(CNN) — Another day, another hypothetical scenario tearing people apart on social media. However, this cultural discourse has some sharp teeth.

The question, directed towards women, seems simple: Would you rather be alone in the woods with a man or a bear?

While there’s no unanimous answer, a good number of women on TikTok, Instagram and X have made it clear they’d prefer the bear. This has sparked anger among some men online, but more than that, it has snowballed into a valuable discussion about violence against women and how danger doesn’t always take the shape of a wild animal on the prowl.

It’s not actually about the bear

In one TikTok video, viewed more than 16.7 million times, an interviewer asks eight women on the street whether they’d rather be stuck in a forest with a man or a bear. Seven out of the eight answer, with very little hesitation, the latter.

There are innumerable variants of this video, with the question asked among groups of friends, to family members and partners and strangers on the street. When asked why they would pick the bear, women all give some iteration of the same answer: With a bear, they know what the dangers are. They know, at least in theory, how to survive the encounter.

The comments on the previously mentioned video make that painfully clear:

“You know what to expect from a bear.”

“Absolutely a bear humans are capable of so so much worse.”

“Bear, because If I got attacked by a bear people would believe me.”

It’s impossible to conduct a statistical analysis on whether one particular man would be more dangerous than one particular bear, especially since we all spend a lot more of our daily existence in proximity to men than wild ursines. The point of this clearly hypothetical exercise has nothing to do with survival skills or being able to tell a black bear from a brown one.

“The fact that women would even consider hypothetical man/bear questions means we have utterly failed to create a safe society,” one user wrote on X.

According to data from the United Nations, almost 89,000 women and girls were intentionally killed worldwide in 2022. UN data also shows that one in three women across the world have experienced intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence, categories that include domestic violence and rape.

That doesn’t include sexual harassment or other situations that can put a woman in fear of her life. The UN’s data claims a sizable majority of women parliamentarians and journalists have experienced psychological violence in the public sphere — a specific statistic, but one that shows how deep into a woman’s existence the threat of violence can go.

A lot of critics are missing the point

People rankled by the number of women choosing to take their chances with a bear have called the question “misandrist” and said it’s an excuse to freely hate on men. Others, missing the point entirely, have taken the opportunity to mock and belittle women in response.

One X post shows a cartoon of a woman telling a bear she’s glad to be stuck with it “instead of a man teehee.” In the second panel, the bear has violently mauled her.

“Help me understand the math,” a top response reads. “Women said they feel safer with a bear than a man. So in response you as a man decided to create imagery of them being violently dissected to prove that you’re not violent and are safe to be around?”

This kind of unintentional proof-of-theory has frustrated women who feel like some men genuinely don’t understand, or care to understand, what it feels like to never feel entirely safe around other people.

A post on Instagram Threads, shared thousands of times, further illustrates this gap.

“A woman should definitely pick the bear,” the post reads. “The bear would eat her. It’s not going to help her one bit. A man she can bond with to a point where he will work with her to survive in the woods. If she used her feminine traits. He would hunt, building and protect.”

It goes on, but that penultimate line, “if she used her feminine traits,” spawned waves of comments from people shocked at the irony.

A lot of detractors also seem to be misunderstanding the definition of a hypothetical question. LSD Law, a portal for law students, offers an especially clear explanation:

“Hypothetical means something that is not necessarily true, but is used to help explain or understand something else. It is like a pretend situation that we use to learn or think about something.”

Men are lending their voices to the discussion

As much as it feels like a battle of the sexes, the “man vs. bear” question is far from split along gendered lines. Many men have shared their take on the situation, and come out on the side of the bear as well.

One TikToker asked her father, a lifelong bear hunter, which he would prefer for her.

“You’d have a better chance with the bear,” he said, after a moment of thought. Then, without a hint of irony or drama, he goes on: “Because men are evil.”

Another user added a layer of nuance, pointing out that men (or people in general) can lie, make false promises, downplay their own danger and generally be predatory on a level no bear could ever be.

“The bear wouldn’t apologize after and promise to never do it again,” he said.

TikTok creator and anti-misogynist educator Call Me BK, who claims to have started the current man vs. bear debate, said he didn’t even consider the question to be hypothetical.

He points to a video posted on March 12, where he says, “If you’re alone in the woods, seeing a man is ten times scarier than seeing a bear.”

“I never presented it as a ‘would you rather’ question because I already knew that women were picking the bear,” he said in a recent post.

Call Me BK has spent numerous videos trying to explain to men why women would pick the bear, and each subsequent attempt has drawn comments from people saying it’s ridiculous, hateful, illogical or worse.

However, some positive comments have argued that the question isn’t meant to lambaste men or pick apart the potential danger of a bear encounter. It is, in the way hypothetical questions are, a door to something bigger.

“You started an important conversation,” one commenter wrote on TikTok. “It didn’t just go into a debate. It led to some of us mothers having important talks with our older sons. This is the kinda thing that can change the future.”

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