Cartoon: Who Would You Rather Meet In The Forest?


This cartoon is by me and Nadine Scholtes.


As some of you know, a couple of weeks ago – which is approximately forty centuries in internet time – a question went viral on the web: Asking women if they’d rather be in the woods with an unknown bear or an unknown man?

A majority of women are choosing the bear. In one TikTok video, which was viewed 17 million times, 7 out of 8 women said they’d pick the bear.

When asked to explain their decision, many women responded that they know a bear would either leave them alone or kill them, whereas they fear the details of exactly what a man could do to them.

Many men in the internet were loudly angry with this.

Nadine emailed me, asking if I was going to do a cartoon about “the bear thing.” I hadn’t considered it, and my first thought was “nah.” As I told Nadine, “I’d only do a bear or man cartoon if it could be done in a way so that the strip will still make sense long after this current moment passes.”

But then on my walk to work (by “work” I mean, the coffee shop I do most of my drawing in), the idea for this strip jumped into my mind. And I realized that it explained itself – in fact, I think this strip will probably work better in a couple of years than it does now, because right now the reaction from many readers will be “wait, that was so last week,” whereas in a couple of years people will have forgotten the whole thing.

My sense of humor is very whimsical, which isn’t the traditional approach political cartoons take. One thing that makes working with Nadine fun for me is that she shares that love of whimsy, and this cartoon proved to be a perfect vehicle for whimsy from both me and Nadine.

In the original script, I had the two office workers magically transported to a forest for panels two and three (with a bear there, of course), returning to the office in panel four. That didn’t work for Nadine, and she suggested instead having a bear come up to a window and steal the honey, which I loved.

I love it when a cartoon develops that way, through collaborative back and forth.


I asked Nadine if she had any thoughts she’d like me to include here. She wryly admitted that part of the reason she suggested this cartoon is that she wanted to draw a bear. :-p But she also wrote:

I chose the bear too and I saw how badly people react to this question. And how those people react is proof of why I chose the bear.

If you are attacked by a bear (surviving or not) people will believe you, if you are attacked by a man, people will question you.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has five panels, arranged as a four-panel strip, and then an “extra” panel below the bottom of the strip.

PANEL 1

We’re in the break room in an office building. There’s a poster on the wall, a counter, a coffee maker. There are two people who both look to be in their 20s or early 30s, both wearing office-appropriate clothing. There’s a woman with pink hair, wearing a white blouse and a dark gray suit, and a man wearing a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a dark gray tie. Both are holding coffee mugs.

There’s a bottle of honey on the windowsill.

The man is asking a question, just making small talk; the woman is looking a little surprised by his question.

MAN: So if you were alone in a forest, would you rather run into a strange man… or a bear?

PANEL 2

The woman, looking a little pensive, speaks. The man replies to her with an angry expression and body language.

In the window behind them, unnoticed by either of them, a large brown bear is stealing the jar of honey, and watching the humans with a slightly surprised expression.

WOMAN: Oh, hmm… I think, the bear.

MAN: How can you SAY that?

PANEL 3

The man is now full on yelling, waving his coffee mug. The woman winces back, holding her hands protectively over her chest. In the window, the bear looks frightened, and ducks away.

MAN: You’re demonizing men! It’s MISANDRY!!

PANEL 4

The women walks away, her back to the man, an irritated expression on her face. The man doesn’t seem to catch that she’s being sarcastic; he’s smiling and calm, happy to have (in his mind) won the argument. The bear, and the honey pot, are both gone.

WOMAN: Good point. Why would I ever fear men’s reactions?

MAN: Exactly!

MAN: …where did the honey go?

EXTRA PANEL BELOW THE BOTTOM OF THE STRIP

The bear and the woman are talking. The woman holds out her coffee mug for the bear to put some honey in.

WOMAN: At least if you maul me, people won’t say I made it up or I’m misinterpreting.

BEAR: I hear you.

CHICKEN FAT WATCH

“Chicken fat” is a long-dead cartoonists term for unimportant but hopefully amusing details.

PANEL 1: A workplace-motivation style poster on the wall shows a cartoon raccoon wearing a striped shirt like a cartoon criminal. It’s holding a coffee mug in one hand, giving us a thumbs up with the other, and winking. The caption on the poster says “Long coffee breaks rob the company.”

The man’s coffee mug has “Nice Guy” printed on it.

PANEL 2: The motivational poster has changed It now shows The White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland glaring at us and pointing to his oversized pocket watch. A large caption at the top says “WORK!” and a subcaption at the bottom says “don’t waste time reading posters.”

PANEL 3: In the first two panels, the man was holding a spoon in one hand (to stir his coffee). In this panel, we can see that in his anger he bends the spoon in his hand.

This entry posted in Cartooning & comics, Feminism, sexism, etc. Bookmark the permalink. 

63 Responses to Cartoon: Who Would You Rather Meet In The Forest?

  1. 1
    bcb says:

    I’m glad you drew this.

  2. 2
    Dianne says:

    I wonder if men would be insulted if I picked the bear because while I can see men anywhere, I rarely see bears in Manhattan. (Or at the very least, I rarely see Ursus species.) So a bear would be a much more interesting sighting and the average bear would be less likely to attack than the average human.

    Also re your chicken fat: The argument I keep hearing for returning to the office is that it’s easier in the office to have informal interactions and that informal interactions are important to the success of the business. Coffee breaks are a source of informal interaction. So, long coffee breaks are work. I’ve proposed mandatory coffee breaks to various managers, but for some reason no one’s taken me up on it. Almost as though they don’t believe their own propaganda.

