Man, Hunt

» April 29th, 2013

Hunting in America has long been a way to achieve a kind of instant manhood. Throw on some boots, grab your piece, pick up a case of beer, hop in the truck, and head into the wilderness. Just add water. Stir. It’s an accessible solution, and one much needed given the ruthless assault on masculinity these days. Not only do men no longer bring home the bacon, but even taking out the trash has been outsourced to a gender neutral global underclass (in my case, my kids). We need a key to manhood fantasy land and we need that key to be cheap and well greased and unregulated. Too bad the manhood fantasy so many of us have chosen to pursue requires birds to be plucked from the sky and other innocent creatures erased from the landscape as if they were moving targets in a video game.  But how do you think the West was won, compadre?  By singing kumbaya and making love? Dream on.

It wasn’t always this way. In the colonial era (of British America), manhood was in fact diminished by hunting. It was diminished because hunting was a sure sign of failure—failure to plan ahead, failure to have enough food in store, failure to domesticate. More to the point, such failure made you look like a savage, and everyone knew what a savage was because they’d seen those daubed up Redmen humping all they owned through the wilderness, arrows and houses and babies on their backs, no better than the beasts they chased with such shameful vulgarity. To hunt was an admission of failure. Colonial Americans were notably poor shots. Indians laughed at their marksmanship. This is true.

The transition from desperation-hunting to manhood-rescusciation hunting is a topic that awaits its historian.  But what I’m especially eager to know right now is why women have gotten swept into this historical cascade of testosterone-driven brutality. Spend a little time on this website and you’ll find so many logical and cultural looped-de-doops that you’ll need an airline sickness bag. In any case, let it be declared: women now hunt. A lot. Their powder’s as dry as it has ever been.

Forgive my crass generalization here, because it is indeed very crass and I should definitely know better but I can’t help it.  I’ve always sort of valued woman for being closer to their inner sense of empathy, or at least better trained by civilization to express that empathy with, you know, feelings. So when I see even the accoutrements of hunting—the trucks and the cammo and the jumpseats from which they shoot—create barriers between explosive female empathy and our desperate need to live more emotionally-atuned lives, I no longer know whose shoulder to cry upon.

Photo cred: Owen McWilliams (taken at the LA County Museum of Art, March 2013)

33 Responses to Man, Hunt

  1. Layne says:

    I didn’t spend a lot of time on the Women Hunters website, but viewing the collage photos on the home page was enough to ruin my day. The message is “Hunting is Sexy!” “We can be beautiful and heartless too.”

  2. Linda Norris says:

    This article is very interesting. My opinion (and I’m expecting some disagreement) is that one of the turning points of this is the accepting of women in the military and more recently combat situations. The idea that women are just as tough as men. Mind you, my whole family is military. My son did 2 tours of duty in Iraq until he was injured twice by IED’s. Another reason? The breakdown of family, of women now having to be the provider, the “man of the house” as well as a mother; the tough one. My daughter is 14. She has friends who have been hunting for years. One of her friends recently proudly posting a picture of herself and a deer she had taken down. I asked that friend did she not feel sorry for the deer? Why would she shoot it when it was just eating its lunch? She said emphatically NO why would I feel sorry for it???? I said because it is an animal and it was not bothering you. This 14 year old cheerleader laughed. My heart grew alittle heavier that day…..

    • Tina Eden says:

      I think you hit upon something with women in the military — and for that matter, I would expand it to both parents working and placing children in daycare. I know a lot of people do this, and think it is ‘what they have to do,’ but if one looks at it from a societal perspective, I think we are placing material wants above parental responsibilities.

      Society is quick to blame women for wanting to work, but it is slow and reluctant to re-organize the world of work to fit around raising children.

      Our desire to “have it all,” even at the expense of raising our children has morphed into a variety of non-empathic activities, hunting being one of them.
      I’d add the US obsession with professional sports, large SUVs and a number other masculine/power trips that have replaced the simplicity of life such as your mother sewing a costume or baking a pie.

      Even those activities are now largely in the realm of the Rachel Rays and Martha Stewarts — highly successful and competitive women who probably had to hunt like cavemen to achieve their “success.”

