Don't Feed the Bears

In his 2005 documentary, Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog brings us the true story of Timothy Treadwell, a conservationist who chose to live amongst a sleuth of wild grizzly bears on an Alaskan reserve.

Over a number of years, through close contact with, observation and husbanding of these bears, Treadwell came to believe that he had finally bridged that elusive gap between man and beast.

Until they devoured him.

With the advent of the #metoo age, I’ve had much cause to ponder the lessons of Timothy Treadwell’s story.

With the passage of time and with growing familiarity, Treadwell made the fatal error of anthropomorphizing these creatures, imbuing them with all sorts of human attributes, such as love, loyalty and trust.  But then they got hungry, and hunger will trump all three of these ten times out of ten.

It is a documentary that should be required viewing for all girls of school age for, as they mature, it is they who will grow into the Treadwells of this world, whilst the men around them will take on the role of the grizzlies.  

Most women believe that a man can be domesticated – broken of bad habits and schooled in the ways of civility and regard for one’s fellow-beings.  In a word:  Civilized.  And whilst this might often be true, you never know when a man’s going to develop an appetite.

One of the recurring arguments I’ve heard put forward by those who are concerned at what they perceive as the political correctness of the #metoo campaign runs as follows:  Oh, wouldn’t it be a terrible thing if flirting in the workplace became a thing of the past.

And the adjective most commonly attached to the word ‘flirting’ is ‘innocent’.

The use of this adjective indicates that women who hold this opinion have no true understanding of the mental processes of the bear in the next cubicle.  They blithely continue to prod, poke, corral, wrangle and flirt with the most sensitive part of said bear until, inevitably, flirtation gives way to digestion.  

The central error that they and many others have made over the years is to succumb to the myth that women take sex more seriously than men.  This myth is based on the misconception that sex unadorned is sex as sport.

Yes, certainly, women generally tend to weight the sex act with far more apparent emotional baggage, rendering it part of a broader narrative that encompasses love, romance, fantasy, playfulness, intimacy, trust and respect – but that is precisely the point:  For women, sex is only part of the narrative – for men, it remains the narrative.  If you doubt this, try and come between a grizzly and the flesh it craves.

Men do not ‘innocently’ flirt.  They flirt with deadly, single-minded intent.  No matter how light or abstruse the banter, no matter how remote the possibility of progression beyond the spoken word, the man will stalk his prey with a stealth and with a determination that beggars the imagination.  This is the selfish gene at work at its most monomaniacal.  

The question then arises:  Can anything be done, or are we stuck with these wild grizzlies in our midst?

Short of placing women in all the positions of power in all of our organizations (which would virtually eliminate the problem overnight)  the answer, alas, is that we’re stuck.  Undoubtedly, we can legislate, we can formulate guidelines and codes of ethics, we can educate, we can listen and we can be vigilant.  

At the end of the day, however, it is the bear who must learn to control his appetite in the workplace.

If he feels the urge to flirt, he must ask himself why.  What does he hope to gain?  What is his ultimate goal?  What is the fallout?  What would his wife and daughter think of him if they knew?

If he speaks to a woman, he must look her in the eye – not the cleavage or the thighs or the buttocks.  If he finds himself looking at the last three rather than the first, he must ask himself why?  What is he imagining?  What is his aim?  How would his wife and daughter feel if they knew?

He must never touch a woman at work, other than through a handshake.  If she initiates a peck on the cheek, he may accept, as long as no other body parts are in contact.

He must refrain from speaking to women in terms that could be interpreted as sexual, even if these (ostensibly) are uttered in jest.

He must never expose any part of himself to a woman.

In other words, he must surround himself with an invisible burqa.  

What I am suggesting here is the inverse of Sharia Law.  Given that it is men (grizzlies) who seem incapable of controlling their sexual appetites, it is they who must be made responsible for them – not women (as is the case with Sharia Law).  It is they (and not women) who must constrain their behaviours in a thousand-and-one ways in order to avoid unacceptable sexual transgressions.  Because it is they (and not women) who are the transgressors.

It is indeed sad that we must invoke inverse Sharia in order to render our workplaces safe for women but, alas, men have shown us time and time again just how dangerous it is to feed the bears.   

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