  3. 3
    Ampersand says:

    BCB: Thanks! But just to clarify, I didn’t draw this – this is a collaboration with Nadine Scholtes. I wrote (with considerable input from Nadine), and Nadine drew.

  4. 4
    Ampersand says:

    Dianne: For the greatest possible productivity, employees could be mandated to spend at least 50 minutes of each work hour on coffee break.

  5. 5
    Dianne says:

    What responses you would get if you asked men whether they would rather meet a bear or a strange man in the woods? All things considered, I think men should also pick the bear. But I’m not a man so my opinion is not the point in this case.

  6. 6
    Jacqueline Squid Onassis says:

    Men will not choose the bear because their fears are different than women’s as is the likelihood of them being blamed for being a victim.

    I’ve been having an infuriating month discussing this with a fb friend who’s a truly decent guy but can’t get over his anger (and through whose anger I haven’t figured out an effective way to communicate) over the meme.

  7. 7
    Kate says:

    I’ve been having an infuriating month discussing this with a fb friend who’s a truly decent guy but can’t get over his anger (and through whose anger I haven’t figured out an effective way to communicate) over the meme.

    In the past, I’ve found an old post from Yes Means Yes called Meet the Predators, and the various studies it links, helpful in these cases. Howvever, that research is starting to age, so it would be good to find something more recent.

  8. 8
    Elusis says:

    JSO – ask your friend who he’s really mad at, women or other men.

    Rebecca Solnit posted on FB today a meme about the results when you search for “men’s safety” vs “women’s safety” – the men’s search gets you hard hats, goggles, steel-toed boots, and reflective vests, while the women’s search gets you pepper spray, “rape whistles,” those keychains you can supposedly put between your knuckles as a weapon, etc. Pretty telling.

  9. 9
    Jacqueline Squid Onassis says:

    He’s mad at the misandry of calling all men rapists. I think he’s missing the point of the meme entirely but he’s feeling really hurt by his interpretation and I haven’t been able to get through that wall.

  10. 10
    Elusis says:

    He’s badly missing the point, because absolutely no one is doing that. He’s basically hitting himself in the face and then complaining because his nose hurts.

  11. 11
    Jacqueline Squid Onassis says:

    Yes, he is. But he’s so invested in his initial reaction that he can’t see that’s the case.

    I still have a lot of respect for the dude. He went from being a total believer in anti-trans propaganda to a true ally over the course of a few years. He may be able to get past this, too. I sure hope he will. In any case, he’s an example of a good person who’s totally misinterpreted the meme. It can happen – I’m sure I’ve done it myself.

  12. 12
    Elusis says:

    I wonder what he would think of this essay. The crux is when she talks about needing to get away from a man who wants to be closer to her without escalating him. “Sometimes, it’s not that I’m afraid of men; I’m just really, really tired.”

  13. 13
    Dianne says:

    Off topic…Password? Did I miss something?

  14. 14
    Daran says:

    OK, I’ll nail my colours to the mast. I think this is misandrist, not so much the raw reactions of the women who say this, but the way both you and Emily Van de Riet treat the issue.

    First, take the claim that the majority of women choose the bear, and that on a particular viral thread, 7 our of 8 women choose the bear. A statistically unsophisticated reader will take that as supporting the “majority of women” claim, indeed as suggesting that 7 out of 8 women feel this way. The problem is, commenters on a viral thread are not a random sample. I am reminded of various viral social media threads just after the US Presidential election in which the vast majority of commenters said they voted for Trump. These threads were taken by MAGA types as proof that the election was stolen. You might have seen similar threads. If you did, then I have no doubt whatsoever that you would have spotted the fallacy instantly, and if you felt impelled to comment at all, it would have been to point this out. Amiright?

    Yet you didn’t see the fallacy here, or if you did, you didn’t point it out. Why not?

    VdR goes on to compare the number of killings by Black Bears to a rape statistic from RAINN. This comparison will likely be interpreted by statistically unsophisticated readers as implying that women’s allegedly greater fear of unknown men than bears is justified. Indeed, I can’t think of any other purpose in making it. There are two problems with this. (Actually there are more than two, but I’ll stop at two.) First, the RAINN statistic pertains to all male-perpetrated rapes against women, not just those by unknown men. The large majority of rapes of women are perpetrated by men they know. The bear statistic doesn’t even pertain to all bear attacks. Second, and more serious, the RAINN figure is a lifetime prevalence, the bear figure is a yearly count, and neither gives the per encounter risk. Most women encounter men on a daily basis, and bears rarely if ever.

    If I produced statistics showing that more people died choking on pretzels than from swallowing cyanide pills, would you conclude that pretzels are more dangerous? Of course you wouldn’t.

    If abuse of statistics won’t sway the reader, perhaps an appeal to raw emotion will. Imagine if it was your daughter! I can. I can also imagine if it was my son, who is statistically far more likely than my daughter to be violently attacked by an unknown man, but whose safety (and state of fearfulness) is valued less by feminists and gender traditionalists alike. That is misandry.

    My priors are 1. it would be much more dangerous for a women (or a man) to encounter a random bear in the woods than a random man, and 2 generally speaking, women are somewhat fearful of unknown men, but not overly so. The data provided by that article are low quality and so obviously cherry-picked, that my priors are not altered.

    Finally labelling critics of this discourse as “loudly angry” – and for that matter, as “men” – is Bulverism. Much of the pushback I have seen in social media has come from women.

