Can’t Bear it.

posted in: Mindset | 0

In the past few weeks a meme has developed on the internet. Nothing new there I hear you say, but this one has struck a chord for all the wrong reasons.

The start: Women are stopped in the street in the TikTok videos and asked “would you rather be stuck in a forest with a bear or a random man”.

Pause: think about this question from your own point of view.

The results: the majority of the women who were asked, said ‘bear’.

OK, a tongue in cheek question  which turned into a set of films which mainly became headlined as ‘women choose bears over men’ or ‘men are scarier than bears’ and other click-bait titles and they started to rack up the millions of views and interactions that viral videos do…

And then came the backlash from the men ‘who had been maligned’ in this imaginary, fictitious and hypothetical scenario, and they were not happy. The replies were predictable “OK we’ll remember this when a woman needs protecting” and some quite angry “feminists are only feminists until they need saving”, some smug “I’ve got a gun, does she have a gun?” and some downright sadistic “let’s see her locked in a room with a bear’ / “make it a TV gameshow and see how that plays out…”

Just have a little wander onto Instagram and type in ‘bears’ in the search bar and watch a few Reels about this and then – if you dare – go into the comments. It’s largely a cesspool of anger and misogyny, threats and anti-women / pro-gun / pro-violence tropes from men with baseball caps, checked shirts and beards alongside tractors and other machinery or locked anonymous accounts with Anime avatars.

It’s so disappointing and so predictable.

As Laura Bates pointed out in her book ‘Men Who Hate Women’, men and boys have been groomed (by a set of forums and websites called the ‘Manosphere’) into sexist and sometimes misogynistic language and attitudes, groomed to disbelieve women in virtually all situations, groomed to believe that women have it easy, groomed to think that feminism has gone too far, groomed to deny male violence against women and girls, groomed to believe women should be ‘traditional’ and ‘sexually brave’ whilst also having a ‘low body count’ (lower than three sexual partners).

Against this backdrop, hearing that women are choosing a bear instead of a man, those same men and boys took to their keyboards to show women how wrong they are – and in doing so, yes you guessed it – showed us all WHY women would choose the bear in the hypothetical scenario.

The following ten things have been highlighted a number of times as reasons women would mostly choose the bear:

1) No one would question me about what I was wearing if the bear attacked me.

2) No one would accuse me of liking the bear attack

3) A bear’s motives are easier to understand.

4) A bear won’t accuse me of leading them on by being nice to them.

5) I would not be forced to carry the bears babies to term in 27 US states.

6) The bear will either kill me or leave me alone there are not 400 other horrible ways a bear can hurt me.

7) Bears do not traffic women.

8) A bear’s friends won’t come out to say how nice the bear is and how attacking me is ruining its life.

9) No one will question if the bear attack really happened.

10) The bear sees me as a human being.

Plus three more:

11) If I survive the bear attack I will not have to see the bear at family reunions.

12) The bear did not pretend to be my friend for months beforehand.

13) A bear would not film it and send it to his friends.

What could have been seen as a tongue-in-cheek way of opening a debate about the ever-present fear and / or threat of violence that women and girls feel every day and then having more empathy and understanding of the way other men and women move through the world, the manosphere has chosen denial, finger pointing and manufactured outrage. I’m not saying that men don’t feel fear or anxiety nor that they aren’t attacked physically or online, but by denying and denigrating the bear scenario a listening and learning experience has been turned into another entrenched battle and highlighted how far there is to go to help men understand women’s lived experiences.

More men and boys could have listened to the fears expressed by women.

More men and boys could have started to understand and hear with empathy the very real fears women have, that men and boys rarely do.

More men and boys could have chosen to ask questions and see what was behind choosing the bear.

Sadly another #EmpathyLightbulb experience has been turned into a nobody wins game…and another trope is born on the internet.

If I’m being cynical – nothing has really changed since #MeToo, nothing has really changed since Sarah Everard’s abduction and murder by Wayne Couzens, nothing has really changed since Sabina Nessa, Biba Henry and Nicola Smallman’s murders, nothing really changes after Jess Phillips MP reads out the list of names of women killed by men they know each year in the House of Commons on International Women’s Day…nothing really changes to the level of violence, threat or harm that  women experience on a daily basis at the hands of men.

But cynicism doesn’t change things – only hope, optimism and purpose can do that and if more of us men as fathers, friends, brothers, educators and role-models assume this purpose and optimism we can open the debate in a powerful and empathetic way and a way that is less-likely to cause men and boys to deny their role in making women and girls feel safer.

Let me know if we can help you open debates about masculinities, sexism and equality.