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Bears vs Strange Men: Which Would *You* Rather Meet In The Woods?

A viral TikTok meme demonstrates how skewed female beliefs about strange men have become. What's really worse? Rape or getting eaten alive?

A friend pointed me toward a viral TikTok meme in which someone asked seven women which they’d rather encounter in the woods: A bear or a strange man. “Six out of seven picked the bear,” she said.

I pondered the question myself.

“What kind of a bear?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Just a bear.”

“Well, I think it depends on the bear,” I replied. “If it’s a brown or black one, I’ll take the bear, I guess. But if it’s a grizzly or a polar bear, I’ll take the man. Even if he’s a Hell’s Angel!”

On further pondering I found even more personal nuance.

If I’m in Canada I’ll take the strange man over even a black or brown bear, but if the man is a Hell’s Angel I’ll take the bear. If I’m in the United States, where strange men number over 150 million, I’ll take these relatively non-aggressive bears. Grizzlies or polar bears, though? I’ll take the man, every single time. Even if he’s wearing a hockey mask, with a tuft of brown hair flapping over the top, and carrying a bloody head.

I don’t know if the TikToker spoke to any Canadian women, and whether they were more afraid of Canadian men than bears. I’m definitely more afraid of bears. When I took car trips with a photographer friend to Algonquin Park, north of Toronto, while he gassed up I’d flip through a book he had in the inside door pocket about how to avoid bear attacks.

Algonquin Park is likely the only place I might ever encounter a bear, nice black or brown ones, and believe me, I’m no bleeding-heart woke guilt-ridden white liberal reverse bear racist. It’s because blacks and browns are relatively non-aggressive. They don’t like noise, so if you encounter one and yell a lot or bang pots together, they’ll go away. Black and brown bears don’t want any shit. Just don’t run away; then you’re prey.

Grizzlies, on the other hand? You don’t want to mess with them! We don’t have them in eastern Canada. They’re found primarily in the western and far northern parts. Grizzlies are aggressive, powerful and up to 10 feet tall standing on their hind legs. They prefer a solitary life including other animals, and they do not appreciate surprise visits by humans, however accidental. And therein lies the essential element of why I will always pick the strange man over the bear. Unless I’m in 1976’s Eaten Alive!, the man isn’t going to eat me alive.

On the other hand, a bear isn’t going to rape me, nor are they heavily armed. Which is why I’d choose the black or brown bear in the U.S., but the man over the grizzly. Call me crazy, but rape is survivable, and getting shot to death is an easier, quicker death than screaming off this mortal coil as someone’s lunch. In Canada, if it’s a polar bear, and I make it a point never to go anywhere near the North Pole, I’ll take the man, including the Hell’s Angel or Michael Myers (the serial killer, not the comedian, although I’d choose the comedian over any bear every single time, and then invite him to my campsite for a beer or three, eh, to thank him for not being a polar bear!)

For me, it’s nuanced.

For other women, not so much. The original TikTok inspired copycats, with women all over the world weighing in and sounding more afraid of their own species than the one that has yet to put one of their own kind on the moon. One woman was triggered by a man asking the question, saying with a bear you know what you’re getting. “But not all men are like that,” he points out which upsets her a little. Um, and you know what you’re getting with a generic bear, sister? I do. I vote her More Likely To Get Eaten By A Bear Than Raped.

I suppose a woman who’s had a few, or a lot, of bad experiences with Those Kind Of Men will be warier of men than bears. I, on the other hand, have had no truly bad experiences with men, and zero bad experiences with wild bears. That’s because I’ve never encountered one. In Ontario, I know what to do if I don’t have bear spray or pots and pans: Stand still, head down a bit like you would with a strange, threatening dog (“I’m no danger to you, I’m submissive!”), and then sloooooowwwwwwlllly walk backwards. I know if a bear stands on his hind legs but isn’t growling or otherwise acting threatening, he’s just curious, and walking backward slowly will likely result in no blood shed. What would I do if I was really in that situation? I’d like to think I wouldn’t panic and do something stupid, but you never know until you’re eyeballing a bear who’s eyeballing you back with no cage between you. At least I know our Ontario bears aren’t out to kill me, if I loudly signal, “I DON’T WANT ANY SHIT FROM YOU AND IF YOU GET THE EFF AWAY FROM ME I’LL STOP BANGING THESE POTS!”

