Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Reasons to be Fearful

“And you are [Sarah’s] children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

The world is a scary place. It was scary when Peter wrote these words, and it’s scary today. Maybe it’s scariest for women, though I can’t say for sure: there are plenty of places in scripture where men are told not to be fearful, and many exhortations not to let our fears control us which we may reasonably assume are intended to apply to both sexes.

In fact, some of the most powerful men in the Bible were scared.

Despite all the promises he had received from God personally, Abraham feared being killed by Egyptians attracted to his wife. Despite being king of Israel, Saul feared David. Despite having been rescued by angels, Lot feared to live in Zoar, so he hid in a cave. That ended badly, as did most biblical episodes in which people let fear dictate how they behaved.

But my point is that no matter one’s sex, no matter one’s station in life, and no matter one’s history, everybody has to deal with fear.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder

Dr. Valerie Rein, Ph.D. is offering a new reason for women to be fearful. She calls it Patriarchy Stress Disorder. According to writer Elaine Roth, PSD can impact anyone, including “nonbinary people and men”, but since the subtitle of Rein’s new book on PSD is “The Invisible Inner Barrier to Women’s Health and Fulfillment”, it’s evident her publisher is seeking to market her theories to women who believe themselves afflicted by this phenomenon and are looking for relief.

You will be familiar with The Patriarchy™ by now. Rein describes it as “a system of inequality and oppression where the power, economic, political and even moral power has belonged to men and excluded women for millennia.” Fear induced in women by millennia of patriarchal oppression changes the physiology of their brains, says Rein, and leads to “fatigue, mental fog, trembles, sleeping [presumably she is referring to spending too much time in bed], hormonal imbalances, autoimmune conditions” and so on. Moreover, Rein alleges traumatized women genetically transmit their fears on to their children, so that “the mental, physical, and emotional impact of gender inequality … builds over time, and over generations”.

Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Like so many new things today, it’s long on scary and a bit short on science.

The Target Market

Careful readers will note the subtext here: it is career women for whom Rein is primarily concerned. PSD is holding them back, she says, keeping them from owning “their own bodies and their own shine”, from having it all, and from thriving on their own terms. PSD afflicts women who are “outspoken, attractive, successful”; women trying to “break through the inner and outer glass ceilings”; women who feel guilty about “wanting more”, and feel fake and inadequate despite all their awards and achievements — and women who also have daughters presumably at risk from genetic transmission of Mom’s PSD; in short, women trying to do two things at once.

That’s a pretty big market. I’ve worked with high-achieving women with families my entire career, and in my humble and completely anecdotally-informed opinion, nobody worries more — and with very good reason: women were not designed to live out the roles of primary provider and primary nurturer at the same time. I’m guessing nobody was. (Of course, if you don’t believe women were “designed” at all, you can be forgiven for coming up with strange and non-falsifiable theories about how things have gotten to be the way they are.)

Trying to be both a high-achieving provider and successful nurturer is a mission statement that makes the labors of Hercules look like a walk in the park. A single woman who concentrates on her career is trying to do one full-time job well. A wife who concentrates on her home and family is trying to do one full-time job well. A wife who splits her concentration between two full-time jobs — home and work — is almost certain to feel unhappy, unfulfilled and exhausted at times. She is stretched to the max.

Her problem is not the Patriarchy; it is that it is impossible to do the impossible.

Managing PSD

People who desire to fill roles for which they were not designed have a tendency to be miserable. Oddly, Satan comes to mind here. “I will ascend to heaven,” he said in his heart, “above the stars of God. I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north.” No wonder he’s so unhappy: he wasn’t designed to sit above the stars. He never will. He was designed to serve God and glorify him, and since he has no interest in doing those things, his restless heart will never experience fulfillment.

My favorite part of Dr. Rein’s increasingly familiar song and dance routine is the bit about how to manage PSD symptoms. Given that Rein is encouraging women to attempt, like Satan, things God never designed them to do, her prescriptions are understandably thin. They include connecting with others, journaling and therapy; in short, a whole lot of chatting (and writing) about your trauma.

No doubt talk can be therapeutic, assuming you are talking to the right people, but a better prescription might be managing one’s expectations.

A Better Remedy

Peter has the best remedy for wives looking for true fulfillment: do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. Fear is not an inevitable genetic by‑product of millennia of patriarchal oppression. Fear is a choice. You can decide to be scared, or you can decide to trust God to have assigned you the right role in the world, and to help you manage that role for his glory. You can decide to crawl into bed and bemoan your inability to achieve the unachievable, or you can look around you and determine to use your energy and skill set to do good to others and please your heavenly Father.

If it sometimes seems that involves more service than success, then maybe we all need to reconsider how we define success.

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