  3. Taylor says:

    On the connection between hunting and the idea of manhood, I recommend Brian Luke’s book Brutal.
    http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/88dne4rw9780252031762.html
    http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/bulletin_of_the_history_of_medicine/v084/84.4.donovan.html

    In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir noted that in early human societies the hunter put his life at risk. “And in this he proved dramatically that life is not the supreme value for man, but on the contrary that it should be made to serve ends more important than itself. …it is not in giving life but in risking life that man is raised above the animal; that is why superiority has been accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings forth but to that which kills.”

    According to Beauvoir, human reproduction (the realm to which women were historically confined) is not an act of creation (pour-soi) in the sense of transcending the en-soi of the material world. Beauvoir has been criticized by some feminists for her negative view of motherhood. Still, one might ask whether, as women join men in the realm of the pour-soi, they are increasingly subject to the perverted idea of defining oneself through the conquest of nature and of the other. At the same time, this conceptual movement is ideologically masked by its apparent opposite: the idea of reconnecting with nature in the cycle of life and death.

  4. ingrid says:

    I know there are women who were raised with hunting fathers, who then took on the role of huntress at an early age, in the same way their brothers were coaxed (or, coerced) into bloodsport. As far as the recent increase in new women hunters, though, I think it’s a multi-faceted push.

    On the anecdotal side, a woman writer I knew took up hunting in her 40s. She was a self-professed “animal lover” who formerly thought hunters were cruel. About her transition, she claimed — a refrain I’ve now heard from many other new hunters — that The Omnivore’s Dilemma was a significant inspiration in her picking up a rifle and shotgun. Her hunting was motivated by the same issues cited by urban homesteaders: being “connected” to the process of acquiring food and feeling empowered through that acquisition. She also claimed that she probably couldn’t raise and kill her own animals (because she would know and love them) so she turned instead to killing wild animals. Sadly, hunting is easier for some because they can remain disconnected from the richness of the wild animal’s existence, along with his social and emotional complexity. In her case, I watched a person move from a reasonable point of empathy and care for nonhuman animals, to a hunter who killed without qualm and literally with her own hands (as is often necessary in bird hunting). I’ve seen quite a few examples like hers.

    On a bigger level, there is now a systematic push to get more women into hunting. For state and federal wildlife departments, declining numbers of hunters means less revenue in a system where the funding is blatantly skewed toward hunting priorities. So, when you read many of these documents, there’s pressure to bring new demographics into the sport. The NRA helps draft some of the legislation that drives policies on our public lands. It’s a brick wall some of us in wildlife advocacy have banged our heads against more than once.

    In a recent Rolling Stone piece (http://rol.st/15lvsdP), Tim Dickinson talked about how gun manufacturers, who see their declining gun sales, are now targeting women and children for hunting and other forms of gun recreation. “For the industry, women are seen not only as lucrative customers in their own right, but also as gatekeepers to the coveted child market. The hunting industry lives by the motto ‘If you teach a man to hunt, he goes hunting. If you teach a woman to hunt, the entire family goes hunting.’”

    I expect that a lot of the hunting memes floating around these days to drive the hipness factor of hunting, are clever social media campaigns which use the idea of food autonomy to manipulate foodies back to the land with their spanking new Berettas.

    • Lori says:

      Agreed Ingrid. A big push from States and NRA and such for women. It’s all about the money.

      And damn that The Omnivore’s Dilemma! Being connected to the life and death cycle is overrated and why actually cause it when you don’t have to? As a wildlife photographer, you must get much satisfaction in going out in nature and leaving it the way you found it! And the result is a beautiful picture of a living being instead of a dead one!

      • ingrid says:

        Thanks, Lori. And, yes on The Omnivore’s Dilemma! In my personal experience, that book is almost single-handedly responsible for turning the urban foodies I’ve met into hunters. It seems to appeal particularly to those seeking personal fulfillment through hunting. I guess that’s not surprising given Pollan’s self-serving rhetoric about his own hog hunting.

