No, Menstruating Women Do Not Attract Bear Attacks

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/gorillasushi/4994472660/in/photostream/">GorillaSushi</a>/Flickr

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


This story originally appeared on Mother Nature Network.

Women who might think twice about a summer trip to a national park can now officially rest assured: it turns out that menstrual odors do not attract bear attacks, according to a paper by the National Park Service.

The paper was written in response to the long-standing concern that the odors associated with menstruation could lure in hungry bears, putting women at a higher risk than men of being mauled. The concern proved to be little more than an urban legend, at least when it comes to grizzly and black bears.

According to researcher Kerry A. Gunther, who wrote the paper: “There is no evidence that grizzly and black bears are overly attracted to menstrual odors more than any other odor.”

The paper also traced the origin of the myth to a single evening on Aug. 13, 1967, when two women were killed by grizzly bears in Glacier National Park. The events caused speculation at the time that the attacks may have been prompted by menstrual odors. Presumably, as years passed without any investigation, the speculation eventually morphed into belief—and, unfortunately, unjustified fears.

The NPS paper gleaned its conclusions from separate studies performed on grizzly bears, black bears and polar bears. For grizzly bears, hundreds of attacks on humans were analyzed, finding no link between menstruation and the attacks. Such a link was also debunked regarding black bears, after a 1991 study recorded the responses of 26 free-ranging black bears to used tampons collected from 26 different women. Not a single instance of a black bear being attracted to the tampons was observed.

Results were not so cut—and-dry when it came to polar bears, however. A 1983 study found that four captive polar bears elicited a strong response when presented with menstrual odors. That study also reported that wild polar bears were found to consume used tampons, while ignoring unused tampons. The bears also ignored non-menstrual human blood. So polar bears may provide the lone exception to the rule.

Even so, the unjustified spread of the menstruation/bear attack myth, in spite of the lack of corroborating evidence, raises concerns that old stereotypes regarding women, the outdoors, and the National Park Service have not gone away. As pointed out by one magazine, the persistence of the myth has reinforced the stereotype that women are not as suited for survival in the wilderness as men. It implies that the wilderness is a masculine domain, and that a woman’s place is indoors—for her own safety, of course.

(Interestingly, 79 percent of all bear attacks in Yellowstone National Park from 1980-2011 were inflicted on men. In other words, it’s possible that these stereotypes also mask the disproportionate dangers that men seem to face from bears.)

The National Park Service is no stranger to these biases either. According to an official NPS 1962 report, “women [(and people of color) were seen] as competent to be interpreters in historical parks, but not in the military or traditional “national” parks where the prevailing ethic still saw a uniformed ranger as a white male.” It was not until 1978 that women were allowed to don the same uniform as male rangers and assume equal responsibilities. Even today, only a third of park rangers are women.

In other words, it would appear that the real bias toward women has come from our culture and the National Park Service, not from the bears.

Perhaps now that the National Park Service has officially come clean about the bear attack myth, the bounty of open spaces in the U.S. national park system can finally begin to truly be open to all.

More stories like this from Mother Nature Network:

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate