This ‘Man or Bear’ Question Is Blowing Up on TikTok

This ‘Man or Bear’ Question Is Blowing Up on TikTok

man v bear in the woods question tiktok

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Getty Images; Leanne Mattern, MH Illustration

THEORETICALLY, IF YOU were stuck in the woods, would you rather have the company of a bear or a man?

Seems like a relatively simple question—but the responses are stirring some controversy on TikTok and other social media platforms. Why? Because participants are overwhelmingly choosing the bear.

The hypothetical has become a surprising outlet for women and non-binary folks to express their thoughts and concerns about their general safety in the company of some men—with the potential risk of physical or sexual violence posed by a man being deemed so great that the majority of femme-identifying TikTokers fancy their chances against a more ursine threat.

Those responses are really pissing some people off… and that’s a problem.

“It can certainly be difficult to read feedback that a woman would rather be lost in the woods with a bear than a man. Our egos can take a hit when we read something like that. Most men don’t think of themselves as bad guys, so of course they don’t like to consider themselves as a potential perpetrator of harm,” says Jor-El CaraballoL.M.H.C., a mental health and relationship expert and co-founder of Viva Wellness. “And the reality is, most men are not abusive people.”

Most would admit that statement to be true, I believe. We understand that not all men are bad or scary. Why, then, is it important to understand why a measly internet trend is igniting such divide? Because the defensive action does nothing to combat the issue at hand.

It’s difficult to accept the reality many share: a fear of physical assault, sexual violence, domestic abuse, and emotional mistreatment women and other marginalized communities (that includes trans, non-binary, and racial minorities, too) encounter daily. There is not a late night subway ride where I am not consistently glancing over my shoulder, nor is there a moment at a bar where I am not aware of how close the man next to me is. I’m part of the majority— over 50 percent of women have experienced some kind of sexual violence in their lifetime according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Accepting that does not ignore the fact that the reverse can also happen—nearly 1 in 3 men have experienced sexual violence, too. But, the existence of one does not demean the severity of the other. The way to creating a safer environment, for everyoneis for people to actively listen and understand others’ feelings and experiences when it comes to all forms of violence—be it sexual, physical, or emotional. And, then, allow that knowledge and empathy to fuel your own actions.

“As a man it’s critically important to be able to withhold judgement and consider how other people may experience men out in the world,” Caraballo says. “It’s important we understand those perspectives to be more aware and less harmful in our daily interactions.”

The first step to understanding is active listening—not just listening to respond or refute. Caraballo says it’s best to approach the conversation in a relaxed manner—it’s important to make both parties comfortable so they feel safe enough to be intimate about their feelings. Then, allow time for the other person to speak and elaborate. As a guy, you may feel the urge to jump in with a defensive comment like “but I would never do something like that,” but it’s important to hold space when somebody is telling you how their lived experience has shaped how they move through the world. This helps us to shift away from thinking ‘how do I feel about this right now?’ to ‘what can I learn about your experience in this moment?’.

If you’re feeling a certain way about people choosing the bear, it might be time to take a step back and evaluate why. If it were your wife, girlfriend, daughter, sister, or mom stuck in the woods, would you rather them be there with a bear, or a predatory man? For that matter, could you say with 100 percent certainty that you would feel safe if you were alone with a man you didn’t know?

“When we listen to the voices of those often most subjected to harm, we learn how we are all complicit and ways in which we can change ourselves and our communities to be safer,” Caraballo says.

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