3 May 2024

Man or bear? Your answer to this question reveals what you understand about violence against women

| Zoya Patel
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brown bear and man in forest

Man or bear? Women are choosing the bear, and it reveals a lot about how women perceive men and how men perceive themselves. Photos: byrdyak/wirestock.

In a week when thousands of Australians have joined protest marches across the country calling for action to end men’s violence against women, a thought experiment has been going viral online and revealing a critical disconnect between men and women when understanding this issue.

An American TikToker posed a question in a video that has since gone viral, asking women if they had a choice between being alone in the woods with an unknown man or a bear, which would they choose? It’s the bear. Again and again and again, women chose the bear.

And our responses are making some men incredibly angry.

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On the surface, choosing to be potentially mauled to death by a wild animal over being alone in the woods with a man you don’t know might seem like a bizarre choice. As some men have taken to social media to point out, a bear is likely to see you as either food or a threat, whereas there is a chance that an unknown man would be friendly, safe and pose no danger.

Well, for women, the deep fear we have of men’s violence means that most of us are willing to take our chances with the bear.

In fact, as many have pointed out, there are some things worse than death – and for survivors who have suffered ongoing abuse, traumatic assaults, or lived with fear while enduring intimate partner violence, there are too many reasons to choose the bear.

Watching this conversation unfold online has reminded me once again about the inherent divide that exists between men and women when it comes to violence.

So many men, baffled by women choosing the bear, can’t understand why we would automatically assume that a strange man would be a threat. The majority of men, as we know, are not abusers. The majority of men in our own lives are safe, supportive, positive influences. Statistically speaking, if the man in the woods was chosen randomly, he will likely be safe.

But logic and reason are not the driving factors for women when considering our safety around men we don’t know.

We’re taught from the earliest age about the danger that men can present to us, and our fear is validated time and time again when we hear about women being murdered, assaulted and abused by men they know, let alone the horrors committed by strange men on women at random.

That fear is hard to shake. That fear is there for a reason. For many of us, if we’re fortunate enough to have no lived experience of sexual assault or violence, we’re certain that it’s because of our fear, our defensiveness, that we have remained unscathed.

The fact that we think like this should be evidence enough that the pervasiveness of men’s violence against women has reached epidemic proportions.

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Interestingly, when the question was posed to men in a different way, their responses changed. Women asked men if they had to choose between their child being left alone in the woods with a strange man or a bear, which would they choose?

Suddenly, there was a pause before replying, and you could see men weighing up the full potential risks a strange man could pose – once they were considering the vulnerability of the subject and the mental trauma and ongoing abuse that the wrong man could cause, the bear started looking like a better prospect.

This thought experiment isn’t about painting all men as perpetrators or suggesting that every man can pose a threat. It’s about offering a small window of insight into what it’s like existing as a woman in a time where two in five Australian women have experienced violence since the age of 15 and where 28 women have already been killed just this year as a result of violence.

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Capital Retro11:57 am 16 May 24

There’s a bear in there
And a chair as well
There are people with games
And stories to tell
Open wide
Come inside
It’s Play School

Would you rather work at an all female workplace or all male? Gaurentee there would be more interpersonal issues in the all female. Power struggles and fights. The male one would usually only be troublesome if the work was dangerous.

Don’t bet on it. I worked in an all male workplace once, the bitching and gossiping that went on was unbelievable. Don’t get me started on the mood swings.
Male workplaces are just the same as the female ones.

So you are Male?

“Islamic people do not statistically present as a higher risk”. Well we have spent huge amounts of money, time and other resources preventing Islamic terror attacks.

Perhaps if those attacks had been successful then the statistics would be quite different.

And statistics aren’t really the point. If they were then we wouldn’t be so horrified about women being killed. iirc there are generally around twice as many men than women murdered each year.

Rightly or wrongly (possibly a hangover of our more sexist days), women’s lives are valued more than men’s are.

We do have a real problem with violence towards women and towards men.

Perhaps we really need to take a closer look at where the system is failing, where the scumbags seem to be getting a free pass from our justice system again and again until they finally cross a line and can’t be ignored any more.

The question is designed to elicit an emotion, and is understood and responded to almost with a collective glee.

It does not show fear. It shows hate, of men.