  15. 15
    Ampersand says:

    Dianne: People who support my Patreon see cartoons several days before I release them in public. For this cartoon, which is taller than most, I was worried that the way Patreon presents images would make the cartoon impossible to read for people looking at it on smaller screens. So I made a password-protected “Alas” post to make the image available in other ways. I’m not at all sure it was necessary.

    Anyway, in several days I’ll post the cartoon in public, so you won’t miss anything. :-)

  16. 16
    Ampersand says:

    Hey, Daran. Hope you’ve been well.

    Without really giving it much thought, I felt that “the majority,” in this context, was obviously an informal assessment of responses the author saw on TikTok and other sites, not a claim to a scientific survey of a representative sample of all women. It honestly didn’t occur to me that anyone would think, in this context, that it was a reference to a legitimate survey with a representative sample. Certainly, I don’t think any Alas readers would take it that way. (Except for you, perhaps.)

  17. 17
    dragon_snap says:

    the question isn’t “who do you think would be most likely to kill you if you encountered them in the woods,” though. it’s just, “who would you rather encounter in the woods.” and if I encounter a bear in the woods, I know why it’s in the woods, it lives there, and I know what it wants from me too, namely, to be far away from it (almost always). if I encounter a man in the woods, I have no idea why he’s there, and what he might want from me, and there’s no reliable way to find that out. and both the man and bear are likely able to physically overpower me, so if it comes to that in either case I’m probably hecked.

    like, in a city street, 10 times out of 10 I would rather encounter a man. but in the *woods*, very far away from all other people — I would be less enthused.

  18. 18
    Dianne says:

    The vast majority of the time, if you meet a bear in the woods, the bear will go the other way. There are exceptions–if the bear is starving, if it is rabid, if you’re between it and its cubs, if it thinks that you’re a threat–then, yes, the bear may attack. A man, who knows? In fact, a person, who knows?

    I’ve run into a bear, BTW. It peacefully ate the food that I had insufficiently bear bagged and moved on. Maybe it was all a misunderstanding and the bear thought I had given it a pinata.

  19. 19
    Daran says:

    Hey, Daran. Hope you’ve been well.

    Had a heart attack a year and a half ago, but I seem to have fully recovered. I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life.

  20. 20
    Ampersand says:

    I’m sorry to hear that. (But glad you’ve had a full recovery!)

  21. 21
    Petar says:

    I think the meme, and pretty much anyone defending it is misandrist.

    Not necessarily because the risk analysis is wrong. My gut feeling is that a woman is in more danger encountering a random bear in the woods than encountering a random man, but I am not a woman, so I do not have a solid understanding of the odds. But as an engineer, it will not be the first time I’ve been asked to eyeball a situation and act immediately despite having at best incomplete data.

    So. You encounter a random bear in the US. 300,000 of US bears are black bears. 30,000 are brown bears. 5,000 are white bears.

    Thus, in about 1-2% of the cases, there it is almost a certainty that you will be attacked and killed. No ifs, no buts – any place where you are likely to see a white bear in the wild, it will attack you, and chances are you will not be able to find a safe place where it cannot get you. They cannot feed themselves in a forest environment, but they spend time in them, so they should be in the picture.

    In another 8-9% percent of the cases, you will be facing a brown bear. Yes, those include grizzlies. The chance you will die is much lower. I have heard anything from 10% to 25% chance it will attack. The chance to survive the attack? Close enough to zero that it is not worth messing about.

    Now, lets assume that you got the good odds. 90% of the time it will be a black bear. Unless you do something really stupid, the chances that it will attack you are negligible. If you actually encounter it, as in, if it does not run away before you notice it? Then you may be in trouble. But as I do not want to abuse the definition of “encounter” I will just run with the “too low to care” probability.

    So, to make things simple, I will round the hell out of everything, always on the side of “bears are safe”, and will end up with 2-3% chance you will die if you encounter a random bear.

    Now, what percentage of men are killers? No matter how you massage numbers, you cannot get at 1%. Even if you were to include justifiable homicides, and suicides, and posited that only men kill, and exactly once, you still could not get to 1%. Now, I have killed twice in the line of duty, so I am, technically a killer. The idea that I would want to kill women who’ve had the horrible luck to encounter me in the woods? To me, it is ridiculous.

    So, basic math tells you that the random bear is more likely to kill you than the random man, by at least a factor of magnitude. Sure, a man is more likely to kill you than a bear, but most women encounter a lot more men than bears. Be assured that a woman who encounters more bears than men, and that number is not trivially small, has a poor life expectancy.

    Now, we come to “a fate worse than death”. Taking the highest estimate of sexual offenders among men, which is the ridiculous to me 15%, and assuming that all of them a (1) violent (2) ready to re-offend (3) willing to risk consequences for attacking any women they meet in the woods (4) willing to kill their victim to conceal the crime… we have finally arrived at an estimate in which we can say that it is rational to be more afraid of the random man. As far as I am concerned the assumptions above are ridiculous, but, I am not a woman, so I may just be lacking information.

    So, lets agree that arguably, the meme is rational, i.e that women MAY have more to fear from a random man than from a random bear.

    Now, how would you feel about a group of people who propagates a meme that goes: “If I am walking in a low income neighborhood at 2am, I would much rather encounter a pack of feral dogs than two Black guys in their twenties”?

    Would you accept “The math works out!” as a defense by someone who gleefully dangles the meme in the face of his college educated, Volvo driving, bedroom community enjoying, 40 years old Black neighbor?

    Would you feel more accepting of defenses like “Oh, this is to educate them”, “Oh, this is to get them to face our reality”, “Oh, this is to get them to work to change their communities.”

