Several years ago, Bill and I were walking in midtown Manhattan early in the morning. I can't remember why we were out so late — possibly a party or a late night movie — but the streets were unusually quiet.
As we stopped at a crosswalk, a man approached us and asked for money. This wasn't unusual, but something about the man seemed off. He had clearly been drinking (also not that unusual) and had a "loose cannon" look. He was shorter than Bill (most people are) and slender, but muscular. He scared me, so as Bill reached for his wallet, I admonished him, "Don't." I knew people who had been mugged that way — once the victim has stopped and the wallet is out, it is easy to grab.
The man pulled out an open Swiss Army knife and pointed it at Bill's chest. "Give it to me," he said. By this time the light had changed, and we quickly crossed the street and started walking toward the subway.
The man followed us. "You think you're safe," he said, "but you're not. You just turn a corner, or go down the subway stairs, and I'm right behind you. You can give me your wallet now, or take a knife later, your choice."
He may have said other things, but I didn't hear them, because my heart was pounding like a generator. We neared a hotel, and on impulse I ran into the lobby and called, "Excuse me, but there is a man outside threatening my husband with a knife. Could I please get some help?" Within seconds, two security guards had whisked the man away, and Bill and I proceeded to the train.
I was shaking, but Bill was laughing. "You really pulled out the big guns there," he said.
"The guy had a knife!"
"A Swiss Army knife! Not exactly a switchblade! And he was drunk! How much damage do you really think he could have done?"
When I told the story to friends later, their reactions split pretty neatly along gender lines, with the women empathizing with my panic and the men commenting that I had clearly overreacted.
I thought about that incident this week, while reading these two articles,
which highlight differences between men and women in perception of threat. Anecdata, but they conform with my own experiences. Yours?