A society in which women are pitched against men is destroying itself.

The nearly collective glee is not really in responding to the question – but in the wielding of the question’s reported “results.”
(I mean this not as a correction, but as an *expansion)

In terms of the results, that the majority of wo

davidmaywald12:45 pm 03 May 24

There has never been a better time to be female than the present day. Girls and women in Australia have the most remarkable opportunities and empowerment, compared with anywhere else in the world. It’s stunning. They live several years longer than men, outperform in education, and can choose from an unlimited range of options… Six or seven men die by suicide on a typical day (2,455 lives lost during 2022), 93% of workplace fatalities are male (and the rate of incidence has been increasing during the last four years)… Ignore the much bigger picture, see the glass half empty, ignore any semblance of gratitude. And run to the bear. This is symptomatic of a very unhealthy society.

There is no need for whataboutisms. We don’t have to bring the issues men face to try to derail the topic, David.
Not every conversation has to involve or be centred around men.
The sexual harassment and violence towards women is an issue, the fact women can go to university and be in a majority is not relevant.
Why are you expecting gratitude? Women took the rights that men had been denying women.
If you have a problem with the statistics involving men, go do something about them instead of whinging on the internet.

davidmaywald1:53 pm 05 May 24

Ad hominem responses deserve nothing more than terse replies.

The whole article is whatabout women!

Violence against girls and women is a problem around the world.

We experience a great deal of direct behavioural violence from men. We experience government sanctioned violence in some nations. We experience abuse and marginalisation online. We experience erasure in law and policy. This is the reality of living in a male dominated world.

We all exist in male-dominated cultures, some better than others. But it is a *failure* of these cultures when male violence, abuse and harassment thrives.

Cruelty to girls and women, whether through direct or indirect action, attitudes and beliefs creates the failed culture.

It also doesn’t benefit most boys and men.

It doesn’t benefit society to minimise, mock or dismiss this bear proposition or anything that tries to highlight the experience of living in an unhealthy male dominated culture.

Boys and men do need to work on improving collective attitudes to lead to a healthier male dominated culture.

Those girls and women who were not taught to be wary of men usually learn it via painful traumatic experience.

Safety requires warning of risks and threats, with that awareness ensuring the survival of the human race. That is why fear is so important and so powerful. It protects us from harm by encouraging us to be careful. It is also why some people blame women when they’re attacked, for not being careful enough. Apparently it is up to women and girls to be careful, rather than for men to be non-violent. Interesting logic.

Well said Psycho. It’s about the fear. Most men are not violent, but we don’t know how to pick the violent ones (they don’t walk around with a sign telling us). A common theme after a murder or other attack is friends, family or neighbors of the aggressor trying to claim he was a “good guy” and what he did was out of character – if people close to him can’t recognise the danger, how is a stranger supposed to?

Women are constantly told to never walk alone. Whenever there has been a rape, women are told to stay home etc etc etc. If we are attacked, there is the suggestion that we invited it by being too available, wearing the wrong clothes or being too friendly etc etc etc. But equally, if we don’t smile when men expects it or react with the correct coquettish giggle or titter when a stranger approaches with a random comment/come-on we are seen to be aloof and rejecting them unfairly. And we have no way of knowing if the dude we supposedly “rejected” will take it as an humiliation and decide to react violently even though all we were doing was just minding our own business and didn’t want the random stranger approaching us.

If we expect men to defend us, we are seen as needy and useless; but if we don’t want men to defend us, we are seen as ball busters. We can’t win. We can’t even just live our own lives without having to navigate the hurt feelings of men.

Rachel Gwynne10:07 pm 02 May 24

How about a bear or another women to choose from. Thanks, I’ll take the bear 100%. I can’t believe people have stooped so low. And , no , I haven’t missed the point.

No, you have actually proved it perfectly. The exercise is about explaining fear. In your case you are fearing a woman. The bear is still seen as the less scary option. The people who don’t understand this exercise are the ones who are not acknowledging fear. For whatever reason – maybe justified, maybe not – many women fear men. As a society we have to work on that. Hurt male egos are not helping.

