2 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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