Can Hunting Be Feminist?

On the NO front:

  • Ecofeminist ethics say that the ways in which the privileged dominate the oppressed should include the way humans dominate nature, ergo women’s oppression under patriarchy is intimately linked to the exploitation of the natural world. (Vegetarianism is historically linked with feminism for this reason.)
  • Popular portrayals of hunting since the 1950s have emphasized the cruelty towards animals (e.g. Bambi’s mother being shot by the hunter–a scene with has traumatized generations of kids), inherently at odds with feminist values of equality and compassion.
  • Hunting is usually seen as a “man’s sport” and something done by the “good old boys,” for whom feminist ontology is… usually not a huge priority.
  • The use of firearms in hunting, and the broader gun culture that is a part of hunting traditions in rural communities, are in conflict with historical feminist values of pacifism and disarmament.

On the YES front:

  • Factory farming is undeniably responsible for some of the worst things going on in our world: global climate change, disruption of local environments, heartbreaking cruelty towards the animals themselves, human rights abuses of farm workers and the production of  cheap and readily available meat that’s making people sick. Hunting is a way to source meat that’s completely free from the ethical and ecological morass of industrial factory farming.
  • As soon as you actually start to learn about hunting you realize it involves way more than shooting the first animal that appears. Deer hunting–especially in Vermont–requires a great deal of patience, skill, persistence, knowledge about deer and the environment, plus respect for and compliance with the hunting laws and procedures. At its core it’s about relationships: with other hunters, with the deer population, with the Fish & Wildlife Department, with the people the deer will feed, with yourself. Feminist ethics enjoin us to step outside the isolated individualism of modern American culture and to see ourselves as part of an interconnected web. Hunting calls us into awareness of our place in the ecological web in a way that is 100% real, providing an embodied and visceral experience of that connectedness in a cultural age in which we are usually disembodied and think about nature in metaphorical terms.
  • The good old boys are out there, but I’ve consistently been surprised by the warmth and support I’ve experienced from men who are eager to impart their knowledge and welcome more women into hunting traditions.
  • Learning to hunt with a group of women has offered a lot of lessons, including the realization that being in the woods with a gun felt weird because I was not used to being a predator–in fact, I had gotten used to the feeling of being prey in the rest of my life.

Can hunting be feminist? I was turning the question over and over in my mind in the summer of 2013. Newly transplanted from New York City to Vermont, I had one of those soul urges–something that speaks up from deep inside with an urgency that’s uncomfortable: one day, I want to be so connected to the land that I can hunt deer and sustain myself. Quite the radical thought for a former vegan and city liberal who had never been around guns. I want to tell  you the story of how I got from those hesitant, transgressive-seeming hunting aspirations to where I am now. But that’s going to be a story for another time.