    As a man who has never raped and has killed at least one rapist (a pimp, technically) as he was trying to become a murderer, I find the meme in bad taste. Not when I see it posted on Imgur, as I see plenty that is worse. But when I meet someone giggling about the meme, especially in a face to face conversation, I want nothing to do with them. And because I am a petty asshole, one of them is going to have to find a contractor and pay market rates for a software project that she was about to get at for-colleagues-of-my-wife’s rates.

  22. 22
    Petar says:

    I’m not going to cry about my previous comment being marked as spam, but I think that you could do better than an automated system that labels you a spammer for fixing a typo.

    This comment, of course, can be safely deleted.

  23. 23
    Dianne says:

    Daran @19: Sorry to hear that! I hope the medications and your own body keep you from further heart attacks.

  24. 24
    Avaaa says:

    ” In fact, a person, who knows?”

    I think meeting a woman or a gender-neutral person in the woods will go very nicely 99% of the time.

  25. 25
    Ampersand says:

    This comment, of course, can be safely deleted.

    I didn’t delete it because I think it’s useful for folks reading this blog to see that if a comment is falsely spam-trapped, the thing to do is to comment or otherwise contact me (as you did), and let me know.

  26. 26
    Steve says:

    Petar, I think you’re challenging the claim that “men are more dangerous than bears when encountered in the wild,” rather than the claim that “women would rather encounter bears in the wild than men.”

    The latter is the meme.

  27. 27
    dragon_snap says:

    I really don’t think women preferring the bear is about physical safety, I think it’s about psychological safety. I can guarantee that the bear isn’t going to get a sick thrill from acting harmless so I trust it and then violating that trust, or from being aggressive from the outset and witnessing how uncomfortable I am with there threats / crude comments / etc. And obviously I don’t think most men would act like that, of course most men would not! But a small number of men would indeed do that, and zero bears would, so. And, like, it’s a fair point that most of the men who have touched me in an unwelcome manner have been friends and partners and relatives, rather than strangers. But I really think this is a #YesAllWomen thing — we’ve all been sexually harassed and/or assaulted by a boy or a man, and very few of us have been harassed or assaulted in any way by a bear. To say #NotAllMen is to miss the point.

  28. 28
    Jacqueline Squid Onassis says:

    I agree with dragon_snap @26 – the point of the meme has indeed been missed. But that miss is the way I most often see the point missed, so Petar is far from alone. My friend has also missed the point in that way.

    Once your argument against women’s answers to the question goes to percentage of bear attacks and the like, you’ve missed the point. As dragon_snap says, it’s psychological safety as much as, if not more than, physical safety. I have been sexually assaulted multiple times but none of those assaults left me with physical damage. The damage is all emotional/psychological from those encounters. The trauma caused by those assaults makes me a lot more cautious around men I don’t know well than I would otherwise have been. No bear is going to do that to me, never mind 4 or 12 bears.

    It’s fair to feel hurt that women you don’t know well will be slow to trust you, cautious around you, maybe even afraid of you. I know I felt that hurt at times. But that doesn’t negate the validity of that fear.

  29. 29
    Petar says:

    Petar, I think you’re challenging the claim that “men are more dangerous than bears when encountered in the wild,” rather than the claim that “women would rather encounter bears in the wild than men.”

    I agree with dragon_snap @26 – the point of the meme has indeed been missed. But that miss is the way I most often see the point missed, so Petar is far from alone

    I guess my comment was so long, the point was missed. I am NOT challenging the risk assessment. I believe it is wrong, but it is at least defensible.

    If you twist the numbers hard enough, you can make them work. If you assume that indeed 15% of men are rapists, and they all will attack any woman they meet alone, and they all believe that they will get away with it, as long as they neutralize the witnesses… then the meme may be rational.

    My point is that even if you believe that it is rational to prefer meeting a bear instead of a man, throwing it in the face of men whom you would not mind meeting is at best impolite. And it can be viewed as much more than impolite.

    This is why I contrasted with what I believe everyone will see as offensive – proclaiming one’s preference for meeting, in a declining neighborhood, a pack of feral dogs rather than two black males after dark.

    Only a total asshole would come to a black man, and compare them to feral dogs. In the same way, I think that some men are worse than bears, and some women are worse than vipers, but I do not go and so to a random person, unless I want to hurt them.

    And yes, I count unprovoked insults and looking for a fight as wanting to hurt people, despite turning 60 next year. I may no longer be a semi-pro kick-boxer, let alone an People’s Army commissioned officer, but i still remember exactly how I felt back in the day.

  30. 30
    Avaaa says:

    “obviously I don’t think most men would act like that, of course most men would not!”

    #notallmen

  31. 31
    Kate says:

    There is no animal that commits more violence against humans than other humans, and the vast majority of that violence is committed by men.

  32. 32
    dragon_snap says:

    @Petar, I think your race relations analogy is exactly backwards. If a Black person said they would rather encounter a feral dog than a white person while walking at night, my feelings as a white person would not be hurt. I’ve read “You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey,” and that response/preference would make total sense to me.

    An additional dimension to this is that women are not actually causing this scenario to happen in real life with their choice. But we may find ‘choosing’ the bear as a good way to illustrate the toll of having to always be on our guard for someone who enjoys causing others to feel powerless.

    [I don’t think that is a trait more common in any particular gender or race BUT the differing levels of social power across gender and race lines lead some people to feel more free to pursue opportunities to make others feel powerless, I believe.]

  33. 33
    Grace Annam says:

    Part of my volunteer work is participating in discussions which involve a panel of trans and gender-expansive people working with medical students, generally first-years or those about to go out and be residents.

