Revised man, bear, woods discussion

This thread (Man, bear, woman,what's the meme I'm missing?) was closed a few days ago and I had questioned this in the “About this message board” category. It was suggested that someone reopen it in GD, however, I’m not really sure that there is a debate here or that it should be open to debate. Additionally, the OP of that thread was extremely open-ended and non-specific.

Most people got the gist of the meme but the discussion degraded into either a statistical analysis of bears vs men in the woods; or a discussion of the initial conditions (eg crowded with backpackers vs one bear or man vs…etc) of the woodland scenario; or a general, widespread and comprehensive thread-shitting exercise.

I believe that this is an extremely important topic to the extent that I’m posting it as a discussion for women and their allies with the following rules:

  • disregard the bear, man, woods meme. It’s an interesting analogy or allegory or something, but completely irrelevant;

  • people (in this case one half of the human population) feel the way they feel. Do not come to this discussion to tell them that they’re wrong;

  • please do not try to drag this off track with variations of whataboutism or “population X has it just as bad”. That may be true but it’s not the purpose of this.

I am a 65 yr old guy who was a naval officer from the '80s into the early 2000s and I happened to see the first class of women brought into Royal Military College, as well as women introduced into warships as warfare officers (we now have had a few (I don’t know how many) female captains of warships now) and I did know a female former artillery officer. Since then I’ve been in a large multinational company during which I’ve had a number of female project managers.

I’ve always felt that, outside of physical strength issues, most women should be just as capable as most men at doing most things, and I can’t believe that that even needs to be said.

Nothwithstanding, my above thoughts on the issue, ISTM that women get a really crappy deal simply because of physical strength limitations or differences (thus “might makes right”), and because most don’t have deep voices and big size (I’m constantly told I have a great FM voice and I’m 6’ 3", so I appear far more competent and wise than I actually am) they may not be taken seriously.

One of my favourite past-times is to just spend an hour or two at a coffee place or bar with a good book and have time by myself, regardless of how crowded the place is. Can most women do that without being pestered?

So I’ll first ask: Women dopers, is this a worthwhile discussion for you or would you (and other dopers) prefer that this be something else?

If so, just how comfortable, safe do you generally feel out there? How “on guard” or on-edge do you feel you have to be most of the time? What do you want us men to know?

I have something else to say but it was supposed to go into Great Debates for specific reasons; see the closing moderator’s statements in that thread and in ATMB. I’d prefer to have it there. Maybe a separate discussion here not referencing that title?

I’m middle aged (ugh) so I don’t get a lot of attention from anybody. I just have lingering anxiety from past experiences of harassment. As I stated in the previous thread I get anxious about leaving the house to go walk around my neighborhood. I usually do it anyway but I feel a little constriction when l encounter someone. Or if a truck drives past me.

I don’t walk alone at the park, either. I’ve thought about it but I have a vivid imagination.

The short answer is I don’t generally feel safe from harassment when I am walking alone to basically anywhere. Being overweight does not help my odds. I think it’s important to note the intersection of weight and gender and how some men become outraged if you don’t fit their beauty standards, because women are supposed to exist for the pleasure of men. And I also suspect some men are attracted to fat women and ashamed of it, so they take out their frustrations on fat women.

This thread doesn’t need to be about that, but it’s a factor in my specific situation. I am afraid of harassment on two fronts.

I think the man, bear, woods meme is worth discussing itself because it’s kind of the state of public discourse on feminism, in a microcosm. It’s lazy and intentionally provocative in a way that probably doesn’t help women much. Yet there are men who don’t have a reactionary viewpoint and accept it as it is without judgment. So it’s not strictly necessary for men to interpret it in bad faith, either. I’m fascinated by the whole thing from a sociological perspective, but this thread doesn’t need to be about that either, if people are done talking about it.

Reported for forum change.

As just moving this discussion to IMHO won’t provide the extra moderator oversite it seems to need, I moved it to GD. It is that or I will close it as it has no significant difference from being in MPSIMS in IMHO. I know the OP isn’t the best fit for current rules of GD, but we’ll host the discussion in GD anyway.

FTR: Two moderators did say re-open the discussion in GD.

Addendum: We will be watching for misogyny, victim blaming and men’s rights nonsense.

