.

    We would be horrified by the idea of castration in the same way that we are horrified by the broader idea of mutilation. The idea is that a Feminine Fear will still scare men but for different reasons.

    Apologies if this comes off as just another tropes for people to fight over. Especially if it leads to the voicing of sexist opinions or personal attacks of any kind.
  • November 29, 2012
    KingZeal
    For the record, I support this trope and completely understand its purpose. That's why I want to get the mods in here to settle it one way or another.
  • November 29, 2012
    FastEddie
    A lot of stuff wrong in the writing of this, but I think there may be a trope here. Not about the nature of a fear, but about the nature of a threat. The thesis is that women receive threats (and threat actualization) targeting their femininity and that this happens more often than do threats to a man's masculinity.

    I think we can drop the latter part, that men are not as often so targeted, as it may or may not be true and either way muddies the main idea, that women's femininity is a target for mistreatment, maybe even a favored target.
  • November 29, 2012
    jatay3
    Well I do know, for what anecdotal evidence is worth, that I avoid going out at night for fear of being robbed but not for fear of rape. On the other hand I am horrified by the thought of someone else getting raped. So yeah, this trope would apply to me.
  • November 29, 2012
    Madrugada
    <Mod Hat>

    We've been talking this one over, and have this suggestion:

    Th trope description be carefully written to indicate that this trope comes into play when a creator distinctly and deliberately addresses fears that are either virtually exclusive to women (females) or situations that are generally less fearsome to men (males). Then we cherry pick one or two good, solid, clear examples of the major fears (pregnancy, rape, helplessness, the Victorian and Edwardian fear of being alone because she wasn't married, and so on) that are handled this way, incorporate them into the description as a bulleted list, and lock the page immediately on launch.

    Is that acceptable?
  • November 29, 2012
    jatay3
    Being alone because of being unmarried isn't just a Victorian and Edwardian fear; I have known plenty of people including myself like that both male and female. Being impoverished is closer to the mark if you are limiting it to Victorian and Edwardian.
  • November 30, 2012
    KingZeal
    More accurately, in older societies the fear was that a woman would not be able to "attract" a man. Since men had all the agency in a marriage (approach the family and ask them for her) and women had none, the goal for women was to be good wife material so that the family could sell/marry her off. This is something virtually unheard of in modern societies (but a few modern ones such as the Middle East and parts of Africa still practice it in part or in whole), but a very real fear back in those days was for a woman to either never get a man, become widowed, or become divorced and not be wanted by anyone. Some cultures (such as the Zulu Nation in Africa) practice polygamy to allow a man to marry a woman who goes unmarried for a significant amount of time to avoid this fear.

    TLDR: Yes, Mad, that's very acceptable to me. However, would we be allowed to put this trope in work pages?
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