Face something dangerous or terrifying, and you’ll make one of two choices: fight or flight. Pick one, because science says that’s all you’ve got. Throw a punch or flee the scene. Jab or dodge. Kick or run. Tacos or burritos. Donuts or muffins. Ok, I got distracted. I think I’m hungry.
These can’t be my only choices. I’m scrappy, but I’ve never gotten in a real fight. I want to survive, but I’m a very slow runner. Like so slow that Dave literally walks next to me while I jog. I’ve faced a few near-death situations, but my actions didn’t seem to have much impact on the outcome. To me, this binary feels insufficient.
Because IT IS. This study—like so many others—was tainted by the patriarchy. Thanks for nothing, old-timey white dude who decided female subjects led to unreliable measurements due to hormonal fluctuations. Because obviously men’s hormones never change. Not. This ridiculous belief resulted in a participant pool for the original fight-or-flight study that was 83 percent male. Apparently no one thought it would be relevant to broaden that group to a population that more accurately represented actual reality.
Jokes on that guy though, because it turns out his exclusion led to an inherently flawed conclusion. Women don’t just flee or fight when faced with disaster. Most of them come together and take care of one another—a phenomenon scientists now call tend and befriend.
The study assumes this behavior developed as a necessity to keep children alive. They can’t fight or flee, so mothers, who are historically responsible for the lives of their children, were forced to adapt their responses to that goal. That means these women had to stick together, because everyone knows you can’t fight a bear alone. And if you share your food with your neighbor this week, she’ll probably share with you next week.
This is a system scientists say has mostly been ignored in stress studies, so they tried to solve that. As part of their study, they stressed out a bunch of rats, male and female. The female rats did get aggressive, but mostly just when an intruder tried to come at her while she was pregnant or had a little baby rat with her. Otherwise, she was like, meh, whatevs. You know what the female rats didn’t do? Run. Because that’s not how you handle your business.
The scientists are still waiting to see if they can replicate this is in humans, but I think we know the answer. I see it every day. The women I know are always pulling one another up. Watch a woman comfort an insecure friend. Watch women look out for one another at night. Watch a group of women in a bar bathroom. Watch a woman cover for another woman in a meeting. Watch women tell one another they’re beautiful and smart and strong and “they don’t know what they’re missing” and “if they don’t respect you, it’s not worth it” and “let’s go for a walk?” “are you ok here?” and “daaaamn, girl.”