Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The Emergence of the Figure of "Woman-the-Hunter:" Equality or Complicity in Oppression?

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The Emergence of the Figure of "Woman-the-Hunter:" Equality or Complicity in Oppression?

Article excerpt


Feminist scholars, more specifically feminist scholars of sport, have remained relatively silent on the growing participation of women in a sport that has been overwhelmingly dominated by men: sport hunting. In an attempt to fill this gap, this essay examines how some feminist perspectives, specifically liberal feminism, ecofeminism, and feminist political ecology, might begin to address this phenomenon. In addition to providing insight into the specific issue under study, in comparing these three perspectives this essay highlights some of the central issues in feminist sport studies and tensions within feminist thinking in general.

According to Theberge, "[h]istorically, sport has been organized as a male preserve, in which the majority of opportunities and rewards go to men" (2000:322). Unlike many other sports, only very recently have changes in this historical legacy been appreciable in the sport of hunting.i In the 1990s the number of female hunters rather abruptly doubled from one million to more than two million (Stange 1997:1). Luke (1998:3) estimates that currently 7 percent of hunters are women, while Stange (1997) puts this figure at 10 percent. Even more indicative of the significance of the shift in gendered participation in the sport is Franklin's (1998) assertion that the increase in the number of female hunters is one of the most significant changes of the late twentieth century. Given this considerable shift in female participation in a sport that is infamous for being male-dominated, one would expect that feminist analyses of this phenomenon would be abundant. On the contrary, feminists have been noticeably silent on this issue.

Prior to examining how various feminist perspectives might address the increasing participation of women in sport hunting, it is necessary to briefly examine what has been termed the hunting hypothesis. This hypothesis, which increased in popularity in the 1960s, posited that hunting was the reason humans had evolved from apelike ancestors, which was believed to result in a violent tendency in humans as well as the elevation of men over women (Cartmill 1993:14). The result of this hypothesis was that men's hunting was believed to have separated humans from nature and thus precipitated the development of human culture. By the 1970s, however, the hypothesis was being refuted for numerous reasons. First, the archaeological evidence on which the hypothesis was based was discredited (Cartmill 1993; Luke 1997:34). In addition, critics (some of whom were feminists) argued that this hypothesis was merely an excuse for violent human behavior and the domination and exploitation of women (Cartmill 1993:15-26). Finally, subsequent research found that "the survival of mankind has been due much more to 'woman-the-gatherer' than to 'man-the-hunter'" (Mies 1986:58). This refuted hypothesis is relevant to the current discussion for two reasons. First, in the hunting literature, one of the common explanations for, or defenses of, hunting is that it is instinctual and "a way of linking civilized man with his prehistoric origins" (Luke 1997:34). Additionally, in her book entitled Woman the Hunter, Mary Zeiss Stange (1997) argues that the figure of "woman-the-hunter" should be placed right alongside the figure of "man-the-hunter." It is unclear what this shift would mean for the figure of woman-the-gatherer.


Instead of problematizing man-the-hunter as a cultural icon, in the name of equality, Stange and others are interested in creating an equivalent female figure. Stange (1997) contends that female hunters are the ultimate feminists because "they have to overcome substantial barriers of male sexism and negative peer pressure from other women to become adept at what might be, in the popular mind, the most male-identified cultural pursuit" (Stange 1997:1). Further, Stange views hunting as empowering for women: "these women are in a position to suggest new models of female power, and relationships to nature" (Stange 1997:179), and she asserts that this is "[w]omen's resistance to 'owning" their aptitude for aggression" (Stange 1997:185). …

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