    We talk about how and when trans and gender-expansive people will choose to disclose our medical histories. Sometimes, an earnest young proto-doctor will explain to us how important it is to have a complete medical history. I usually remind him that I am a former EMT, and that one of the other regular panelists is an RN. We know how important it is to have a complete medical history. And then I say something like this:

    “If you want to understand why we sometimes don’t disclose our complete medical history, understand that we have had doctors deny us medical care when they learned of that history. Understand that we have received actually incorrect medical care because of how those doctors understood that history. [Here I sometimes give an example.] Understand that even if doctors haven’t done this to us specifically, we all, every single one of us, know someone to whom a doctor has done this. When we step into a medical space, we are making rational risk assessments about what it is safe to disclose in order to access medical care. Our concerns are factual, practical, and based in lived experience. Your colleagues who came before you have already poisoned that well. It’s not your fault that the well is poisoned; they did it, not you. But it’s poisoned. And because of that we will be making risk assessments about what it’s safe to disclose. We will be doing this for the foreseeable future, well into your careers.”

    Hold that thought.

    I’m a retired police officer. I’m also queer. Sometimes I see people post general invitation to queer parties, and sometimes one of the qualifiers is “no cops”.

    I know that what they probably mean is “no on-duty officers” or possibly “no one who is currently serving”. I’ve been assured by younger queer people who go to such parties that they don’t have retired officers like me in mind.

    But I don’t go to the parties.

    A lot of queer people have traumatic life experience with officers. Suppose I go, and someone asks me about myself. Well, “honorably retired officer after decades of service” is an important thing about me, even if I am an atypical example of the type. So if I mention that history, I’m being truthful and above-board … and I’ve just made things potentially very complicated, emotionally and navigationally, for the people I’m talking to. Now they have to make a safety assessment. There may be closeted people at the party; am I going to out them to local law enforcement? What is my stance on the drugs which some people at the party are using?

    Also, now suddenly some of them are processing memories of traumatic experiences they’ve been through, or people they know have been through (and in my experience, even if a queer person hasn’t had a traumatic encounter with a police officer, every single queer person I know knows a queer person who has.

    So, suppose instead that I go with my current activities, and let the “retired officer” thing wait. Well, at some point, sooner or later, at that party or later, it’s going to become relevant to the conversation and I might mention it, or someone who knows me will mention it. Then we have the above range of reactions, but with a side helping of, “Why did she try to hide it? What was she trying to do?”

    All of a sudden, the fun party is less fun for them. Maybe no fun at all.

    So I don’t go.

    If these were my ONLY chance for society with other queer people, it might be different. But I’m not much of a partier, and I have queer friends, and I’m doing fine along those lines.

    So I spare the parties the complexity of my presence.

    Hold that thought, too.

    I have hiked and camped all of my life, all in the lower 48 and mostly in the Sierras, and I’ve seen bears (black and brown, but never a grizzly, and never a polar bear). I’ve also been called, on duty, to talk to people who are upset that a bear is destroying their bird feeder. I’ve seen bears near my house. I’ve never had a bad experience with them.

    I’ve also encountered men and women in the wilderness, and been called on duty to talk to them, and seen them near my house. The vast majority of these interactions, including the ones on duty, have been positive or neutral. In the wilderness, specifically, I can’t currently recall any negative interactions with men or women in the actual wilderness (though I can think of several in adjacent spaces, like a rental cabin area at the base of a trail system, all of which involved men).

    So men, women, and bears in the wilderness have all been fine, in my own personal lived experience.

    But let’s say that I’m setting up my tent somewhere and I hear a twig snap. In the instant before I turn my head to look, what am I hoping to see, from most favorable to least favorable, if my options are a human or a bear?

    It depends. If my criteria involve only danger, then it’s probably:

    a1: Another woman, or a group of women.
    …a short distance…
    a2: A man.
    …a long distance…
    a3: A bear.
    …a short distance…
    a4: A group of men.

    If we expand my criteria to ALSO include coolness factor and the chance to build a good memory, that list might reorder (though maybe not in Alaska):

    b1: Another woman, or a group of women.
    …a short distance…
    b2: A bear.
    …a short distance…
    b3: A man.
    …a long distance…
    b4: A group of men.

    But if we expand my criteria to ALSO include cognitive labor, emotional complexity, the necessity for interaction which involves ongoing risk assessment, the list looks something like this:

    c1: Another woman.
    …a very short distance…
    c2: A group of women.
    …a short distance…
    c3: A bear.
    …a long distance…
    c4: A man.
    …a long distance…
    c5: A group of men.

    Neither men nor bears scare me, particularly; I generally know how to interact (or not) in ways which will likely end with everyone healthy.

    But with women and bears, any significant anxiety is likely to be over easily and quickly, one way or another.

    With a man, or men, on the other hand, there are two key differences:

    1. The chance that a woman or a bear will sexually assault me is vanishingly small. It might as well not exist. With men, we can debate what that chance is, but it is not negligible.

    2. With men, there will be a process of assessment; navigation of the social interaction; loading and running the mental modules to say “no” in a way which is polite, gentle, redirecting, affirming-of-manhood, unthreatening to ego, etc, all of which is planning for the potential violent response to the “no”. There is also the possibility of having to navigate the anger in response to the “no”, including planning for extraction and the extraction itself.