I’m not married to what I’ve started here; it’s just that I honestly can’t figure out what the debate should be. If someone wants to move this with a different title/focus I have no problem with that.

Men would overwhelmingly choose to be alone in the woods with a woman instead of a bear because they don’t consider a woman to be a physical threat, especially in comparison to a dangerous animal. It’s not surprising women would see the choice as between two different dangers, one of which they are very familiar with.

Men and women should answer the question differently based on their own point of view.

I don’t think it’s about women getting a crappy deal, it’s about what is seen as a real threat. It’s not simply about being pestered either. It’s about women having to face a real threat of a man that could do much worse than pester her. I had to develop the understanding that woman can’t tell which men are actual threats, it doesn’t matter how many of them are actual threats either because so many of them are. That’s something I had to learn on the way, it’s easy for a man to go through life without having to consider that.

Women do get a crappy deal and don’t want to be pestered either, but actual physical threats are a lot more important to consider.

I was picking up my sister from a train station on a crowded street. She was waiting by the bottom of the stairs, and I was stuck a few cars back, so I beeped my horn a few times, but she didn’t bother turning her head.

When I finally got to where she was, I said, didn’t you hear me? She said “I don’t respond to horns trying to get my attention, it happens all the time and it’s usually some stranger trying to get me to look at him.”

It really opened my eyes to the nonstop hassling and harassment that women face that I don’t have to worry about at all.

To me, the point isn’t that some or many women choose the bear, it’s that they have to even think about it – choose a dangerous wild animal or a member of your own species? Hmm, let me think… It’s indicative of the constant barrage of harassment and constant worry about harassment and physical attacks that men simply don’t experience (well, straight men – I imagine transmen, transvestites, very out gay men also get their share).

I think it being in the woods makes a difference too. We are culturally conditioned through media to think “serial killer” in those circumstances. So it’s really not just a matter of worrying about harassment. Harassment is unpleasant but survivable. The fear for many women is what that harassment leads up to.

First, thanks for starting this thread, because I think it can be useful both for talking about why so many women respond the way they do, and also how different analyses of the question and response succeed or fail to illuminate.
For example:

I think this fails to illuminate :slight_smile: .

I’m about 5’5, and 145 pounds soaking wet. I have long hair that I wear in a braid, and glasses and a soft-enough voice that I’m called “ma’am” more often than I’m called “sir” on the phone. In some ways, I get a crappy deal because of my size and strength. But it’s nothing like what women get. I really don’t think it’s primarily about strength and size differentials: it’s about social attitudes toward women and men.

When I’m out in public, I might get accosted or robbed (although, knock on wood, I’ve never been robbed). But I’m really unlikely to get sexually accosted.

In fact, I’ve been sexually accosted a few times: once as a child, and once as a teenager, and once as an adult. As a teenager, I think I was mistaken for a girl, and as an adult, I think the accoster might have thought I was a gay dude looking for a hookup. The latter two events were deeply uncomfortable, but did not involve touch.

And I’ve faced sexual shaming, but only from folks who thought I was a woman. Once holding hands with my wife, and once making out with a woman, I had people (including women!) shout homophobic stuff at me. (“Jesus hates lesbians” was my favorite, but still, 0 stars would not recommend).

This is specifically about societal gender constructs, not about strength and size.

I do appreciate you bringing up the topic, and I don’t disagree with you in any personal way, but wanted to offer a different thought about what’s going on.

I have walked 5 minutes to the corner store at 11 p.m. and feel safe. That same corner had a guy try and drag a woman across the street at 4 p.m.
I usually do feel safe. Harrassed, yeah, when I’m wearing my VS black leggings I get comments on my butt. Still feel safe though.

Sorry if I miscommunicated but what I meant was that an average woman who may have never been physically threatened doesn’t get off scot-free. My assumption is that there might be a continual background noise of low level stress.

No problem. My point with that is that not only do I benefit from white privilege, but I probably benefit from every privilege out there, so I can basically (within reason) go wherever I want, whenever I want.