        As far as leaving things the way I found them, yes, to the best of my ability, I try! After working at the wildlife hospital and then morphing my love for those animals into photographing them, my husband and I walk away from every wild encounter wondering how on earth anyone’s motivation can be to harm those very beings we spend so much time watching, admiring and feeling utter empathy for. They have so much to contend with in the way of inadvertent human harm (poisons, windows, entanglements, habitat loss, etc.) it’s beyond my comprehension how those who enjoy hunting can construe deliberate harm of wildlife as anything but obscene in this day and age. I don’t have strong opinions about it, or anything. :)

        • Lori says:

          I should rephrase my statement to not necessarily leaving it as you found it, but perhaps leaving it even better…I’d certainly want any sick or injured wildlife to be helped if a person can. I’m so thankful for the these wildlife hospitals.

          I often wonder the same thing when viewing wildlife and seeing the magnificence of these animals…”How could anyone see this and destroy it?” The human brain is complex.

  5. Lori says:

    I find the notion of the female nurturer and empathizer to be problematic on so many levels. But let’s just look at one aspect for now: When society perpetuates ideas of “what is female” and “what is male” we usually end up with discrimination to both genders. Men must be “masculine” to be admired. To be less than masculine means derision, with terms such as pussy, Nancy and pantywaist all referring to female characteristics. Typically, jobs that were/are considered female pay lower and have less respect, even when men start to enter the professions. We know testosterone can cause aggressive behavior and we know men have more of it and we know men tend to be more violent on the whole, but this can be overcome as many males have proven. If we continue to perpetuate the stereotypes of what is female and what is male, it will just continue the cycle of the hyper-masculine male showing off his prowess and the female trying to be masculine to be considered more equal. (As a child, I was a proud Tomboy, because I had a deep sense that masculinity was more valued.) We need to start valuing empathy, compassion and non-violence as a desirable traits. Not as female traits. But as human traits. Only then will females not feel the need to compete for equality in activities such as war, hunting, gun shooting, and domination. We humans have a long way to go in our evolution.

    • ingrid says:

      Lori, beautifully stated. I have nothing to add to this: “We need to start valuing empathy, compassion and non-violence as a desirable traits. Not as female traits. But as human traits. Only then will females not feel the need to compete for equality in activities such as war, hunting, gun shooting, and domination. We humans have a long way to go in our evolution.”

    • Rucio says:

      Well said, Lori. The artwork illustrating this piece reflects this, I think. Aggression is considered to be a “male” trait, when it is simply a human trait that needs to be checked but often gets out of hand. Our culture, which, as James alludes, is still stuck in revering “how the West was won” as a model, and that aggression, that embrace of divinely sanctioned violence against other people and nature still defines us, men and women. So it is not a surprise that, as more of society starts to progress and threatens what they believe to be their very identity, women (and hipsters) revert to the same regressive cultural markers that men do.

      Pollan’s, eg, twisted self-rationalizations are just a new mode of finding (creating) divine sanction of a violence against others without which he does not feel whole. He is “top of the food chain”, which is the same attitude as the “white man’s burden”.

  6. Fireweed says:

    Great comments! Here’s another example of how this is manifesting on the locavore front (and note the language ‘recovering vegetarian’: http://www.vancouversun.com/travel/Ethical+killing+Hipsters+hippies+women+taking+hunting/8237288/story.html

  7. Fireweed says:

    The late Marti Khee’s classic “The Killing Game: An Ecofeminist Critique of Hunting ” as a predominantly male activity is a must read for those interested in the psychology of hunting: http://martikheel.com/pdf/killing-game-marti-kheel.pdf

  8. Fireweed says:

    That should have read ‘Kheel’s classic’.

    Also on the ‘locavore’ front, the back to the land trend has conjured up those who romanticize their ‘connection to the land’ through subsistence living. For example, a young man (and ‘so-called’ former vegan) where I live is hosting a workshop next weekend around his book “Unlearn/Rewild”, which I see has already been noted by Utne Reader. Groan! http://www.inkebook.com/457206-unlearn-rewild-miles-olson-pdf

    His book argues against veganism throughout. For a taste of what he has to say about so-called ‘ethical’ hunting however, the post below is very revealing. I know I’m diverting attention away from the topic of women hunters with this, but I think more and more young women are being influenced by the likes of such attitudes (as evidenced by my first post about the young woman in Vancouver, BC who wants to ‘take responsibility’ for the meat she insists on eating, even though she seems unlikely to be heading for the woods to eek out a survivalist lifestyle any time soon like this guy) http://milesolson.net/2013/01/25/metaphysics-of-the-hunt/

    • Lori says:

      Fireweed, “Unlearn, Rewild” is reminiscent to me of the Iron John, Mythopoetic Men’s Movement of the early 1990s, although that movement didn’t really seem to carry out hunting as much dance around a fire with a lot with bows, arrows and spears.