    It’s just exhausting, sometimes. It’s cognitive labor and a whole series of subroutines which I didn’t want to devote calories to. Here’s an example, written by an experienced outdoorswoman who appears to be exceptionally generous and positive in her characterizations:

    https://www.adventurecycling.org/blog/when-men-take-off-their-pants/

    So, I’d never thought about the man/bear question, as such, until it became a meme. But as soon as I saw the meme, I understood the reaction. I don’t see it as a judgement against all men, or most men. I see it, to an important extent, as a choice between on the one hand, a cognitive experience which is straightforward, and on the other hand, a cognitive experience which is laborious and trauma-associated.

    The author I linked to above also wrote an article about this very question. I think that it’s generous and thoughtful and uplifting and worth reading.

    https://bikepacking.com/plog/man-or-bear-debate/

    That piece contains lots of photos of her doing her remote bicycling and of things she encountered while doing them, like a close-up of a seed, like a spiderweb. I count eighteen photos. Of those, fifteen have her face in the frame, technically, though for instance one is a side-view silhouette taking while she was bouldering. In seven she’s looking at the camera. I read the comments. One of them asks, “Why so many selfies?”

    And reading that, I just felt tired.

    Grace

    PS. Petar, as you’re an engineer, you’ve probably heard this joke, but just in case: What’s the definition of a polar bear? It’s a rectangular bear after all coordinate transform.

  34. 34
    Elusis says:

    “Would you rather be stuck in a forest with a man or a bear?” is just another way of asking, “Are you afraid of men?” It’s the same question I’ve been fielding for the entirety of my life as a solo female traveler. It’s the same question that hovers over women all the time as we move through the world. And it’s a question that’s always been difficult for me to answer. I’m not afraid of all men. But I am afraid of some men. The real problem is the gray area in between and what it takes to manage the murkiness of that unknown.

    Some portion of men who would tell women on the Internet “your reasoning is wrong,” would also tell women that face to face.

    Some portion of men who would tell women on the Internet “your boundaries are wrong and I want you to change them” would also tell women that face to face.

    Some portion of men who would tell women on the Internet “I don’t respect your judgment” would also tell women that face to face.

    We don’t know what portion, and we often don’t know which men. Until after they do it.

    She also writes, when she encounters a man who is making her uncomfortable but who doesn’t care, I need to get away from the man. But I need to do it in a way that doesn’t anger him. This is the tricky bit. Men who lack social awareness or empathy often also lack other skills in emotional management. And usually, what men in these situations actually want is closeness. They’re trying to get closer to me, physically or emotionally, in the only way they know how. That combination of poor emotional skillsets and a desire to get closer is exactly what puts me in danger.

    If I deny his attempts at closeness by leaving or setting a boundary, he could feel frustrated, rejected, or ashamed. If he doesn’t know how to recognize or manage those feelings, he’s likely to experience them as anger. And then I’m a solo woman stuck in a forest with an angry man, which is exactly what women are most afraid of.

    There is no situation in which you have to convince a bear to give you a wider berth while also not making it feel frustrated, rejected, or ashamed. Either it veers off, and you’re good, or it doesn’t, and you have a problem.

    With some men, whether they veer off or not, now you have two problems.

  35. 35
    Siednon says:

    I don’t know whether this is more city folks being irrational after watching too much Disney or men having been successfully demonised but I do wonder how the stated Vs revealed preference would work out in this.
    How many women are saying it because other women are saying it and how many will actually casually approach a bear like a guy?

    Or are men going to encounter a lot of women playing dead in the future?

  36. 36
    dragon_snap says:

    thank you, Grace and Elusis, for your excellent analysis

    Siednon, I think the point many people choosing ‘bear’ are making is that upon encountering either a bear or a man in the woods, they would a) neither approach the bear nor the man, and b) not feel the slightest bit casual about the situation. The preference of bear over man is a reflection of the likelihood of the bear leaving you alone and not pursuing any interaction, vs the man doing so

  37. 37
    Siednon says:

    a) neither approach the bear nor the man, and b) not feel the slightest bit casual about the situation.

    That would be city folks whom encounter a ton of men daily but get upset if they encounter just one in the woods.

    The preference of bear over man is a reflection of the likelihood of the bear leaving you alone and not pursuing any interaction, vs the man doing so

    If a bear doesn’t want to interact with you then chances are that you won’t encounter it and the people preferring the bear won’t be noticing the tracks that it left behind.
    They prefer a bear which does want to interact them.
    And serial killers don’t usually hide in the woods in a bush patiently for months waiting for some oblivious person to walk by. No they do things like convincing you to let them test the boat you have for sale and then tie you to the anchor on the high seas.

  38. 38
    dragon_snap says:

    I’m not worried about being murdered by a serial killer! obviously the likelihood of that is very low, especially as a housed white woman. I just don’t want to have to talk to a stranger who might actively enjoy making people uncomfortable (in conversation, by flashing, etc)

    the bear is more physically dangerous, but I would still rather encounter it anyway, because it’s much less emotionally dangerous

    and a bear is never going to try to convince me that I want the wrong thing, when in fact, a subjective preference cannot be ~incorrect~

  39. 39
    Dianne says:

    I don’t know whether this is more city folks being irrational after watching too much Disney or men having been successfully demonised

    Why would a woman ever fear a man’s reactions?

    Yep, you made the point of the cartoon perfectly.

    What I haven’t yet seen from anyone presenting as male here is “Whoa! Women would rather meet a BEAR in the woods than me? Maybe I should think through my interactions with women and see if and where I am part of the problem.” Almost as though they don’t think that they could possibly be anything other than perfect and that their actions are inevitably correct and only an “irrational” person would consider them less than perfectly trustworthy.

  40. 40
    Siednon says:

    the bear is more physically dangerous, but I would still rather encounter it anyway, because it’s much less emotionally dangerous

    This is not logical.

