Man vs. Bear: Experts Weigh in on Violence Against Women

A recent TikTok video sparked debate when commenters revealed that women are more afraid of encountering a man than running into a wild animal. The experts Healthnews spoke to say male-perpetrated violence may be one reason behind these fears.

While some content on TikTok might actually be harmful, such as videos promoting potentially dangerous health trends like "bone smashing" and "be your own dentist," other posts can bring awareness to prominent social issues impacting modern society.

Most recently, one video posted on the trendy platform — #manvsbear — went viral after commenters suggested that women fear men more than bears. The post was shared throughout social media accounts and raised questions about women's safety and the true impact of violence against women.

What is the man vs. bear debate?

It all started in April when @screenshothq posted a video on TikTok asking women whether they would prefer to be stuck in the forest with a man or a bear.

@screenshothq The question of being stuck in a forest with a man or a bear is circulating on TikTok right now and sparking some interesting conversation.... we know what our answer would be 🐻🌳 #manvsbear #tiktok #tiktoktrend #trending #challenge #streetinterview #voxpop ♬ Terror Music (Scary Song) - IMPERIUM RECORDS

Nearly all the women interviewed chose a bear, with some claiming they made that choice because "some men are very scary out there." So far, the post has garnered over 67,000 comments, most of which agree with the bear choice.

"Without hesitation, a bear. It will eat me, but it's much better than what the man would do."

"Absolutely a bear, humans are capable of so, so much worse."

"Bear 100%. In the unlikely event that the bear attacks you, at least you'll be believed."

"They won't ask me what I was wearing if a bear attacked me."

One male TikToker responded with, "Bro, do they think we [are] all Gotham villains????" Replies to that comment included one woman stating, "Not all men, but more than enough to make us feel like this."

Many commenters understood the reasons behind women choosing to encounter a bear vs. a man, while others expressed sadness over the state of humanity, especially the fear women may have of men.

"This is absolutely horrifying, and I'm so sorry they feel a bear is safer because I know their opinion comes from an experience," one man wrote.

Why do women fear men?

In a 2023 opinion piece published in the Berkeley High Jacket, Simone Faulkner wrote, "Women are constantly informed that they are inherently vulnerable and that they need to worry about their safety. They're conditioned to feel like someone's prey, so they shouldn't be blamed for fear of their predators."

Topsie VandenBosch, LMSW, a licensed psychotherapist and emotional intelligence and psychological safety consultant, tells Healthnews, "I wouldn't interpret this as women being more fearful of men. I would instead say that due to the data available regarding the prevalence of male-perpetrated violence worldwide, this is more of a conditioned response to the potential for harm."

VandenBosch says that overwhelming data shows how many women are not safe in their encounters with strangers and even intimate partners. For instance, a 2010 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that more than 50% of female rape victims reported being raped by an intimate partner, and over 40% said their attacker was a male acquaintance.

The National Institute of Sexual Violence Survey conducted in 2015 reported that 1 in 5 women in the United States reported completed or attempted rape which included forced penetration. These staggering statistics demonstrate the gravity of cautiousness and vigilance that women are forced to have in a country where this is the reality of many.

Topsie VandenBosch

According to VandenBosch, these statistics contribute to women's fear and trauma and solidify the drive to protect themselves from potential male assailants.

Healthnews also spoke with Julie Waite from Streetwise Defence, a company that teaches violence prevention, personal safety, and self-defense in the United Kingdom and internationally. Waite co-founded the company with her partner Dene Josham, a security expert with over 30 years of experience, including 15 years as Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Russell Crowe's bodyguard.

"The issue here is the reality of violence against women in 2024 — the statistics and experiences of women speak for themselves," Waite explains. "Most women have experienced an incident at the hands of men — be it an assault, rape, an abusive relationship, sexual harassment, stalking, or unwanted attention in the street."

Julie Waite from Streetwise Defence
Julie Waite (Image Courtesy of Julie Waite)

Waite notes that 90% of violence against women and girls is perpetrated by someone they know, and in the vast majority of cases, the assailant is a man.

"Women who we train tell us they are fearful of men and often with good reason, unfortunately," Waite says.

Waite points out that if a bear attacked a woman, it would likely happen because it was scared or hungry. The attack would result in injury or death. However, if a man attacked a woman, he could commit vile acts. If she survived, she would then have the rest of her life to deal with the trauma.

What's more, if a woman was attacked by a bear and she spoke out, people would believe her. When women speak out about sexual assault and rape, it is a different matter.

Julie Waite

Do all men deserve the bad rap?

Several man vs. bear TikTok replies challenged the notion that a woman is better off encountering a bear in the woods.

"By the U.S. health statistics, 99.98% of men have never committed a crime against women and 45% have basic knowledge in survival. So, you would rather die 100% by a bear or have a 0.02% chance of SA," one commenter said.

While it's true that men are more likely to be both perpetrators and victims of violence, not all men are violent. Moreover, men can experience violence from a female perpetrator. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in three women have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, but so have one in four men.

Some TikTok comments point the blame in a different direction, calling out issues with human nature in general.

For example, one male TikToker said, "Man here, and I'd also rather be stuck in the forest with a bear. Humans are unpredictable. I know the bear will attack eventually, so I'll never trust it. A human might gain my trust and then attack."

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