Pumla Dineo Gqola shows that becoming fluent in the ‘women’ fear of men requires constant exposure through repetition of messages, warnings, inducements, symbolic lessons and explicit statements.

This story was first published in New Frame.

This is a lightly edited excerpt from Female Fear Factory (Melinda Ferguson Books, 2021) by Pumla Dineo Gqola.

Fear, fluency and control

“I was thinking all the time that shall I put a knife under my pillow? The time was of fear, but some people can overcome fear and some people can fight.” – Malala Yousafzai

“Apparently fear is expected of women.” – Caroline Paul

When author and former firefighter Caroline Paul finds herself constantly confronted with questions about whether her line of work frightens her, she is never confused about the difference between the way she is confronted with these questions versus the very different way her colleagues, who are men, are asked questions about their work. In this chapter, I endorse her statement that “fear is expected of women”, recognising this as a sentiment that will be familiar to women across the world. Beyond agreement, however, I am interested in how this expectation – which is a test of fluency on the Female…

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