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Are women safer with men or bears? I vote bears – and I’m a bloke

From picking bears over blokes as the safer option, to taking more control of dating apps like Bumble – it’s time men started listening (really listening) to women, writes Femi Oluwole

Wednesday 01 May 2024 18:09 BST
Research tells us that there are just 40 bear attacks on humans worldwide every year, and one fatal black bear attack per year in the US. Yet every year more than 100 women are killed by men in the UK alone
Research tells us that there are just 40 bear attacks on humans worldwide every year, and one fatal black bear attack per year in the US. Yet every year more than 100 women are killed by men in the UK alone (Getty)

There’s been a plethora of online discussion between men and women for the last month, especially on TikTok, centering around women being asked whether they’d rather be left alone in a forest with a bear – or a man. It might not surprise you to hear that in this particular face-off, bears are winning.

American comedian Khadijah Cooper even posted a video of a bear charging to attack a group of hikers, but then turning around when they screamed at it. She then said: “Did y’all see how the bear was like ‘Give me your number’ and the people were like ‘No’, and the bear was like ‘Oh OK, I’m leaving.’ And so men, that’s why.”

Women have given various reasons as to why they’d choose the bear: from the simple fact that there are rules and guidelines for how to ensure a bear leaves you alone, but there aren’t the same rules for men.

Research tells us they’re right: there are just 40 bear attacks on humans worldwide every year, and one fatal black bear attack per year in the US. There’s almost a 1 in 2.1 million chance of being attacked by a bear.

Yet look at the stats for attacks by men: every year more than 100 women are killed by men in the UK alone – on average, a woman is killed by a man every 2.6 days. According to the Femicide Census, 62 per cent of these women will have been killed by a current or former partner.

So why do so many men online seem offended that women would seemingly rather fight a bear than hang out with them? We’ve heard the debates around whether it’s fair to treat “all men” as a threat, based on the actions of a few; and the witless hashtag #notallmen. We’ve heard the inane protestations by misogynistic women-haters like Andrew Tate. But they’re all missing the point.

I think it’s completely fair and justified for women to be concerned around men. And I’m speaking as someone who can hold his own in a fight with another man; yet (because of my own experience of early trauma) I am still on edge if I am around someone bigger than me.

Compare that to the experiences of most women – especially those who have had traumatic experiences with men. We know that 97 per cent have been harassed. One in four women have experienced some form of sexual violence.

Is it really so surprising they’d choose to be alone with a bear, given the risks?

You might be asking: what can men do? How can “good guys” (not just ones that pretend to be) help? Well, I fully believe that it’s our job is to be aware of everything women are fighting against – the fact that they tell each other the names and addresses of first dates, with dark jokes about how their friends will be “able to tell the police where to find my body”; that they can’t even go out jogging without being harassed or cat-called.

And now some men might be cheering at the announcement they will now be able to message first on the Bumble dating app. But is this really a victory for men, or yet another example of women trying to solve the problems created by men?

As a bloke who uses apps like Bumble, personally I’m a little disappointed that women will no longer always “make the first move” – I liked getting that little bit more insight into the person I’m talking to before I opened my mouth. But maybe that’s the point – and it’s a good life lesson. Because the consequences of someone not revealing their true colours soon enough on dating apps are statistically far more serious for women than for men.

The stats alone should be a warning: 57 per cent of women have been harassed on dating apps, compared to 21 per cent of men. Women have quite literally been killed on first dates: like 21-year-old Grace Millane, who was strangled to death in an Auckland hotel room following a Tinder date in 2020; or Sade Robinson, a 19-year-old college student who told friends last month she was “excited” about meeting a 33-year-old man for dinner. Part of her dismembered body was found on a beach a day later.

In 2022, Blanca Arellano, 51, travelled from Mexico to Peru to meet a man she’d been chatting to online. Two weeks later, parts of her body were also recovered on a beach.

We need to know this stuff. It shouldn’t just be optional for men to understand women’s need for safety, given what they experience online and “IRL” – it should be mandatory.

So, what made Bumble change its mind, given that its unique selling point was that women had to make the first move, so they could at least control the initial interaction? After all, the reviews of this key feature, at least anecdotally, have been good: my female friends tell me that, unlike with other apps, this avoids them opening their phone to a tonne of inappropriate messages from men at once, which can put them off dating apps altogether.

But my friends do also say that the inability to spot red flags from the beginning makes them nervous – and I can see why. Initial messages from men can force them to show their problematic true colours straight away – and women can weed out the bad ones.

In that case: maybe Bumble’s new “Opening Moves” feature – where men can begin the conversation by responding to a question the woman has asked on her profile – is a healthy compromise?

Now if you’re a woman reading this, as they say online, keep scrolling. You already know all of this and don’t need a man like me to tell you about it. I’m not here to mansplain your harassment.

But if you’re a man, you better be listening. And sure, you might be annoyed that everything I’ve just said seems to imply that men are awful to women. And that might be because you see yourself as respectful to women, and you’ve never seen anyone you know be disrespectful to women (really?). To you, I am sure I sound like a “pick-me” boy, performatively man-hating for a female audience. Well... hold that thought. Hear me out. Just take a look online.

Us men need to talk to our family and friends and arm ourselves with awareness and understanding. We need to listen carefully to the sexist attitudes to women some of our mates might have – and call them out for it; even if they’re “just a joke”.

We need to remember that, even though our intentions are innocent, women don’t know that. Appreciate that we might make a woman nervous simply by walking innocently down a street at the same time, after dark. Cross the road if it helps someone feel safe.

Most of all, we need to listen and look at the fact that so many men are making society less safe for women. And when women on TikTok tell men they feel safer with bears, believe them.

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