      These “throw-back” movements continue to show the human disenfranchisement of post-modern living. The nostalgia of how great we think things used to be, when in essence, they weren’t. We should be moving forward, not backward. Thanks for sharing this.

      • Fireweed says:

        You’re welcome Lori, but quite frankly, I often have second thoughts about spreading such stuff around! Miles is a decent writer unfortunately (except that his book is straight out of the ‘how to diss vegans’ school of the Weston A Price Foundation and so very poorly researched) so likely to get more attention as a result. He’s not nearly as arrogant as the author of the Vegetarian Myth, but definitely connected to the whole anti-civ movement being popularized by the likes of Derek Jensen and anarcha-primitivism.

        You might recall that there was a great little anthology of short retorts by various feminist writers that came out years ago called something like “Women Respond to the Men’s Movement” when that whole chest thumping scene was really gaining steam thanks to Iron Wrong. ;)

        But you’re right…I think they steered clear of highlighting pig roasts and the like…the era of pushing ‘sexy butchers’ (gag) was not yet upon us. Sigh.

        Women hunters though and the ‘empowerment’ angle (really the ‘power OVER’ angle) are frequently sexualized. Or at least ‘romanticized’.

        Here’s another glimpse into the mind of a young female hunter- this one clearly indoctrinated from birth:

        ‘I remember feeling exhilarated as the hog buckled and hit the floor. I reloaded, and placed three more rounds in him, making sure he was dead. It was such a rush!

        ‘I have friends who are anti-hunting,’ she said solemnly. ‘I don’t tend to argue with them, they’re just not well informed.

        ‘Hunters like me actually help the wildlife. Taxes on our weapons and equipment go directly to state conservation programmes, and last year $294million was raised by hunters.’

        Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1362438/Regis-Giles-The-big-game-huntress-whos-Americas-deadliest-teen-brush.html#ixzz2RtfIIA7e

        • Lori says:

          A passage from the Miles Olson link stuck out to me:

          “When a hunter kills a creature, witnessing the invisible spark of life evacuating the body, they touch or are touched by an immensely vast mystery: the passage from life to death.”

          This same feeling has been noted by serial killers addicted to the power and the “spirituality” of killing another human. It’s no less a pathology in animal killing, in my opinion.

          And yes, you are right, the Daily Mail (ugh!) article you linked was overly sexualizing that young woman hunter. It’s not unlike the portrayal of the female superhero characters in popular culture comics.

          • Fireweed says:

            Lori, I couldn’t agree more on both counts.

            It’s so bizarre that Olsen cannot see how he has romanticized the killer ‘mythos’ to legitimize an act that in reality only distinguishes his actions as a hunter from the boorish guy he professes to have loathed on that bear hunting expedition in his own mind. We’re left with the ‘relief’ that they didn’t find a bear that day, but the end result for the bear would have been the same for him or her regardless of who pulled the trigger.

            Olsen could have interpreted his dream experience of the pain of the mother rabbit as a wake up call from his subconscious mind to avoid inflicting unnecessary suffering. But instead his determined ‘conscious mind’ insists on framing these incidents in a manner that upholds the fantasy realm of spiritual vs. material planes of existence. Author Sally Abbot writes about this original ‘split’ in the human psyche she suggests early hunters may have developed to aid in their survival as possibly the origins of ‘religion’ itself.

            This wilful blurring of the lines between life and death have people walking around in a very dangerous fog, separating themselves even further from the ‘natural’ world they profess to ‘respect’ by ‘lording over it’.

          • ingrid says:

            Lori and Fireweed, I see these twisted spiritual aspects of hunting articulated to the point of exhaustion. Do you have any thoughts on why this expression of empowerment and domination has reached these proportions in public discourse? Why, as Fireweed writes, does this dangerous fog now prevail?

