Man or bear? Decoding the viral social media trend and its underlying meaning

Here's an intriguing debate that questions the survival instincts and safety norms in our society.

15 June, 2024
Man or bear? Decoding the viral social media trend and its underlying meaning

If you’re a regular on social media, then you probably know about the “Man or Bear” trend. In an Instagram video by Screenshot (@screenshothq, an account that has since disappeared from IG), women were asked if they’d rather be stuck in the forest with a man or a bear. Their response? Well, a surprising number of women chose to be stuck with a bear, and believe us, it struck a nerve with the men. 

At first glance, the trend seems like a light-hearted, even silly ‘hypothetical’ question. But the reactions—especially the ones from men—hint at something deeper. Why are so many women picking the bear? And why are men taking it personally? Naturally, the trend sparked a debate and conversations on how women view comfort, safety, and, well, men in today’s world.

The comment section under the video was a battleground for debate. The men were clearly triggered, as evident with comments like “Thanks girls, I didn’t know I’m more dangerous than a bear,"  “Are they all lesbians?” and even “Are they retarded?” As expected, the women backed up this claim with one user saying, “A bear might actually stop if I play dead, a man will take it as an open invitation.” Surprisingly, some men joined in on the conversation, saying, “As a man, I would also pick the bear.”

The immediate (almost impulsive) choice of being stuck with a bear over a man suggests that women perceive the potential threat of a man to be much more unpredictable and imminent than that of a bear. From a gendered perspective, choosing the bear could highlight women’s desire for autonomy and independence as opposed to the lack of agency and control they experience in gendered power dynamics. The bear could be a more predictable threat, posing physical danger, whereas a man could be perceived as a complex threat, triggering fear and anxiety.

Public opinions

On asking people, both men and women, for their opinions on the matter, they had a lot to say. Here are some of the comments from the original video. 

“Well 100% of those women who says they’d choose a bear would in reality run to the closest man and hide behind his back. And I’m not even being misogynistic - that’s a good thing to do,” commented Rem further explaining, “I wrote that comment out of concern that a woman might watch the interview, go hiking, get lost, and make poor decisions, like mistaking a bear for friendly or avoiding a harmless person. I can’t imagine any man I know taking advantage of a lost woman in the wild. Anyone who does that isn’t a real man and would face severe consequences.” 

“I’d choose a man because I’m not going to wait around to be murdered. So if I’m going to attack first, I have a better chance taking down the man, right?” commented Alia. “Overall, I prefer the bear but if I assume I’m going to attack first, it should be a man since the bear is innocent and deserves to live its life and would likely win an altercation.” 

“Lesson of today: 1 in 8 women actually have a brain,” commented Yassine. “It’s simple, The only woman who has a chance of survival is the one who chose the man. Cause even if you came across a psychopath and a lovely bear, the bear will cause damage without hesitation.”

“I would choose the bear every time and men taking issue with this in the comment section shows a lack of self-reflection,” commented Lana. She elaborated her point with a personal anecdote, “I worked as a correctional officer in a jail that had a dedicated sex offender unit. When you learn what certain offenders have done, you’d also choose the bear. When you’re a female and have been subjected to what man can do, again, you’d choose the bear.” 

A gap in perception?

There’s a perception gap between men and women when discussing safety. And understanding this gap is more important than engaging in endless debates on social media.

Historically, women have been at risk of physical and sexual violence by men. Preferring to be alone with a bear rather than a man could reflect the trauma experienced over centuries. This trauma, whether personal or generational, along with cultural narratives of women's hardships, can lead to a shared sense of distrust and fear in relationships, instilling a sense of vulnerability. Such experiences influence reactions to hypothetical situations perceived as threatening, prompting the avoidance of triggers.

When it comes to statistics, the World Health Organization (WHO) presented us with an eye-opener: one in three women globally, totaling around 736 million, have experienced sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner or a non-partner in their lifetime. This alarming figure has seen little improvement over the past decade.

In contrast, bear attacks are rare, with only 664 incidents reported worldwide over the past 15 years, and fatal encounters are even scarcer. Bears generally steer clear of humans, resorting to aggression only when provoked or protecting their offspring.

People often find it easier to sit in the comfort of their homes and share random comments on social media because, well, they're shielded by anonymity. However, social media has a tendency to elicit strong reactions to trends, regardless of their seriousness. And while the 'bear' response may symbolically express frustration towards men due to gender-based violence, the instant, bold responses are also becoming more popular.

This trend doesn’t necessarily promote misandry, but it forces us to think about the fact that women still feel unsafe around men. We’re not hating on men; rather, we want them to reflect on the behaviour of ‘the men and patriarchy’ as a whole. Instead of writing nasty comments on social media, the focus should be on taking meaningful actions to address and change the underlying issues because, as we know, it’s ‘not all men’, but it’s always a man. Acknowledging this reality and working to create a safer environment can help build a society where women no longer feel this kind of fear. 

Inputs from Dr Pratishtha Petwal, Assistant Professor, Jindal School of Psychology and Counselling, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat.

Lead image credit: Unsplash 

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