Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

Hunting Girls: Patriarchal Fantasy or Feminist Progress?

Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

Hunting Girls: Patriarchal Fantasy or Feminist Progress?

Article excerpt

Several recent blockbuster Hollywood films feature teenage girls hunting and killing animals (Hanna, Winter's Bone, The Hunger Games, Twilight: Breaking Dawn II). These films figure tough girls who stand up for themselves and who demonstrate their fortitude and no-nonsense attitudes by hunting animals. What does it mean that Hollywood's latest girl protagonists are more comfortable in the forest chasing animals than they are amongst their high school peers? And, how has Hollywood gone from Disney princesses who have a special bond with their animal friends to these Artemis figures wielding bows and arrows to take down their prey? It is noteworthy that these girls also are being hunted. And although they are not killed, they are beaten and subjected to violence. They are both hunters and prey. How should we interpret these representations of strong girls who are also abused? What is the relationship between their hunting animals and their being hunted?

Conventionally, hunting has been associated with men and masculinity, while loving animals has been associated with women, or more especially with girls, and femininity: "men may be attracted to hunting because of their need to provide for the family and show masculine prowess, and women may be attached to animals due to maternal instincts" (Gaarder 58-9). Feminists such as Emily Gaarder and Carol Adams have argued that in American culture, "real men" eat meat, while it is more acceptable for women to be vegetarians and animal activists, which is why far more women than men are vegetarians or animal activists (see Gaarder). Adams shows connections between meat eating and our ideas about masculinity; "Boy food doesn't grow. It is hunted or killed" (Adams 92). Eating meat is seen as essential for strength and substance. Even more than eating animals, it is macho to hunt and kill them, especially big game. The bigger the animal, the manlier the hunt. Hunting is associated with masculinity because it is a way of providing for the family; and because it is a blood sport that confirms man's position at the top of the food chain.

How can we explain the dramatic shift in popular film from girls loving animals to girls killing animals? Certainly, one way to establish that these girls are tough, fearless, and can provide as well as a man, is by showing them hunting. In Hanna, The Hunger Games and Twilight, killing animals is a rite of passage for these girls on the brink of womanhood. As I argue in this essay, their relationship to animals is complex insofar as they hunt them and still are seen as more akin to them than their male counterparts. Indeed, in some ways, the fact that these girls stalk the forest makes them more like animals, rather than proving their position in the hierarchy at the top of the food chain. At the same time that hunting prowess makes these girls more masculine, it also reinforces their connection to nature and to animals.

As we will see, in these films there is nostalgia for this connection to nature and the loss of innocence signaled by technological advances that separate us from nature. I argue that the girls in these films represent our lost connection to nature. Furthermore, their loss of innocence represents the loss of innocence associated with high-tech culture. In addition, their hunting prowess is a precursor to their sexual prowess. The tension between their virginity and their budding pubescent sexuality is part of their fascination and appeal. In these films, the girls' hunting prowess is not only what enables them to survive in a hostile often high-tech world, but also what makes them both attractive and dangerous.

The Sarah Palin Phenomenon

Perhaps some of the recent fascination with hunting girls could be attributed to Sarah Palin. In 2008, the media had a field day when then Vice Presidential Candidate bragged about being able to hunt, kill and gut a moose. Trying to compete in the man's world of politics, Palin used her hunting skills to show that she is tough. …

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