Hunting for feminist scholars

Posted: Nov 29, 2005 12:05 AM

These days, feminists are having a hard time figuring out why the only people who take them seriously are other feminists. But I think I know the answer. I just read an article called "Animals, Women and Weapons: Sexual Boundaries in the Discourse of Sport Hunting." It has changed my life forever.

The lead author is Michigan State University Sociology Professor Linda Kalof. Kalof’s co-authors -- Sociology doctoral students Amy Fitzgerald and Lori Barakt –- may deserve even more of the blame for this exercise in feminist irrelevancy since they are not tenured and, hence, should have some cause for concern about public exhibitions of supreme stupidity.

These three feminists -- who were outraged by the release of a cheap porn video, which featured naked women being hunted down and shot with paintball guns -– were inspired to present this recent exhibition of feminist rage as form of legitimate scholarship.

After reminding us that contemporary feminist theory has long connected hunting with sex and women with animals, the authors claim to have found "clear evidence of the juxtaposition of hunting, sex, women, and animals in the photographs, narratives, and advertisements" from a random sampling of "Traditional Bow-hunter" magazines published over a twelve year period. They emphasize "random samplings" in order to remind us that feminist sociologists are real scientists, too.

My favorite part of the paper is its rejection of traditional sociology’s moral relativism as the authors conclude that "moral outrage at the degradation of women might be targeted best at widely read newsstand periodicals that serve as popular culture precursors to videos that celebrate hunting naked women."

Lamenting the "paucity of information on sexuality in hunting periodicals," the three authors are forced to review a limited amount of literature on the relationship between hunting and the degradation of women, such as the feminist classic "The sexual politics of meat: A feminist-vegetarian critical theory."

The most important thing I learned from this paper (besides learning that Michigan State is the center of the intellectual universe) is that I really haven’t been hunting all these years because I enjoy eating venison and pork. Here’s what the author’s taught me:

"In the U.S. cultural landscape, the language of hunting is a discourse of patriarchy. Hunters’ attitudes and actions toward social and natural objects (weapons or hunted prey) are constructed by a combination of experiences and absorbed cultural messages that validate and exacerbate white male dominance and power. Further, the cultural construction of hunting as rooted in a symbolic system that values predation and dominance conjoins hunting and sex with women and animals."

Of course, there were other sentences in this paper that made absolutely no sense whatsoever:

"…hunters (like batterers and rapists) are widely considered not responsible for their actions, and hunted animals and abused women participate in (and thus agree to) their exploitation…"

I guess I’ve never had a deer tell me it was okay to pull the trigger. If they ever do start to talk, whether offering or refusing consent, I promise to sell all of my firearms immediately.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this feminist study was the amount of sheer academic rigor required to analyze the data. According to the authors, 15 issues of "Traditional Bow-hunter," a 12-year-old sport magazine, "were read from cover to cover, and (the authors) recorded every occurrence of a sexual representation." What a truly amazing revelation. That means each feminist had to read a total of five hunting magazines. Who says radical feminists aren’t real scientists?

The feminists found that the death of one animal in one of the hunting magazines was called a "climax" and another was called a "score." In other words, these hunters aren’t actually killing these animals, they are raping them. Of course, this assumes that the animals did not offer consent, verbal or otherwise.

These brilliant feminists found that hunters’ references to prey called forth "Sexualized representations of women and animals" and "often drew on stereotypical feminine characteristics, heterosexual love affairs, and patriarchal versions of romance." One apparently in-the-closet buck hunter was caught referring to a nice set of antlers as "big uns." The feminists also suggest that the bow is little more than a Freudian phallic symbol.

The authors read rape imagery into advertisements for arrowheads, such as one saying "It’ll Rip You a New One" and another saying "Take ‘em with Wood!" They also saw a reference to the bow’s "sweet spot" as heterosexual imagery linked to a woman’s "G spot."

Ultimately, the three Michigan State feminists conclude that their findings support the argument that "humans express their sexual ambivalences by using animal metaphors."

Although they saw the "active, projectile arrow" as "imbued with stereotypically male characteristics" and viewed it as an "extension or embodiment of the (male) hunter," they saw the bow as "feminized and sexualized, often described as beautiful, smooth, and dependable." This, they interpreted as a "feminization of the ‘instrumental’ bow, noting that even the implements of the hunt (like the victims of it) cannot escape the patriarchal nature of the culture from which they are constructed."

To their credit, Kalof, Fitzgerald, and Barakt do not claim that their interpretations of the magazines are the only possible interpretations. One broken clock is right twice in the course of a day. I guess three working feminists are right once in the course of a refereed manuscript.

Nonetheless, referring to themselves as gender (and gendered) scholars, these three intellectual giants bring it all together with the statement that "Violence against animals and women is linked by a theory of ‘overlapping but absent referents’ that institutionalizes patriarchal values." After all, they have previously observed that "the murder of a family dog is common in domestic violence; in such cases, the absent referent is the abused woman." And "In the staged Bambi Hunts, animals were the absent referents." Is this starting to make sense? I didn’t think so.

The feminists end their paper (thank God!) saying that "the underlying messages of the sexualization of weapons in "Traditional Bow-hunter" cannot be dismissed simply as a hoax. They are resilient popular culture images that celebrate and glorify weapons, killing, and violence, laying the groundwork for the perpetuation of attitudes of domination, power, and control over others."

Every time I read the work of its proponents, I am more convinced that feminist scholarship is an oxymoron. But, just for safe measure, I’m taking a rifle not a bow into the woods this weekend. And I’m leaving my Ann Coulter action figure at home.

Is anyone in the mood for tenderloin kabobs?