'Until something changes, I choose the bear.'

If you have been on the internet recently, you will be familiar with the bear vs man debate. Women are being asked whether they would rather be stuck in the woods with a man or a bear and they are, almost unanimously, choosing the bear. 

Some women say they'd choose the bear because, without knowing anything about this man, the bear is the more predictable option. One viral video compiled some of the most confronting reasons women chose the bear — "At least I know a bear's intentions," "No one’s gonna ask me if I led the bear on" and "at least the bear doesn’t get enjoyment out of it".

In other videos women are flipping the question on the men in their lives, asking them whether they'd rather their wife or daughter be alone in the woods with a bear or a man. Spoiler alert, they're also choosing the bear.  

I typically don't engage too much in internet trends like this. Not because I don't agree or empathise, but because I so often find myself in a frustration spiral that I figure is ultimately unhelpful, or maybe just unhealthy. Probably both. 

@thewildwitchjean #duet with @Kators #bearorman #doyougetitnow? ♬ original sound - Kators

I often joke that I wish I could switch my brain on and off, that I would love the ability to occasionally shut off my critical thinking, engaged (read: enraged) brain and simply not think about it. 

Working in the domestic violence sector means this really isn’t an option for me, and I am okay with that. I feel fortunate to work in a space where what I do directly intersects with what I am most passionate and outspoken about. It also means that I juggle the personal and professional almost constantly, regularly deep in thought, and regularly subjecting my nearest to my internal monologue.


I was challenged recently by the work of Jess Hill and Michael Salter on re-thinking primary prevention, and a call to re-consider our approach. Their work has gotten considerable attention and traction, and rightly so. The root of their message is that focusing on education, respect and gender equality has not so far, and ultimately will not, be the solution to the growing number of women being murdered in Australia. 

The article is eloquent and measured in their assessment of the current situation, arguing that prevention efforts should focus on challenging cultural norms, supporting victims, and holding perpetrators accountable. Jess and Michael write with palpable empathy about the need to move away from a blanket condemnation of all men, recognising that this can be divisive and counterproductive. 

Everything made so much sense, and yet I found myself grappling with a strange combination of comfort and frustration after reading it. I felt comfort because it offered me an alternative perspective on the issue, a helpful reframing that separates misogyny from violence and makes the latter feel solvable. I felt frustration because centreing the gender equality conversation is deeply important to me, and I believe the significance of asking men to stand alongside us should never be discounted. I know that this is not at all what they are saying, but I couldn't shake the feeling that, with some finesse and omission of context, it could easily be taken as an excuse for men to consider it job well done. 


Which brings us to an article by journalist Waleed Aly, published days after Jess', and titled: 'Holding all men responsible for a violent minority has failed to keep women safe'. The title speaks for itself, but Waleed draws on parts of Jess and Michael’s work, suggesting that such a broad indictment of all men is alienating, potentially undermining efforts to engage men as allies in the fight against gender-based violence.

Watch: Women And Violence: The Hidden Numbers. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

This take is not incorrect, I suppose, but it is disappointing. Maybe because Waleed is well-respected, so it was a missed opportunity to fervently pledge allyship without cause for uncertainty in his message. Maybe it is not what he said, but rather what he didn't. Maybe it’s because that broad indictment of men is, at its core, a plea from women for help, for compassion, for allyship, and for change. 

I also couldn't help but think how this rhetoric redefines the 'good man' — when did non-perpetrator become synonymous with good? When did the bar become this low? I believe most women can empathise with the soul-crushing disappointment of realising just how neutral most men are to the cause. How rare it is to stumble across a man who you feel has genuinely invested his own time and energy into learning about, and listening to, the experiences of women. To be clear, I don’t mean neutral to violence, I mean to misogyny and the oppression of women under the patriarchy. 


I have always found it interesting that every woman I know has some degree of lived experience with men's violence and degradation, whether it be an abusive partner, sexual assault, feeling violated, leered at, honked at. Yet somehow, no man I have ever spoken to knows another man who would behave like this. Curious, isn't it? 

It is such a human experience to want to feel understood and seen, and the reality is that women have been screaming at the top of our lungs begging to be listened to. Every woman has taken a longer route home, has held her keys in her hand, has made a fake phone call, has turned a corner and ran. Being on guard constantly is exhausting. I once heard it referred to as 'cumulative trauma' — or rather, death by 1000 cuts, and that’s always stuck with me. We go through things on a daily basis that men simply do not understand, but then if we dare to call out a misogynistic (or worse, violent) joke we just "don't have a sense of humour", a slippery slope to "not all men!!". 

The phrase 'not all men' leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, and I actually made a commitment this year to never utter that phrase again (unironically at least). Not because it’s not true, it is, obviously. Which is exactly the point, it’s obvious, women know it, now please stop derailing our anger to centre men’s experiences (ironic much?). 


Women deserve to be angry, and to be frank I don’t feel like spending another minute tempering my feelings or cautioning my words for the sake of men’s feelings. It's exhausting, and it's unfair. When you say 'not all men' you invalidate and silence people who speak out on gender inequality, sexism and sexual abuse. It steers the conversation in another direction, where men are 'attacked' and are the 'victims'. It shifts the focus away from the problem and prevents us from tackling the issue, all while clearly demonstrating that you are far more concerned with defending your own innocence than you are with addressing the broader societal problem.

Listen: After The Rallies: What Can Actually Stop Gendered Violence. Post continues after podcast.

It is true that not all men harm women, but do all men work to make sure their fellow men do not harm women? Are they asking questions? Engaging with uncomfortable conversations? Do they interrupt troubling behaviour and language even when women are not around to witness it? Do they have conversations about women's safety/consent with their sons? Are all men interested in our safety?

I believe we can, and should, expect engagement and curiosity from 'good' men. I believe that men who consider themselves not a-part of the problem, are responsible for being part of the solution. I believe we can, and should, expect that men actively stand with us, that they don't play 'devil's advocate' with us, and that they centre and believe our experiences. I believe this is this bare minimum, this is the bar. The reality of the situation is clear, and it is dire. The solution will involve all of us, it won't be one-size-fits-all, and it will have to involve men paying attention. There is a problem with male violence, aggression, and dysregulation. It is directly tied to patriarchal systems that prioritise male dominance and control, to the systemic oppression of women characterised by unequal power dynamics, limited opportunities, pervasive discrimination, and ultimately violence.
We can expect that as women de-centre the feelings and comfortability of men, as we advocate, fight, and raise that bar, that men understand that this is not hatred, or oppression, it is course correction. I fear this may have become its own frustration spiral, but I guess what I am trying to say is if one in every 3 women were being attacked by bears, you might say we have a bear problem. So until we change that, I chose the bear. 


Lilly McKeich is a National Family Violence Specialist for The Salvation Army where her role includes providing leadership to specialist family violence services nationally and engaging in advocacy with government and other stakeholders. Lilly has a background in Social Policy and a Master of Criminology from the University of Sydney and is a proud raging feminist with a passion for advocacy and ending gendered violence. 

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