    Why would a woman ever fear a man’s reactions?

    Yep, you made the point of the cartoon perfectly.

    What I haven’t yet seen from anyone presenting as male here is “Whoa! Women would rather meet a BEAR in the woods than me? Maybe I should think through my interactions with women and see if and where I am part of the problem.” Almost as though they don’t think that they could possibly be anything other than perfect and that their actions are inevitably correct and only an “irrational” person would consider them less than perfectly trustworthy.

    How many random men did you encounter yesterday?

  41. 41
    Chris says:

    Siednon:

    That would be city folks whom encounter a ton of men daily but get upset if they encounter just one in the woods.

    As a man, the difference in risk between encountering men in public in the city vs. alone in the woods seems quite obvious and logical to me.

    Would you like me to explain it to you anyway?

  42. 42
    Ampersand says:

    To second what Chris said, Siednon, I was also bewildered by that argument of yours. I’m a man, but – all else held equal – I’d certainly feel safer passing hundreds of people, about half of whom are men, as I walk around the city, then I would encountering an unknown man while I’m completely isolated from everything.

    Do you really find that hard to understand?

  43. 43
    dragon_snap says:

    Siednon — preferences are not always “logical”. I didn’t say “this is clearly the only logical choice.” I said, this is what I would want. A person can’t want things wrong!

    Again, a bear would not tell me that I am somehow messing up having preferences, when having preferences is fully my prerogative as a person.

    It is exhausting having people [men] constantly question the things you want and the decisions you make.

  44. 44
    Jacqueline Squid Onassis says:

    It is exhausting having people [men] constantly question the things you want and the decisions you make.

    And this is exactly why we should be disenfranchised. We do it wrong and so we need to let men tell us how to think, how to live, and how to serve. Duh! If you’re against these things, well… misandry!
    /sarcasm

  45. 45
    Siednon says:

    Siednon — preferences are not always “logical”. I didn’t say “this is clearly the only logical choice.” I said, this is what I would want. A person can’t want things wrong!

    Again, a bear would not tell me that I am somehow messing up having preferences, when having preferences is fully my prerogative as a person.

    It is exhausting having people [men] constantly question the things you want and the decisions you make.

    Stated Vs revealed preference is a thing like one may think that they dislike a certain food based on looks before they actually try it.
    You prefer the bear in abstract but a future you would likely have the opposite preference while bleeding out in practice.

    And a preference can be just plain stupid.

    As a man, the difference in risk between encountering men in public in the city vs. alone in the woods seems quite obvious and logical to me.

    Would you like me to explain it to you anyway?

    Taking into account all the crimes that mostly happen in cities like there aren’t many pickpockets or gang members in the woods? Sure go ahead.

  46. 46
    Dianne says:

    You prefer the bear in abstract but a future you would likely have the opposite preference while bleeding out in practice.

    May I point out that I have encountered a bear in the woods? Obviously, I am not bleeding out and while I agree that the bear is currently abstract, it was quite real at the time and place I encountered it. The implicit claim that any bear will maul any human who encounters it is clearly counterfactual.

  47. 47
    Siednon says:

    May I point out that I have encountered a bear in the woods?

    Yes a bear. Now how many guys did you encounter yesterday?

  48. 48
    Dianne says:

    Now how many guys did you encounter yesterday?

    Alone in the woods? That would be zero. Despite being in the woods and alone part of the time and in a relatively populated woods.

    So I guess you’re now acknowledging that meeting a bear doesn’t mean instant death. Either that or you think I’m writing from the afterlife.

  49. 49
    Siednon says:

    Alone in the woods?

    At all.

    So I guess you’re now acknowledging that meeting a bear doesn’t mean instant death.

    Of course not. In some cases the victim has even been alive while being eaten up.

  50. 50
    Dianne says:

    At all.

    Not even slightly relevant. The question was who would you rather meet alone in the woods. If you look at it logically, the modifiers are extremely important. If someone said that they would be afraid of a car if it was coming towards them down a narrow street on a ridge line with steep drop offs, would you then accuse them of car-phobia? Hopefully not, but since it’s what you’re doing here, maybe you would.

    Of course not. In some cases the victim has even been alive while being eaten up.

    Oh, dear, I just noticed that my leg was missing and that there was a bear chewing on my hip. Tsk, you’re right–not instant death! Again, logically, you can’t possibly not have realized that the point I was making was that I was NOT mauled, eaten, or even threatened by the bear. As many people who meet bears are not. But then again, men are emotional creatures, given to inability to think clearly when they are presented with facts that they don’t like.

  51. 51
    Siednon says:

    Not even slightly relevant. The question was who would you rather meet alone in the woods. If you look at it logically, the modifiers are extremely important. If someone said that they would be afraid of a car if it was coming towards them down a narrow street on a ridge line with steep drop offs, would you then accuse them of car-phobia? Hopefully not, but since it’s what you’re doing here, maybe you would.

    Wrong. With all the crimes which happen mostly and/or just in cities a random man you encounter in the street is not less dangerous than the one you encounter in the woods by default.

    Oh, dear, I just noticed that my leg was missing and that there was a bear chewing on my hip. Tsk, you’re right–not instant death! Again, logically, you can’t possibly not have realized that the point I was making was that I was NOT mauled, eaten, or even threatened by the bear.

    Do you know what the minimum number of cases for a statistical generalisation is?
    Its ten.

    So answer the question. How many men did you roughly encounter yesterday?

  52. 52
    Siednon says:

    Not even slightly relevant.

