Every woman should read this book. The copy I read, on loan from a female friend, has now been read by me, my roommates, and even a visiting prospective student who happened across it on my bookshelf.
Chapter by chapter, Gavin de Becker explores the world of our worst fear. Citing cases from his long career of violence prevention—he’s worked with the Supreme Court, the D.O.J., Hollywood stars, the Chicago and Los Angeles School Districts, and Oprah, just to name a few—de Becker reveals to his readers exactly how prevalent violence is in our lives, yet concludes with an surprisingly empowering message.
Though not for the faint of heart—The Gift of Fear features true stories of rape, murder, stalking, etc.—de Becker’s central thesis ought to leave women feeling powerful, not powerless, in the face danger. When it comes to threats, “We think conscious thought is somehow better,” he writes, “when in fact, intuition is soaring flight compared to the plodding of logic.” In other words, we ought to listen to our gut, not our brain, when we feel fear. Fear is a gift to avoid danger.
Our intuition works on a super-rational level, a level beyond our conscious flow of thoughts, to evaluate threats in our environment. When a man walking toward you on the street causes you to think twice, your intuition could be recalling the news piece you saw on crimes in the area, registering that the man has his arm tucked under his jacket (which could mean a concealed weapon), or even subconsciously remembering that he has been watching you from a distance for the past ten minutes. Your logical brain will ask you to push all these factors aside to avoid appearing rude or judgemental. But ignoring your intuition can be a very dangerous mistake, de Becker claims; “You have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations.”
Though this book can be useful for everyone, women are more likely to be threatened or in danger. De Becker himself defends this claim with a simple experiment; ask your friends when was the last time they felt threatened or in danger. Men will often reply with a time or two in the past year, maybe last month. For women, it’s more likely you’ll hear “last night,” “a few days ago,” or “last week.” While I hope that this is not true on our campus, it is very true in the real world.
One of the most powerful moments in the whole book is when de Becker explains this biological difference: “It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different … The fact is that men, at core, are afraid that women will laugh at them. And women, at core, are afraid that men will kill them.”
I maintain that this book is one all women should read in case they ever encounter a situation of violence, stalking, assault, or worse. In the end, The Gift of Fear is in itself a gift—one I plan to pass on to as many of my female friends as I can—because it shows that fear is the innate tool given to us to help us avoid danger.
In de Becker’s words, “The inner voice is wise, and part of my purpose in writing this book is to give people permission to listen to it.”
Mary Soren Hansen is a junior PLS major living in Lewis Hall. When not playing goalie for the women’s club soccer team or the upright bass in the Notre Dame symphony, she leads Res Publica, a political discussion group on campus that holds an ever-growing following. Ask her about joining at Mary.S.Hansen.firstname.lastname@example.org.