I was driving to work this week when I heard this piece ("For Some Girls, The Ultimate Goal Is To Kill A Buck") aired on NPR as part of their Hidden Life of Girls series. It's about a 15 year old cheerleader named Magan Heber who also is an avid hunter. The piece just got more and more disturbing as it went on. It describes her first kill:
"It took a year of hunting before Magan killed her first deer. It was a doe. "I started shaking when I put the gun up, so [Dad] had to hold it steady for me," Magan says. But she did it. She hit the doe in the shoulder. Marcy couldn't believe it. Magan was hooked. "I just like the peace and quiet," Magan says, explaining the appeal."
I don't know, maybe I am confused. When I want peace and quiet I go lock myself in my room, go meditate, go to the library or go on a hike, not pick up a gun and shoot an animal. That does not sound peaceful to me.
This was immediately followed by the next comment, which almost sent me over the edge:
"She says she likes it when she sees a mother deer playing with her fawns. "I think it's cute. 'Cause, you know, you can't kill them yet. But when they grow up, it's really good food. I don't know. I just like it.""
Yeah, fawns are ridiculously cute. Do I ever look at them and think, "Hey, there's my future food! Grow up faster so I can eat you! ". Nope.
I am, and always have been, baffled and disturbed by hunting (and cheerleading too, actually). As a child, I couldn't stand the idea of my parents putting out mouse traps, never mind shooting deer from a deer blind. I used to steal and dismantle mouse traps constantly as a kid (never too early to start a career in activism, I suppose).
Part of me really wants to understand why. Why would this little girl be so enticed by shooting and killing animals? What is the real, unspoken appeal of this activity for her? Does it make her feel powerful? Does it give her a sense of control or safety? Is it just a big rush? Does she feel like it puts her on equal footing with her father and brother? Is it rebellion: proving to the boys that girls can do anything, including hunt? Or perhaps it's none of the above.
I also have to ask myself a few questions as well, starting with why does this disturb me so much more than the idea of teenaged boys hunting deer? Is it the juxtaposition of cheerleading with hunting (definitely disturbing)? Or do I harbor some sexist illusions that girls are less prone to violence against animals than boys? It made me think of The Sexual Politics of Meat by vegan feminist Carol Adams and her use of the term from linguistics, the "absent referent":
"Behind every meal of meat is an absence: the death of the animal whose place the meat takes. The "absent referent" is that which separates the meat eater from the animal and the animal from the end product. The function of the absent referent is to keep our "meat" separated from any idea that she or he was once an animal, to keep the "moo" or "cluck" or "baa" away from the meat, to keep something from being seen as having been someone."
Well, there's definitely no absent referent here. This is some immediate, hands-on DIY killin'. And it blows the theory that women have some sort of inherent, spiritual kindness and kinship with animals right out of the water.
The pictures (warning: dead deer right away) in the piece confused all of this for me even more. She's just a tiny little thing, posing happily in these grisly shots of deer hung upside down or splayed on the ground with their tongues lolling out. She looks truly thrilled in both of the shots, actually. I don't even know where to begin with that. It was easier when I didn't have such a vivid visual image of her as an individual and there was just a disembodied voice in my head.