Perhaps you’ve heard the silly old saying: There are two kinds of people in this world—those who believe there are two kinds of people, and those who don’t. Whatever grains of truth there may be in this play on the idea of “conventional wisdom,” it certainly does seem to be the case that when it comes to women who are hunters, the popular trend is decidedly in the direction of our coming in two distinct “kinds.” This point was brought home to me this past summer, in a conversation with communications expert, and Orion member, Tammy Sapp. We were talking about the ways hunters are depicted in the popular media these days. Had I ever noticed, she asked me, that in the popular mind female hunters tend to conform to one of two extremes: girly-girl ultra-femininity on the one hand, and kick-ass one-of-the-guys anti-femininity on the other? And, to complicate things further, it seemed like a lot of women hunters themselves were buying into this binary?
As a matter of fact, I had noticed these trends. And I myself had recently become especially preoccupied with the girly-girl side of the equation. After all, since hunting had so long been portrayed as a man’s activity and women looked like they were poaching on some very exclusively male territory when they crossed that gender line, perhaps it was only natural that many female hunters adopted the “Anything you can do, I can do better” approach to admission into the boys’ club of hunting camp. My friend, Montana nature writer Susan Ewing, several years ago coined the term “Bubbettes” for this group. They’re the ones who, as Tammy put it to me, are “scornful of overt displays of femininity” in the field. “Maybe,” she suggested, “they think that women who are too girly girl cause men to disrespect all women hunters. These women are proud they field dress their own deer and think other women are cupcakes if they don't follow suit.”
I agree. But then I wonder why, lately, the idea of being a cupcake—as well as of providing cupcakes for the whole hunting camp—seems to be enjoying a renewed popularity, both among women hunters and the men who claim to love them? What, for example, are we to make of the recent publication, to positive critical acclaim and strong sales, of three books, each of which in one way or another trivializes women’s participation in hunting and shooting sports? Their titles say it all: Girl Hunter, Call of the Mild, Chicks with Guns.
In the first, celebrity chef Georgia Pellegrini sets out to “revolutionize the way we eat, one hunt at a time.” Great—locavorically inclined hunter and committed foodie that I am, I can appreciate that. But why be so “girly” about it? Pellegrini—pictured on the book’s dust jacket knee-deep in brush in a pink plaid shirt, with a shotgun in one hand, a frying pan in the other and not a hair out of place—positively swoons over recounting every halting initiatory step she takes into the ranks of the hunting fraternity. And it is a fraternity. All of her instructors are men, some of whom instill in her some pretty bad hunting habits like whiling away the time in a deer stand or duck blind by tossing down a variety of alcoholic beverages, and similar good ol’ boy behaviors. By the end of her year-long quest to “channel the primitive woman” she has learned to wax poetic about the “casual way in which nature treats life and death.” But—when she writes about a turkey filling the scope of her 20-gauge shotgun, or her skill not simply at eviscerating but also skinning and butchering a deer with a pocketknife—well, one just has to wonder about the casualness of her hunting education.
Still, Pellegrini the Girl Hunter comes across as a bona fide Bubbette compared to Lily Raff McCaulou, the thirty-something memoirist who spends much of her Call of the Mild fretting about how dangerous hunting is and how she might really do something terribly stupid, like shoot herself or her hunting partner by mistake. She remembers feeling “relieved” that her first shotgun is a 20-gauge “youth gun.” She says, “It feels safer somehow.” Safer than what? Than a “grown-up” 20-gauge?
The subtitle of McCaulou’s book is Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner—the “mildness” of which she does not explain. I guess she feels she doesn’t need to, it must be self-evident, her being a girl and all. Like Pellegrini, all her hunting lessons come from males. The only stalking she learns from a woman is for mushrooms.
As for Chicks with Guns, a coffee-table collection of photographs of gun-armed women with their personal statements about why they own and use firearms: It is not a bad book, actually. But the title is a tease, as are many of the provocative poses the women are placed in. And the photographic record of women and guns has already been done better and much more forthrightly by photographer and shooter Nancy Floyd, in She’s Got a Gun—a book that attracted far less notice, possibly because it was published by a university press, but equally likely because there is nothing girly about it.
Forgive me if I sound a bit, shall we say, impatient here. But, having come of age as a woman hunter (and, yes, my husband introduced me to it) toward the end of the last century, at approximately the time when women were all of a sudden big news in the hook-and-bullet press—we were going to be the future of hunting, remember?—I have been a part of a generation of women who had to deal with the demeaning displays of cheap guns marketed in sporting goods stores as “ladies and youth models,” and the shotguns with pastel composition stocks and the cute little pearl handled purse size pistols (Remember Nancy Reagan’s “tiny little gun?”). And being told that if we were looking for hunting clothes, we should check out the boys’ department (even though few of us were shaped like adolescent males). And having to deal with skepticism as to whether we really even filled our hunting tags ourselves. . . as well as about our real motivation for hunting: were we trying to be one of the guys, or maybe to bag one of them in holy matrimony? I thought all of this was, oh, so very yesterday.
And then there is the pink thing. I thought we were over that, too. It was a nice marketing ploy while it lasted, since a lot of people bought into the idea that if an item was pink a portion of the proceeds from the sale must be going to breast cancer research (which may or may not have been the actual case—that is grist for another post). But apparently pink isn’t just for fund-raising anymore. Browning has introduced a new “High Country Down Jacket” for women hunters. Well, they call it a down jacket, but it is—as a gear reviewer in Women & Guns Magazine explained—actually filled with polyester “to reduce weight and ensure comfort in all but the coldest temperatures.” It is not waterproof—but hey, what woman would want to be out hunting in the rain anyway? And the real selling point, for the reviewer, was that the zipper and “Buck Mark” logo on the jacket and its matching hat are pink, “which on the Mossy Oak or Realtree AP camo looks sharp.” Really? I think it looks pretty ridiculous myself. But then the reviewer’s name is Scott. Maybe it’s a guy thing.
And maybe that’s what publishers and marketers are picking up on: As a society, we still harbor a lot of ambivalence around the idea of women who are “armed and dangerous,” who can fend for and defend themselves. The idea may go down more easily if it is prettily packaged in pink. Or in girly-girl apologies, like Lily McCaulou’s professed “embarrassment” about even calling herself a hunter.
But it feels to me like a sneaky way of keeping women in their place—as the sexy exceptions that prove the rule that hunting culture really is still a man’s world. And that, deep down, women who hunt and shoot prefer it that way. Funny thing is, none of the female hunters I know subscribe to that view. Nor, and I truly want to believe this, do my male friends who are hunters.
We've come a long way, baby. Or have we?
We've come a long way, baby. Or have we?
Mary Zeiss Stange is the author of Woman the Hunter (Beacon Press, 1997), Gun Women (New York University Press, 2000), and most recently Hard Grass: Life on the Crazy Woman Bison Ranch (University of New Mexico Press, 2010). She also edited Heart Shots: Women Write about Hunting (Stackpole, 2003) and Stackpole Books' "Sisters of the Hunt" series of classic works about hunting by women, and has published widely on women's and environmental issues in both the commercial and academic press.