So what would I do if I encountered a strange man? Freak out, scream, threaten to call 911 if he doesn’t immediately exit my time zone, threaten to #MeToo him on X?

I’d do what I’d do if a strange bear were to encounter me: Scan him for signs of danger. Does he look like a big threatening sort? Does he look like he lives here in the woods and smells like he hasn’t bathed since the 1960s? Or is he carrying a camera, a rifle, a bow and arrow, or holding out a birdseed-laden hand to feed the Canada grey jays?

I honestly think I’d be more concerned if I was in the U.S., where men are better-armed and—crazier. But all things considered, I don’t regard strange men nearly as threatening as wild animals, and I wonder about women who do.

Obviously, they’ve never been toe to paw with a live, wild bear.


Here’s why I mostly fear bears rather than men: I can reason with a man. I can try and make friends with a man. Even if he’s a scary, dangerous man, I learned a lesson a long, long time ago: People have a harder time killing someone they know and like.

When I was a teenager, hijacking planes for political purposes was a very common threat for traveling Americans. Sometimes it was terrorists, or prisoners on the lam, who wanted the plane to divert to Cuba for asylum.

I remember reading about a Middle Eastern terrorist who’d taken control of a plane and, I forget the details as it was over forty years ago, but I think he was on the tarmac and had released everyone except one guy he used for negotiation. If the negotiations failed, he would kill the guy.

The hostage began talking to the terrorist during the long stretches of nothing happening. The hostage got him talking about things like his family and his home and what he wanted in life. And the hostage talked about the same: His own family, how much he loved them, what he did for a living, what he liked to do for fun. They shared stories. They had laughs together.

The terrorist released the hostage and, as I recall, capitulated to the authorities.

He didn’t want to kill someone he’d come to know as a fellow human being much like himself and who had become likeable: Not just some stranger whose life meant nothing to him and whatever noble cause he thought he was fighting.

If it’s possible to negotiate your relationship with a terrorist, you can do it with others too.

There’s no guarantee it will work. But it’s worth a try. It’s harder to hurt or kill people we’ve come to like. How are you going to make friends with a bear?

Also, some encounters with scary-seeming men aren’t so scary if you don’t act scared. (Hmmmm….just like many bears!) Once at a bus stop a large, muscular, scary-looking black man approached to wait too. And he was scary-looking. Mean-looking. Tough. I’d call it ‘the face that sank a thousand ships’.

He started a conversation and I remembered the guy with the terrorist. I went into Canadian mode: I showed no fear, I engaged back and we had a really nice conversation. He offered me some of his sandwich and I declined, having just had lunch. He was such a nice man!

Until we got on the bus and he started a fight with others, which I feared might get physical, but it didn’t and he left me alone.

My first impression was correct, but so was my first response. I showed no fear, and one on one, we had a very nice interaction.

By the way, I don’t remember others provoking this loud, threatening multi-dispute. I was like, What the fuck??? What just happened here??? The man was a grizzly bear, someone who thought others wanted trouble even when they didn’t. Hyper-aggressive and God only knows what he’ll do next.

What if encountered a Hell’s Angel in the woods?

I’d pray to Goddess none of his compatriots were around, and, knowing a little about biker gangs from my reading—one on gangs in Canada, and Hunter S. Thompson’s book about the Hell’s Angels—I’d do what I did with the bus stop grizzly bear: Do my best to show no fear, engage him in conversation, treat him like a normal human being, and do my best not to trigger him.

I don’t know if it would work or not, but an ex-biker I used to know said if you treat bikers like equals they’ll most likely respond better. If a Hell’s Angel and I encountered a grizzly bear in the wilds of British Columbia, I’ll bet we’d band together in an instant for the literal fight of our lives.

The only thing that binds humans together faster than humor is survival.

And geez, ladies. If you’ve never encountered a wild bear, you have no idea what you’re up against. Or not.

Did you like this post? Would you like to see more? I lean left of center, but not so far over my brains fall out. Subscribe to my Substack newsletter Grow Some Labia so you never miss a damn thing!




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