            It’s a script so predictable, I know what I’m going to encounter word for word when one of these stories arises in the media. There’s no question that the talking points are regurgitated so often, these hunter/writers simply acquire them by association. But … I’ve been immersed in hunting issues for some time, and have (unfortunately) plowed through volumes like Jose Ortega y Gassett’s to gain insight into this romanticization. Today’s disturbing rhetoric of conquest as spiritual fulfillment is pathologically narcissistic.

            It reminds me of the frilly blogs that populate the internet, with instagram photos of “vintage” pinafores and cruiser bikes. This portrayal of existence is so detached and rose-colored as to be infantile in its perception. Is it, in fact, a representation of where we’re at culturally in terms of our ecological and spiritual maturity? Or is it the manifestation of the over-indulged, where genuine suffering and empathy are remote and inaccessible constructs? I’m trying to make sense of this theme and am often left without explanation.

          • Lori says:

            To Ingrid: “Do you have any thoughts on why this expression of empowerment and domination has reached these proportions in public discourse?”

            I have thoughts about it, but have no idea whether they are true or not.

            “Is it, in fact, a representation of where we’re at culturally in terms of our ecological and spiritual maturity? Or is it the manifestation of the over-indulged, where genuine suffering and empathy are remote and inaccessible constructs?”

            I think both. We see the nastiness in politics (mostly coming from the right and the Tea Party types), culture, and the new nastiness that the relative anonymity of the internet allows. We’re entering a time of change from the industrial age to the digital age and we are having growing pains (maturity issues). Ergo the nostalgia of the past which actually holds to the false notion that things were better then. (They may have been better for white males and privileged white females, but not many others.)

            We as a species spent a lot of time in our hunter/gatherer state and then a great deal of time in our agrarian state. We’ve spent relatively little time in the industrial state and now we are finding that we have to abandon that age for the digital one. It’s no wonder so many want to go back to past ages by hunting, or by “local/sustainable” small farm models. So many people are disenfranchised in this post-modern world and see no place for them there. Technology and “big brother” are no longer fears presented in novels and movies, but are reality.

            I’m hoping this phase is merely a reflection of “growing pains.” Technology and progress can help our cause of animal rights if we embrace and use it properly. We’ll probably never stop wanting to connect with nature, and we shouldn’t, but perhaps in the future we’ll want to connect with it without feeling the need to harm it in the process.

          • ingrid says:

            Lori wrote, “Ergo the nostalgia of the past which actually holds to the false notion that things were better then.”

            Yes, as one who worked in administration, pre-digital, I do *not* want to go back to carbon copies and white out. ;)

            You make excellent points about our historical roles and our digital detachment. It’s difficult for me to relate fully since I wasn’t raised in the digital age, nor in a nature-free zone. We played in the woods, unsupervised. So, from my perspective, our current technology is somewhat magical in its potential to revolutionize. I don’t feel it compromises my connection with the rest of the world, but then, if you’re operating from, as Louv wrote, “nature deficit disorder,” perhaps there’s an urge to overcompensate for a life that’s been largely digital, by feeling real blood and fur on the hands. I can see how a craving for the visceral or the “analog” would manifest.

            I haven’t read “Last Child in the Woods” have you? A number of new hunters I’ve encountered say that hunting was their first real experience with nature and wildlife. There’s a lot of power in how you first engage the miracles of the natural world and sadly, if the association is with a shotgun, you will forever associate nature with those sentimental elements of the hunt.

            It’s also difficult to get people to bond with wild animals because, for good reason, laws protect wild animals from molestation and access. Well, unless you kill them for sport, that is. I’ve read some blog posts about hunters stroking the fur or feathers animals they’ve killed, which appears on the surface, a perverse way to be close to wildlife.

            Part of the problem might be that the voices for peaceful engagement with wildlife aren’t as agenda-driven, well-financed and vociferous as the voices promoting violent “recreation.” So, what is that critical component that allows people to realize or transition to the idea that we don’t need to harm or take in order to enjoy? How do those of us who care about wild animals, impress upon those who have little experience with nature or animals, that it’s as fulfilling and exciting emotionally, if not more so, to not harm?