It’s important to keep in mind this stuff is very formative. Most of the harassment I have ever experienced happened between the ages of 12 and 15. My Mom and I once had a couple guys following us and asking if we were lesbians because we were huddled together in the rain. She managed to convince them that I was her young daughter but she was pretty freaked out. Close to my house but on a country road I had a man in a truck follow me, slowly, for about half a mile. I didn’t really know what to do. Young girls are not really equipped to handle this stuff by default. So if you experience harassment at that age, I think it kind of carries over into adulthood where you remember that feeling of helplessness. It’s kind of primal is what I mean.

Can I ask a question here? Is asking “what are you reading” pestering someone? People do that to me, but not all the time. It doesn’t bother me, unless i want to be left alone and they turn it into a discussion. But just the question, plus maybe a comment like “any good?” or “I read that and I liked it”, doesnt bother me.

Does it bother women? or other guys?

Yeah, I am an old dude with grey in my short beard- (but not exactly “white”) and I am kinda invisible. If I look like I know what I am doing I can pretty much go anywhere. Do I want to see another film in a multiplex? No one even looks twice my way.

Which is what I wanted to do; because I came across this in the Washington Post

and they’d rephrased it like this:

Pop quiz for the ladies in the audience: Imagine you’re hiking through the wilderness, round a curve and find a bear standing in the path ahead of you. Fortunately, it’s looking the other way, so you hastily prepare to retrace your steps — only to find that a strange man has appeared at the other end of the path.

Assume you don’t want to wander off the trail and into unfamiliar woods. Which do you choose, dear reader? Man or bear?

which seems to me to significantly reframe the issue. The original question didn’t posit being inbetween the two, but coming upon one of them or the other, separately.

And that makes quite a difference; because the thing is:

I have some idea about what to do about coming upon a bear in the woods: and that is, don’t run, but move away from the bear. Running would tell the bear that you think you’re prey. Moving slowly away tells the bear that you’re not a threat. (Presuming, of course, that you’re not moving toward the bear’s cubs.)

And I have some idea about what to do about coming upon a strange man, whether in the woods or, say, late at night on an otherwise empty street. And that is: act confident. Don’t run, or abruptly reverse course even at a walk, unless doing so will get you to safety before he could catch you. (I never was a particularly fast runner, and can hardly run at all now.) If the man’s not a threat, it won’t matter; but if that particular man is a threat, you’ve just told him that you think that you’re prey. Don’t head down an alley towards him, but if you were obviously headed in his direction, keep going. If he’s not a threat, he’s safe to approach. If he is a threat, he’s also a threat if you turn your back on him or if you back away. If you think he’s suspicious, do your best to project ‘if you had any idea who I am and/or what I’m capable of, you wouldn’t dare touch me’. If he’s deciding whether to attack you, he might decide not to. Or he might not, of course. Predatory men don’t all like the same prey; the same thing won’t work on all of them.

So if I come on a bear in the woods ahead of me on the trail – I’m going to move back on the trail away from the bear. And if I come on a man in the woods ahead of me on the trail – I’m going to keep moving towards the man. And if I start to move away from the bear and realize there’s a man behind me – I’m still going to move toward the man (warning him about the bear as I do, in case he hasn’t seen it.) And this has nothing to do with which one I think is more dangerous to me. Probably neither of them intends to hurt me, and I’m not going to be particularly scared of either unless they act threatening; but if they do want to hurt me, the man is more dangerous. (And the man, unlike the bear, may deliberately act nonthreatening even if he is a threat.) But usually the safest thing to do will be to move away from the bear, but to keep moving towards the man.


For me, in my usual daily life, it’s really low level. But that has something to do with how and where I live. And that background awareness isn’t why I chose to live how and where I do; but it would certainly have prevented me from choosing to live in some particular other situations. But I’ve had that choice. Many women and a whole lot of girls don’t.

And there’s a certain amount in life in general, and in some situations and times in my life has been very much a conscious choice, of I am not going to be restricted by this, I am going to live how I choose despite awareness of that risk. I’ve gotten away with it, at least so far. Some of that may be attitude. Some of it was probably specific choices made in specific situations that put my back up; often for reasons I can explain, and occasionally for reasons that I can’t. But some of it, I’m sure, has been just plain luck.

For me: it depends.

It depends on the situation. It depends on the tone of voice. It can depend on something that it may be hard for the asking person to judge, which is how deeply I’m immersed in whatever I’m reading.

