Bears or Bros? Social Media Ignites Conversation on Women’s Safety

Jun 04 2024.

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Trigger Warning: This article includes themes of violence, including rape and domestic abuse.

Imagine yourself lost in the woods. Panic sets in, but then you see another figure in the distance. Relief washes over you... until you realise it's either a man or a bear. A recent viral trend on TikTok has ignited a fascinating debate: in this terrifying scenario, who would you rather encounter?

This trend has launched a critical discussion on women's safety, transcending the digital realm and forcing a reckoning with a harsh reality, and the overwhelming response from women – a preference for facing a wild bear over an unknown man – lays bare a complex issue with deep roots. 

The women’s choice isn't a flippant survivalist decision, but a reflection of a world where statistics paint a grim picture. Women consistently face a higher risk of violence perpetrated by men. Estimates published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that globally, about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. 

From a young age, girls are often instilled with a heightened awareness of their surroundings – a constant vigilance that becomes a shadow they carry with them throughout their lives. This unsettling truth exposes a complex fear – the fear of the familiar stranger. Men, in general, aren't a threat. But cultural narratives and real-world experiences paint a different picture, creating a constant undercurrent of anxiety.

As a result, women often carry a heavy burden of vulnerability due to the threat of violence. This fear significantly impacts their freedom and sense of security. The conversation can't just be about women "being careful." It's a call for change. We need a justice system that holds perpetrators accountable and a culture that fosters respect, dismantling the very roots of violence.

Beyond Blame: A Conversation for Change

Choosing a bear might seem counterintuitive. After all, bears are apex predators with a powerful and potentially deadly instinct to protect themselves and their young.

However, the fear of a random man can be rooted in real-world concerns about violence and assault. Unfortunately, statistics show that women have a higher chance of experiencing violence from a stranger than from a wild animal encounter (National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, US).

The trend highlights a sense of distrust towards strangers, particularly men, that some women carry. The point isn't to vilify all men but to open a conversation. Why do so many women feel a constant undercurrent of fear just by existing in public spaces? The answer is complex, but talking openly paves the way towards a world where both wildlife encounters and chance meetings feel a little less like a potential nightmare.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the trend – the responses, specifically – to go viral, with countless women echoing similar sentiments in the comments. The hypothetical question struck a nerve, reflecting the deep-seated fear and distrust of unknown men. The conversation took off on social media, dividing opinions. Some people expressed sadness over the state of the world, while others tried to lighten the mood with jokes. Many men were simply shocked by the overwhelming preference for the bear.

But this isn't just a hypothetical scenario – real-world events in Sri Lanka highlight the grim realities that many women face:

  • A 24-year-old woman was tragically stabbed to death by her boyfriend at the Racecourse Ground in Colombo. He confessed that he feared she would leave him for someone else.
  • In Meegoda, police arrested three men, including a young man, an elderly person, and his son, for the gang rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl. The girl only revealed the horrifying incident to her mother months later, showcasing the fear and stigma victims often endure.
  • Numerous cases of children being brutally raped and murdered, often by people they know, continue to make headlines. 
  • A significant number of tourists have also reported being raped or sexually harassed by local politicians and others.


Statistics Don't Lie: A Look at Sri Lanka

A recent report sheds light on a pervasive issue in Sri Lanka: violence against women and girls. The Women's Wellbeing Survey 2019, the first national survey dedicated to this topic, paints a concerning picture. Conducted across all 25 districts and focusing on women over 15, the survey delves specifically into intimate partner violence (IPV):

  • 1 in 5 (20.4%) ever-partnered women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • 2 in 5 (39.8%) women have experienced physical, sexual, emotional, and/or economic violence and/or controlling behaviours by a partner in their lifetime.
  • The most common form of reported violence is controlling behaviour (19.1%) which reflects the lack of agency women have to make decisions regarding their lives.
  • Physical violence is the second most common form of violence (18.9%) women experienced within their lifetime of which, the estate sector indicated the highest proportion of violence at 1 in 3 women (37.9%).
  • Women in Sri Lanka are more than twice as likely to have experienced physical violence by a partner (17.4% of all women experienced this in their lifetime) than by a non-partner.
  • 1 in 4 (24.9%) have experienced physical and/or sexual violence since age 15 by a partner or non-partner.

Additionally, a UN Survey on Male Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka showed that 15% of men interviewed admitted to having raped at least once, with the majority who admitted to rape saying they did so because they were entitled to. Twenty percent of those respondents admitted to raping for fun or out of boredom.

This is reflected in the chilling statistic that only 3% of those who admitted to rape in the above study were arrested. And, according to a 2021 University of Kelaniya study, only 5% of cases relating to women murdered between 2013-2017 have concluded. 

These statistics aren't unique to Sri Lanka. Globally, a significant portion of women live with the fear of violence.

A Catalyst for Change
The "Man vs Bear" trend, despite its lighthearted origins, can be a catalyst for a much-needed conversation. It reminds us that the familiar isn't always safe, and the unknown, while potentially dangerous, might not be the most immediate threat. By acknowledging and addressing the underlying fears, we can work towards a future where the "man" poses minimal danger.

The conversation can't just focus on women "being careful." We need a multi-pronged approach. Bystander intervention programmes can empower people to help in dangerous situations. Educational programmes for men and boys can challenge harmful attitudes. Ultimately, we need a cultural shift that fosters respect and dismantles the root causes of violence.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rihaab Mowlana

Rihaab Mowlana is the Deputy Features Editor of Life Plus and a journalist with a passion for crafting captivating narratives. Her expertise lies in feature writing, where she brings a commitment to authenticity and a keen eye for unique perspectives. Follow Rihaab on Twitter & Instagram: @rihaabmowlana


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