The depressing truth behind viral ‘stuck in the woods with a bear’ trend

The man or bear in he woods has gone viral. (TikTok)
The 'man or bear in the woods' debate has gone viral. (TikTok)

If you have been on TikTok lately, you may have come across the latest viral debate: “Would you rather be stuck in the woods with a man or a bear?” The answer – from many women at least – seems to have overwhelmingly been ‘bear’.

Regardless of the merits of the questions, the debate has highlighted the extent to which many women fear for their safety – and the wildly differing perspectives on how safe men and women feel based purely on what sex they are.

A former government adviser told Yahoo the trend reflects how "depressing" the wider problem of violence against women has become.

The debate was sparked on 18 March, when TikTok user @callmebkbk shared a 90-second video discussing his views on misandry, which he ended by stating that women would feel safer with a bear in a forest: “If you're alone in the woods, seeing a man is 10 times scarier than seeing a bear”.

While that initial video generated some debate, a subsequent video response by the same user posted a week later, sparked the now viral conversation.

Women responded by posting videos unpacking why they agreed with the sentiment, with one saying her reaction was that “a bear can be reasoned", which, she acknowledged, was "the craziest thing I've ever thought – but it's true."

It was that video in particular that made the debate go viral, gaining four million views. In it, she says: “If a man has made the conscious decision that he wants to take sexual gratification from your body willingly or unwillingly, and he has decided to assault you or rape you, you cannot rationalise with him.”

Of the 25,000 comments below that video alone, the majority appear to agree with the poster.

One commented: “If I've been attacked by a bear and tell people I'm now scared of bears, they won't tell me my fear is irrational.” Another said: "People would believe me if I said I was attacked by a bear.”

A video posted on Monday by TikToker Cece, who shares videos under the username “dontceceme”, has also gone viral with eight million views.

In the video, which lasts just over one minute, Cece reads out 10 comments from women articulating different reasons why they would pick a bear over a man.

"If I survive the bear attack, I won't have to see the bear at family reunions," she reads. "The worst thing a bear can do is kill me. The bear doesn't get enjoyment out of it. The bear didn't pretend to be my friend for months beforehand. No one will say I liked the bear attack."

Alec Newman, the son of a bear attack victim, posted his own video describing the horrific experience and injuries endured by his mother, saying she had been “through things you wouldn’t even possibly begin to imagine”. Newman’s mother, he said, was equally dismissive of the question, describing it as “asinine”.

Newman’s video was not received well by many women overall with one video posted by Betty Jackson which has 3.3 million views, saying: “That's crazy because I just talked to the bear friends, and they all said he didn’t do it.”

One commented: “Did she try saying ”no” loud enough?” while another wrote, “Allegations like that could really ruin the bear's life. He's a good bear with a bright future ahead of him.”

As the debate gathered pace, Gen-Z news outlet Screenshot Media posted a video on TikTok on 10 April asking women in London what they thought – with only one of the eight women asked saying a man.

One said: “What I’ve heard about bears, they don't always attack you right so maybe a bear?”. Another replied: “Depends what man, but probably a bear”.

The discourse began to die down after a month but has picked up again in recent days following the remarkable news story of a Scottish pensioner surviving a bear attack in Romania.

Nimco Ali, who was appointed as an independent government adviser on tackling violence against women and girls in 2020, told Yahoo News the trend was “depressing”. Ali said: “Humans, especially men, are the only things that kill for fun. I am not sure why men are shocked, but then men never seem to know a man who has raped or abused someone, even when the stats are what they are”

Statistics for the year ending March 2023 from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) found that 3.2% of women reported experiencing sexual assault compared with 0.9% of men. Data collected in 2017 showed that 98% of sexual offences were committed by men.

London, UK. 10 Mar 2024. Nimco Ali OBE speaks - Jews and sympathisers blow shofars (ram's horns of spiritual significance) and whistles, led by Vanessa Feltz, Mike Freer MP and Dame Maureen Lipman at a Synagogue near Abbey Road, London. The intention being to show solidarity with the over 100 hostages still held in Gaza and to awaken the world to the horrendous conditions they are facing. The ‘blow' will last for 1.55 minutes marking the 155 days they will have been in captivity. The event is part of the global ‘Blow for Hostages' initiative organised by Marcel Knobil. Credit: Guy Bell/Alamy L
Nimco Ali. (Alamy)

In the UK, a woman is killed by a man every three days while domestic abuse makes up 18% of all recorded crime in England and Wales. In the year ending March 2022, there were 194,683 sexual offences, of which 70,330 were rape.

Dr Lisa Sugiura, associate professor in cybercrime and gender, said the viral question highlighted that women are taught from an early age to live in fear of and anticipate men’s violence.

“Women are not told to take precautions when walking alone because a bear will want to attack and rape them,” she told Yahoo News. “For many women, the stark reality is that they will have been subjected to men's violence, as the World Health Organization notes that one in three women globally will have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Women are overwhelmingly the victims of sexualised violence and men are commonly the perpetrators – including against other men.”

She added: “Men are generally surprised, defensive even, when the subject of male violence against women is discussed.

“This is often where the not-all-men response is evoked, but women don't know which men they should fear, only that male violence and male entitlement to women's bodies is something that women have to be on guard for. Men don't have this to contend with. This is about privilege and not recognising it.”

The response to the “man or bear” question, Dr Sugiura says, is based on the reality of women’s everyday lives. She said: “Bears are not contributing to and upholding systemic sexism and misogyny, but most men are, whether deliberately or via ignorance or indifference, and this supports and normalises the actions of male sexual predators and domestic abuse perpetrators.”