But bear in mind that for some women (and maybe also some men) in some situations having their nose in a book or phone or whatever is a defense. They’re trying to indicate that they’re not available for conversation. If she looks up from the book, makes eye contact, and doesn’t either look away instantly or glare – then it’s probably OK. If she’s hunched in on herself defensively, reading or appearing to is part of the defense. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Sure. It’s not just the explicit threats. There’s no way to tell which man would be the one that actualizes the implicit threat. I can size up the threat of another man to a degree. Unless they’re bigger than me or armed it’s not much of a concern. I have never worried about being sexually assaulted by a woman much less concerned that what I wear might be seen as inviting that to happen.

I’m “out there” a lot. I’ll walk home through my smallish-city neighborhood at pretty much any hour of the day or night. I’ll walk through somewhat dodgier local neighborhoods during the day or evening. I take buses or bike anywhere I want. I’ll sit with a book in a local cafe or restaurant, I go to the movies on my own, I’ve stayed at campsites on my own on solo bike trips. Mostly I start from the default assumption that I have the same freedom as a guy would have to do pretty much whatever I want, and I adjust that as necessary for specific circumstances.

I’m a middle-aged bespectacled and generally rather frumpish and plain-looking (and non-makeup-wearing) white woman. When I was younger I got the baseline amount of hassle that young women generally get, from groping in crowds to pickup attempts and demands for attention, but orders of magnitude less than what pretty girls have to put up with.

Nowadays, any form of pestering is extremely rare; an asshole driving by the bus stop I’m waiting at might shout something, but I’d bet that doesn’t happen more than twice a year or so. (I do notice that since I recently lost about 40 lb it is slightly more likely that an older guy will try to talk to me if I’m out and about when dressed up, but an attitude of cheerfully impersonal sociability usually discourages them pretty effectively.)

I think I mostly project an impression of having a right to be wherever I am and being comfortable and confident there. I’m polite and friendly in interactions with strangers, but not in a timid way. I suspect that a huge percentage of harassers and pesterers are looking for the power trip of being able to intimidate a woman and make her uncomfortable, as much as or more than they hope to make any kind of positive impression on her. So somebody who doesn’t seem nervous or intimidated is less fun to pester.

(Mind you, that is in no way an attempt to victim-blame the women who do get pestered more than I do, which is absolutely not their fault, no matter what the reason. I just think that if you happen to seem like somebody who isn’t doubtful or nervous about the space they’re taking up, just like if you happen to be somebody who is plain and frumpish in appearance, that provides a certain amount of insulation from pestering.)

Possibly related odd fact: When I’m out and about, I’m often knitting, or sewing, or grading calculus homework. I suspect that pesterers find such things quite unappealing and/or intimidating. In any case, they definitely contribute to my general impression of being comfortable taking up my space.

With all that said, I’m always aware of anybody who seems to suggest any kind of threat or hazard. It’s almost a prey-animal hyperconsciousness of attention directed at oneself. When that happens I still work hard to make sure I don’t seem nervous or intimidated, but the more sustained the attention, the more vigilant I get.

Which leads me to my concluding advice about what I’d like men to know: Once any kind of initial interaction happens, back off.

If you accidentally bump into a woman, apologize courteously but keep moving. If she’s answered your question about what time the bus gets here, or how far it is to the end of the bike path, thank her, then shut up and move away. If she glances at you as you pass her on a lonely sidewalk at night, keep walking and don’t look back. If she takes your arm in the club and pulls you onto the dance floor, dance with her and then let her go. If she wants to continue the interaction, let her be the one to initiate that. Thank you.

I get that question too. When I get it I am almost completely certain that the asker isn’t trying to creep on me or have sex with me.

Please don't reply in this thread. What Exit?

I hope this won’t be taken as trying to derail the thread, but there is a situation in which men are viewed as a threat but not women. It’s happened to me on several occasions.

The worst situation was last week. I came out of the post office and i saw a very young toddler running down the driveway towards the street. I yelled ‘stop’, but he didn’t. Fortunately the car that was coming did so I ran across the street and picked the child up and carried it back into the back from where it had come.

The mother (I assume it was) got all over me about doing something to her child and didn’t let me explain what had happened. I left saying, “Just watch him closely.”

I don’t think a woman would have been viewed as a threat.