Eh, I get it.
But it’s a tiresome subject, say something innocuous and autists will pop out of the woodwork with a bunch of “akschually”.
Thing is, we shoot bears that get a taste for manflesh.
The threat is in their sheer power, they choose to do something and you have bucklers’ of doing anything against it.
And here’s the key, that’s what women have compared to males with secondary sexual characteristics anyway.

So, the problem then becomes about motivation.
Bears, unless bent, will mainly leave you alone.
Same with men.

The kicker tho is, animals just don’t have the capacity for cruelty that humans do. And they’re inferior predators, circumstantial size aside.

Yes, a bear might eat you, rarely. But at least it’s over within an hour, it’s done and never more a concern for your dead self.

Final tangent, it’s a bear in the woods. Automatically excludes bears on the ice, and that would be a different threat profile – unlike grizzlies, polar bears will in the majority in encounters kill and eat you. It ain’t potentials of damage, they’ll actually predate on humans.

“It’s a bear in the woods,” Yes. So?

“It’s a [stranger] in the woods.”

“Automatically excludes [non-strangers], and that [is] a different threat profile – unlike [strangers]”

Man or Bear is an interesting question and perhaps could be expanded to other demographics, such as:

Would you prefer to be alone in the woods with a bear or an Islamic person?

Of course we know that question is stupid and bigoted. Of course recent events have clearly demonstrated that there are members of the Islamic community who desire to do harm to the rest of us.

But as we have been told many times in the past, you can’t blame a whole demographic for the actions of a few crazy ones.

But put “man” into the question and it becomes a question that people seem to jump to justify instead of condemning as being stupid and bigoted.

Most women don’t blame all men but they are wary of them because the statistics say that men present a higher risk to women’s physical wellbeing than do other women.

Islamic people do not statistically present as a higher risk.

We know it is not all men, but it is enough men that we need to be careful of all men.

If men don’t like this narrative then men, as a collective, need to do better. Stop the ‘boys will be boys’ or not calling out sexist or rape jokes just so you can fit in with the group.

Women being careful in her own life, such as keys between the knuckles in the carpark, learning self defence, or even preferring the bear doesn’t hurt or disadvantage men, being outwardly racist does.

“We know it is not all men, but it is enough men that we need to be careful of all men.

If men don’t like this narrative then men, as a collective, need to do better.”

Read the back but replacing men with “Muslims” and see how bigoted it is.

At the moment, the rate of suicide amongst men is very high, indicating something is very wrong, including amongst the many who thankfully never get that far.

A big contributor to this is the de facto war against men, in the name of so called equality, where equality observably isn’t the goal, but domination by women clearly is.

In this way, men have been reduced to little more than loner gamer types, with very few prospects for the things that give them meaning and fulfilment, such as a decent job, a nice wife and family. This has come about by all of the ‘liberation’ taking place, which, without going into details, has resulted in men being reduced to dirt, while everything is done to empower women, including men getting demolished in the divorce courts.

Amongst the many consequences of a society which takes this approach to human beings is that which sees men, who are more naturally prone to violence, become frustrated and start to act out physically, including against women, thus defeating the intention of caring for women.

Anyone with any heart and brains would think “if all men and women basically have is each other, and if we genuinely care for the wellbeing of women, then we’d better equally care for the wellbeing of men, because men in good health are going to treat women as they should.” And yet nothing in this deeply disturbed world even remotely resembles this understanding, and then all you get is piles of carnage and dissatisfaction, because nobody wants to look properly into the situation but just wants to be lazy and hope for the best, spurred on by the irrational stupidity highlighted in this article of choosing a dangerous bear over much more likely civilised man.

I don’t believe women are trying to dominate. They are simply asking for equality. If you can’t see that they don’t currently have equality, then you need to do more research. To get equality though, they have to push hard – which is probably why you think they want to dominate.

What you have just said is that men are not responsible for their violence, women are, along with women’s liberation and their drive for equality (or in your mind domination). So when will violent men take responsibility for choosing their own actions?

We all get angry and frustrated, but we don’t all respond with violence.

Some of us are more civilised than that. We think before we act. We act constructively to resolve upsets, rather than seeking to destroy those who challenge us.

When you are used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

No-one asked or mentioned suicide, it isn’t the topic here, it is just your attempt to derail the conversation from a serious women’s issue and try to centre it on a male issue. It is not necessary.