    Wrong. With all the crimes which happen mostly and/or just in cities a random man you encounter in the street is not less dangerous than the one you encounter in the woods by default.

    Again, logically, you can’t possibly not have realized that the point I was making was that I was NOT mauled, eaten, or even threatened by the bear.

    Do you know what the minimum number of cases for a statistical generalisation is?
    Its ten.

    So answer the question. How many men did you roughly encounter yesterday?

  53. 53
    Dianne says:

    Do you know what the minimum number of cases for a statistical generalisation is?
    Its ten.

    Really? With what pretest probability? What level of alpha control? I’m going to have to see the statistical analysis plan you are using to back that number up. Or at least give some indication of what you even mean by a “statistical generalization”.

  54. 54
    Jacqueline Squid Onassis says:

    Wrong!

    Hahahahaha! That reminds me if nothing so much as Len Celka’s “Moron Movies”.

  55. 55
    Siednon says:

    Or at least give some indication of what you even mean by a “statistical generalization”.

    Are you pretending to be stupid or for real? Point is that you wouldn’t survive IRL encountering bears with the same frequency as humans unless you were constantly visiting the zoo.
    The people who claim or imply that the bear is safer are comparing the rare positive of the other to the rare negative of the other.
    Its like saying that sharks are safer than dogs.

  56. 56
    Ampersand says:

    Are you pretending to be stupid or for real?

    I promise you, people here are thinking exactly this about you – I’ve certainly wondered if you’re a troll.

    But in general, the policy on this blog is avoid voicing such thoughts. If you’d like to stick around, try to be more polite. (And yes, this is a moderation warning.)

  57. 57
    Harlequin says:

    Siednon, if I am reading your comments correctly, you also seem to be operating under the implicit assumption that the people saying they’d prefer a bear to a man in the woods would not be afraid of random men on a city street. I think that assumption is also false.

  58. 58
    Dianne says:

    I feel like I let myself get drawn off the point of the cartoon. The point is not whether a man or a bear is safer to meet in the woods. The point is that a lot of women who answered the question said that they would prefer to meet a BEAR (big, carnivore, may eat you alive especially in the early spring) rather than a man if they were alone in the woods. Why are so many men eager to explain that the bear is the wrong choice rather than to reflect on their own assumptions and behaviors (as individuals or as members of a privileged group) or even ask why the bear might be preferred by some women in a non-rhetorical, actually interested in the answer sort of way?

  59. 59
    Chris says:

    Siednon:

    Taking into account all the crimes that mostly happen in cities like there aren’t many pickpockets or gang members in the woods? Sure go ahead.

    The assumed risk in both the man and bear scenarios is about a violent attack, as you know, not “pickpocketing.”

    And if I’m violently attacked (or about the be) in the city, I can call for help. I can scream and someone is likely to hear me. I can run into an open building. There are others around who are likely to help me, and their very presence makes it *unlikely* for a random man to assault me. That’s why “in the woods” is a relevant qualifier here, and why “How many men did you encounter yesterday?” is irrelevant to the question of whether one would rather encounter a random man or a random bear in the woods.

    I can’t believe I just had to explain that to you.

  60. 60
    bcb says:

    Taking into account all the crimes that mostly happen in cities like there aren’t many pickpockets or gang members in the woods? Sure go ahead.

    Well seeing as, by your own admission, you’ve met fewer than 10 men alone in the woods, you can’t make a statistical generalization about them being less dangerous than men in the city.

    (Also, you just made a base-rate error.)

  61. 61
    Ampersand says:

    Coincidentally, I just met a dangerous-seeming man in the city, about an hour ago. I walked up to the bus stop near the Fred Meyer, and there was a guy sitting there already: Long thick beard, intense eyes, filthy clothes, a couple of ordinary bags and a large trash bag. He was playing around with a needle with an orange cap.

    He started talking to me, and I answered politely where I could, but I didn’t understand half his words. Then he grew angry at me, started swearing at me, yelled “faggot!” at me loudly several times, bit the orange cap off the needle and spat it at my feet, etc.. I checked the bus schedule – my bus was coming in three minutes, so I wouldn’t catch it if I moved to another stop.

    So I stayed as he ranted on about how much faggots like me suck, and role-played that he didn’t exist. I also passed the time thinking of devastating things I might say to him once the bus pulled up and I had a quick escape. The bus pulled up, I continued pretending the man didn’t exist (in the end, insulting him wouldn’t help anything, and also I’m pretty sure he’s not having a fun life).

    This was SE Hawthorne, a middling busy street with both pedestrians and cars. If he had physically attacked me, I could have screamed for help. I could have screamed “call the police!” And both he and I knew that, which I suspect was a deterrent.

    My feelings during the whole encounter? Annoyed, and very mildly thinking about what I could do if he attacked me.

    If I encountered that same guy in the forest, with no other humans around, it would have been terrifying.

    And I’m a fairly large man. He could probably have beat me up – I’m a wimp – but he couldn’t have pushed me over. The fear of being sexually assaulted never crossed my mind. There are many people who’d have more to fear from him than me, and who might have felt they had to keep safe by giving up on catching their bus.

  62. 62
    Jacqueline Squid Onassis says:

    Yeah, but what if instead of being a moderately hostile man he’d been a bear? What then? I bet you’d find out how lucky you were to have met a man and not a bear at that bus stop!

    (Did I do it right?)

  63. 63
    Dianne says:

    Since this cartoon was posted, I’ve seen at least two news stories about women who were killed by men they encountered in the woods. And one story of a bear that got into a remote snack bar, ate a few things, and startled an employee.

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