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Opinion – ‘man or bear’ debate reflects misogynistic violence

‘Would you rather be stuck in the forest with a man or a bear?’ is an intriguing theoretical discussion that’s currently playing out on social media. Met with nearly complete unanimity among women, many men have tellingly reacted with the kind of gaslighting and deflection that’s painfully familiar to survivors of sexual assault.

If you were alone in the forest, would you rather encounter a bear or a man?

This hypothetical question, first posed by Screenshot HQ via TikTok two weeks ago, has been making the rounds on social media.

Since then, netizens have engaged in a debate that highlights just how little men understand about the lived experiences of women.

Nearly all women unironically opted for the bear. As a result, a substantial cohort of men reacted by gaslighting and deflecting blame, a pattern of behaviour that’s all too familiar to survivors of sexual assault.

But why is the bear a favourable choice, and why has this question resonated so strongly online?

 

Why the bear?

‘Because if it attacks me everyone will believe me,’ wrote @snacosos on X. ‘Also nobody would ask what I was wearing,’ replied another user.

‘The bear won’t attack without provocation and even if it did I feel like the process is faster,’ commented @mazie_wazie on the original post.

‘I know a bear’s intentions. I don’t know a man’s intentions. No matter how nice they are.’

These are just some of the utterly depressing responses to Screenshot HQ’s hypothetical question, highlighting the fact that, for women, it’s a no brainer: a strange man is undeniably a threat. This is something ingrained in us from birth.

@yoursocialbestiee ⚠️This video could save your life so girls please watch the full video because it’s so important we keep ourselves safe!!! #saftey #survivaltips #survivalhacks #girlsafety #womansaftey #fyp ♬ original sound – 💅YourSocialBestie🫶🌸

We’re told to stick together, to not drink too much on a night out, to not jog alone in the dark, to watch carefully for a shadow that’s not our own to appear beneath streetlights, to never listen to music too loud when walking, to lock our car doors as soon as we get in, to always carry a rape alarm, to not wear a ponytail because it’s easier to grab than a bun.

The list goes on.

With this in mind, is it really that surprising that women would prefer to be lost in the woods with a large beastly animal that could maul and maim them?

It might sound absurd, but it draws attention to how woefully under-addressed women’s safety remains.

Three years ago, when Sarah Everard went missing, this same discourse dominated public conversation, tapping into widespread concerns regarding the gender-based abuse that we face on a daily basis.

At the time, findings were circulating that 97 per cent of women in the UK aged 18 to 24 had been sexually assaulted and that most had little-to-no faith it’d be dealt with by authorities if reported.

On a broader scale, a similar study uncovered that one in three women across the globe had been subjected to physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes (the data today paints a parallel picture).

Though this sparked extensive outrage and calls for the issue to be confronted once and for all, that women are choosing the bear in 2024 is proof that absolutely nothing has changed; we’re still part of a society in which living in fear is normalised, as is the longstanding culture of victim-blaming.

This has been exemplified by many men’s overwhelmingly negative reaction to the trend, which speaks volumes about the inherently bleak state of women’s safety at present.

@tizzyentMan or bear which should a woman choose? As a man, I say choose the bear.♬ original sound – TizzyEnt

 

A viral meltdown

Instead of being struck by how unsafe we feel around them, many men have taken to social media to rant about the ‘stupidity,’ ‘impracticality,’ and ‘uninformed’ nature of our decision to choose the bear.

Enraged, a handful claim that the trend promotes misandry. Another has branded women as liars, and one man has even gone as far as to cherry-pick and distort statistics to make it seem like violence against women and girls isn’t even a problem in the first place.

Most prevalently, they’ve been mansplaining to us ‘silly ladies’ why we’d be better off opting for a man, urging us to recognise that we simply aren’t aware of how serious a potential bear attack could be.

‘Why would you choose to be around an apex predator that could overpower and kill you in seconds if it wanted to?’ Don’t you know how dangerous that is? You can’t reason with a bear or ask it to leave you alone if it becomes aggressive,’ said a male interviewee in Screenshot HQ’s video.

Echoing the sentiment of almost every man involved in the debate online, this retort says everything about men’s obliviousness to the reality of being a woman.

It’s not that we assume we could outrun a bear. Nor do we deny that they’re terrifying and would kill us instantly. Rather, it’s that the potential outcome of an attack is significantly less frightening that what a man could do.

According to The North American Bear Center, the (approximately) 750,000 black bears in North America kill less than one person per year, making men 167 times more likely to kill someone than a black bear.

Worldwide, there are just 40 bear attacks on humans annually. Compare that to the 100 plus women killed annually by men in the UK alone (that’s every 2.6 days).

@lifecoachshawn The Men Are Proving Our Point About Choosing The Bear. #dating #datingtips #datingadvice #relationships @Shawnda ♬ original sound – Shawnda

‘Why would a woman choose a man over a bear when the number one predator of a woman is a man and not a bear?’, Luis Torio clarifies to those expressing their confusion towards this hard truth and sharp reminder of the epidemic that is misogynistic violence.

‘The chasm between the experience of a person who identifies as a man and a person who identifies as a woman is still so vast, and many cisgender men don’t understand how much danger men pose to a cisgender woman (not to mention queer, non-binary, and transgender people),’ writes Stephanie McNeal for Glamour.

‘That’s also why women can’t stop talking about it. Because the fact that so many men are insistent that we should choose the bear indicates just how far we have to go to bridge this gap in understanding.’

We weren’t warned against bears as children. We were warned against men.

So, if anything, this trend should make those fighting it look inward and start having conversations about how men themselves can dismantle a system that continues to see us suffer.

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