A social media debate rages over whether women prefer encountering a bear over a man in the woods, highlighting deep-seated fears rooted in widespread male violence against women and the perpetual threat women face daily.

W ould you rather find yourself alone in the woods with a bear or a man? This is the question currently dividing social media. Based on the responses online, it looks like most women answering the question say they would choose the bear, a decision that is shocking many men.

Would you rather find yourself alone in the woods with a bear or a man? This is the question currently dividing social media. Based on the responses online, it looks like most women answering the question say they would choose the bear, a decision that is shocking many men.

The reactions show some men don’t understand women’s experiences. The assertion that women would prefer to encounter a bear is based on evidence about the rate of male violence against women, and on a lifetime of learning to fear and anticipate this violence. This is especially true of sexual violence, something which would not be associated with encountering a bear.

@screenshothq Replying to @miksa8vgr Would you rather be stuck in a forest with a man or a bear? This question has been going viral on TikTok, and has sparked some interesting conversations. Welcome back to Reel Talk, the series where we break down viral videos to serve you fresh perspectives every week 🌶️ 🔗 Link in bio to watch the full episode on YouTube #manvsbear #tiktok #tiktoktrend #trending #challenge #streetinterview ♬ original sound - SCREENSHOT
@bbqtiddies #stitch with @Jonathan Buchanan BEARS > MEN #ecology #biology #wildlife #bear ♬ original sound - jj

According to the World Health Organization, one in three women – around 736 million globally – will have experienced sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner in their lifetime. This figure has largely remained unchanged over the past decade.

Being attacked by a bear is much less common, with only 664 attacks worldwide over 15 years, and very few fatal attacks. And bears tend to avoid humans, attacking only when provoked or protecting their young.

This is not about generalising or fearing all men. Women know that not all men are dangerous. But women don’t know which men they should fear, only that male violence and male entitlement to women’s bodies is something that they have to be on guard for.

— Bears: only 664 attacks worldwide over 15 years.

Women are commonly victims of sexualised violence, and men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators (including against other men). There are enough men who have hurt or are capable of hurting women, and women have no way of knowing which ones these are. While much violence against women comes from men they know, the risk of danger from men they don’t know is something that informs their day-to-day lives.

For example, research shows that women change their behaviour – making certain decisions about the routes they take or what they wear – to avoid harassment or abuse from men in public. Scholars such as Fiona Vera-Gray refer to this as safety work.

Women’s view of men is also coloured by their non-violent actions that harm women. Clearly, bears also do not contribute to or uphold systemic sexism and misogyny, but most men do.

My research on misogynistic online groups has explored how men engage in acts against women that reinforce gender inequality.

Writer Emma Pitman has described this phenomenon using the analogy of a human pyramid. The choices of some men to stay silent about abuse is the base of the pyramid, holding up other men who engage in misogynistic jokes or commit violence.

AI GENERATED —
— The pyramid of misogyny is upheld by men staying silent about abuse and harm.

The overall effect, whether deliberate or via ignorance or indifference, is to normalise and support the actions of male sexual predators and domestic abuse perpetrators.

This culture props up the men who are silent bystanders, observing sexism, harassment or abuse but doing nothing, the men who make or laugh along with the sexist or rape jokes, those who are rape apologists and blame women for their sexual victimisation, those who become aggressive when women turn them down, those who stalk, control and abuse women, and those who are rapists, sexual harassers and murderers. This continuum of misogyny is women’s everyday reality – and at no point do bears feature.

Men on the defensive

Men are generally surprised, defensive even, when the subject of male violence against women is discussed. This is often where people invoke the response “not all men”.

When women took to social media to express their anger and devastation following the murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer in 2021, #NotAllMen trended online. Meanwhile, police advised women not to walk alone at night, placing the burden of avoiding violence on women.

This conversation is about privilege, and not recognising it. Many men are able to move through their daily lives not being worried that they are going to be attacked or raped, can walk alone late at night without taking any safety precautions or even not having such thoughts cross their minds, and do not feel their hearts beat faster if they hear footsteps behind them. It may not be all men, but it is all women, who live smaller lives because of the threat of some men’s violence.

These discussions are an opportunity for men to understand women’s genuine fears and to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

PUBLIC SQUARE UK



Sources:

▪ This piece was originally published in The Conversation and re-published in PUBLIC SQUARE UK on 2 May 2024. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
Cover: Unsplash/Le Mucky. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)
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