          • Lori says:

            Ingrid,

            I didn’t mean to imply that nothing in the past was “better” than what we have now, but usually it’s a mixed bag. I think Louv overstates the extent that our children are deficit of nature. (Though no doubt, unstructured outdoor time is hugely important.) There have always been city and rural people in the industrial age and some kids have had more access to nature than others. Prior to the industrial age, animals and nature were typically used and dominated by humans and only appreciated in that context. Louv, like many, seems to be nostalgic for that connection between people and their food. He laments that many young people are turning to vegetarianism due to the AR movement’s describing “poultry conditions” rather than a true experience of where our food comes from. (I’m not unsympathetic to people having more connection to their food sources unless it is used, as San Francisco’s CUESA does, in justifying their goat butchering classes in their continued mission to “connect people to their food sources.”

            I agree that many people may have a “nature deficit disorder” so to speak. But I think, like you said, how we first experienced nature makes a big difference. I too played in the woods unsupervised as a child. But none of my family was hunters and my father never brought a gun in the house, ever, even though he was an army officer. He never hunted himself and probably fished all of two times as a boy even though he grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. My father’s father loved animals and taught me respect for them at a very young age. This could be part of the reason my experience and relationship with nature and animals is different than, say, someone who grew up with guns and hunting, etc. Then again, I had a boyfriend once from Oregon who has no desire to hunt as an adult because he was forced to hunt as a child and was traumatized by it. So who knows?

            What caused me as a child to empathize with the animals and nature so much? Why was I already questioning meat as a child when the rest of my family happily ate it? What causes another to want to hunt and kill animals?

            New brain research shows that we are a real mix of “nurture and nature.” If we are born with a less empathetic brain and then our environment nurtures that…(David Eagleman’s work on the subject of differences in the brains is fascinating, btw.)

            One last story, this on a heartening one: When I taught high school in the Los Angeles inner city I forbade my students to kill any bugs in the classroom. At first the kids were incredulous. “What? They’re just bugs!” I told them, “There is no need to harm something if you don’t have to. The world is already full of pain and suffering, why make it worse? Why not, in everything you do, try to make it better?” While this idea was certainly foreign to most of my students, I saw many subsequent occasions of students capturing bugs and putting them outside. They seemed super proud to do so and I thanked them profusely for portraying such thoughtfulness. How many of our kids get this opportunity? And right in the middle of a city!

  9. Susan says:

    I’m right with you on this. I find it hard to understand women wanting guns, let alone wanting to stalk and kill other beings. Maybe it has to do with women wanting to turn the table of being the prey.

  10. Karen Orr says:

    I’m late to the party with this but I thought y’all might be interested in the new coffee table book, “Chicks with Guns” by Lindsay McCrum:
    http://www.amazon.com/Chicks-Guns-Lindsay-McCrum/dp/0865652759

  11. [...] fun and excitement read the comments. It's a great read after lunch to get your blood pumpin'. Hunting in America | james-mcwilliams.com Reply With Quote « Previous Thread | Next Thread [...]

  12. CQ says:

    To all women — and men — who believe that snuffing out the lives of others (whether humans in war or nonhumans for sport) makes them tough and brave:

    Please devote 12 1/2 minutes of your Memorial Day to watching this TEDx talk by ex-bird-killer-and-war-sniper Damien Mander: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FCsyK4aRXQ

    • Lori says:

      CQ,

      Thanks for posting lovely and amazing!

      • Lori says:

        Typo: It was lovely and amazing.

        • CQ says:

          :-) I liked the way you wrote it the first time, Lori. :-)

          Have you noticed that in recent years, several Aussy “mates” have emerged from the compassion-killing “barbie” pit to take on carnism and all forms of injustice against animals?

          Besides Damien (above), there’s:

          ~ merchant-banker-turned-philanthropist Philip Wollen (here’s his shot at hunting, an “ignoble atrocity”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adSpyn7voFY)

          ~ “Life Expansion Technique” counselor David Coles (at the bottom of his “about me” page he features a video clip on hunting from the movie Powder (http://davidgcoles.wordpress.com/david)

          ~ animal sanctuary guardian and blogger Harry (www.agentleplace.org) — note: With a newly adopted son from South Korea, Harry’s finding it hard to squeeze in blogging time these days

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