Women are their own entity, our issues and problems should be able to be discussed without someone jumping in screaming about a men’s issue.

This essay was written by someone who has done a slot for men’s issues such as homelessness and suicide in the UK.

Take five minutes of your life to be better:

Heywood Smith10:06 am 02 May 24

Its a funny world we live in, seems only females suffer from domestic violence. Us men a lucky bunch.

I think the issue is that while men do suffer from domestic violence, the consequences are usually different. There is a much lower rate of men being killed by their intimate partner.

Ignoring the deficiencies in the question (ie. What type of bear?) I think it is a good example of how irrational perceptions can infect and override the logical and evidence based reasons that should be the basis for good social policy or laws.

The experiment is also ironic because statistically men are at a far higher risk of being the victim of violence from a stranger or in general than women are.

Agreed in part. Men die more often from violence than women, it being part of their lives, with men the main perpetrators of violence against each other, as well as against women and children.

However women experience more sexual violence than men, the type of violence that scars people psychologically for life, as we know from the investigations into sexual assault of children of all genders. We need to stop all of that violence, as it harms the victims, perpetrators, families and friends as well as our society as a whole. It causes many mental health problems, disabilities and dysfunctional lives.

Men don’t just die at higher rates, they face significantly higher rates of assault as well.

“it being part of their lives”

I’m not sure what you are trying to say here? Why is violence inherently “part” of men’s lives?

And victims of crime aren’t suddenly less important if the perpetrator has the same genitals as they do. The entire point being that individual men are not responsible for the collective crimes of other people just because they share a gender. The identity politics that attempts to attribute a collective blame to people based on characteristics such as gender, religion or ethnicity is a scourge.

Do you think it would be reasonable to make similar arguments around the ethnicity of offenders for groups that have significantly higher rates of domestic violence or general violence?

Yes, women do face higher rates of sexual assault and that is horrendous and we should all work towards reducing the impact of those crimes. But the psychological impacts of all forms of violence are significant, if we want to improve the outcomes for society across the board, we shouldn’t start with such obviously divisive and counter-productive positions.

What is amusing has been the response from many men on forums. They rush in and mansplain why bears are dangerous animals and miss the point of listening to women on why they are afraid of men.

Heywood Smith10:43 am 02 May 24

Did you know that 1 in 7 men suffer from DV? There are men who are afraid of women too. Who would have thought.. Is tunnel vision one of your superpowers?

And you rush is to womansplain. No talk about how domestic violence against men is trivialised.

Also missing the point there Heywood & Joy. No-one is denying men suffer from domestic violence too; nor denying this subject needs action as well. BUT, doing what-about-ism neither helps these men, nor negates the reason for the man or bear question. It is about trying to illustrate to men that many women are scared of men – so scared that a bear in the forest is seen to be the lesser of two evil options. Not all men deserve it and have been caught up in the flack; but it doesn’t change that collectively women are scared of men. This is meant to be a wake up call for men who think “it’s not my problem”.

I personally am aware of the silent issue of male victims of DV. I helped a workmate find a new home when he left an abusive relationship. But knowing that there are male victims too does not suddenly make women safe.

Aren’t you (and other women) equally not listening to the men by disregarding their points? Why is it only men that are required to “listen”?

How far do you think you will get by denigrating the very people you claim are needed to enact change?

What points? It’s “biggoted”, woman want to dominate, men also suffer DV, it’s irrational, too many women follow American TikTokers, or lack of knowledge of dangerous animals?

Sorry mate, but this comments section simply demonstrates the point being made, and highlights the utter fragility of modern middle aged men. With the option of staying silent, so many choose to speak and remove all doubt.

Thanks for providing a perfect example of my point.

Well done.

Okay, go start a thread about it or go write and article. It’s not the topic here.
If you want it to become part of the conversation stop being so rude and confrontational about it.

It literally is the topic. You can be exhibit B.

Capital Retro8:17 am 02 May 24

I am more concerned that so many women follow American Tik Tokers.

No, what you answer to this question reveals what you know about dangerous animals.

If women were faced with this decision and actually chose the bear, we would certainly end up with a whole lot of very well fed bears.

You have totally missed the point

That certain people are being overly melodramatic? No, I got that.

What next, man or great white shark?

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