Thus begins my first post, although very likely not the last, on the sometimes touchy topic of women and hunting. I must admit that this is a topic that has always intrigued me and, as a man with no female hunters in my social circle, that I have no point of reference on at all.
I suppose I’ll just start off with the following disclaimer: I have a history of in no way being capable of understanding what motivates women. I assure you that it is more a function of my personal inabilities than some innate character flaw afflicting all of womankind. If everything I write here turns out to be flawed drivel, this statement is my proactive means of defense.
By extension, I in no way understand the challenges facing women that want to participate in hunting, primarily because the barriers to entry into the sport for a man are low. What follows is simply myself, in a good-humoured fashion, attempting to shed some light on what I’ve observed in the male/female hunting dynamic. Sadly my only exposure so far to this is in my parent’s marriage (where Dad hunted basically anytime he chose to), my own marriage (more of a mixed bag approach for geographical and financial reasons), the relationships of my friends who hunt (all male) and what I can glean through web-based research on the subject (since I have not yet mustered the courage to approach random women and politely ask them if they have ever been duck hunting).
What I can observe is the following.
When I go to the hunting section of Bass Pro Shops, the boots, jackets, waders, firearms, and various other items are designed to fit me, and frankly they take up most of the hunting section. Certainly for the hunting man, there is an embarrassment of riches to be had in terms of selection and sizing. My wife once brought to my attention that there seems to be a limited amount of women’s hunting apparel, although there appear to be no shortages of casual wear, t-shirts, and the like for women. Despite this difference in marketed apparel and equipment there strangely is not often a gulf in the number of men versus the number of women I observe in the store.
Hmmmmm. Are the women there in some sort of ‘support’ role for the men? Are they just good-natured and tolerant of us fellas while we drool over our camouflage and blaze-orange bounty? Do they really care about the differences between a short-reed style goose call and a flute-style goose call? Are they there with a list to buy for a father, brother, uncle, or significant other? These are all the stereotypical reasons I could think of. The one scenario that runs counter to the stereotype is that the women are there to buy some gear, maybe try out some new equipment, and then get out in the field. Since I (as I mentioned above) personally do not know a single woman who hunts I can only assume that they would do the same things I would do at Bass Pro Shops if similarly motivated.
When I go into the field to hunt it is always with men. When I meet other hunters in diners or at gas stations, they are invariably men. I can say with certainty, that at this moment in my life I have never been hunting with a woman who was actually participating, and I do not know personally any women that actively hunt (let alone maintain a license to hunt). I have seen women hunting on television (more on that below), one of my father’s friends is married to woman who once hunted but does not anymore, and I have had my wife tag-along on a couple of trips with me, although she was merely a by-stander (also more below). So it begs the question, why? Are women apprehensive or in some way fearful of hunting? I don’t think so. Are they too sensitive to be able to take an animal’s life so that the animal can later be eaten? Again, I think the answer is an emphatic no.
Could it simply be a matter of non-involvement? Maybe women in hunting has become a growing demographic?
Take for example my younger sister. While my brother and I were following our dad and uncles into the forest and fields since before were 10 years old, my sister never seemed that keen to come along, in fact I can count on my left hand all the times she has ever come hunting with us (and still not even need all the digits). There was some peer pressure from her friends I’m sure, and it might not have seemed cool to hang out with your brothers and dad at one time. There was even a brief period where I think she was ‘off’ meat (but that was a short-lived phase). Likewise I remember Christmases and birthdays where almost all the gifts my brother and I received were focused on hunting (boots, jackets, compasses, books, magazines, etc). My sister, not so much, but I think that was less of a focused attempt at gender roles on my parent’s behalf; more accurately it was really just tailoring gifts to what we kids showed the most interest in; between my brother and I the common thread was hunting.
But things have changed and now, and with us all into our twenties and beyond. My sister sees how much fun we have when we hunt, she hears (sometimes ad nauseam) of the shared experiences gained from the field (even when we get skunked) and, lastly she sees how much we enjoy just being out in the wilderness. And now that she has seen all the positives objectively, and not refracted through the lens of sibling rivalry and the schism of brothers vs. sisters, there is talk of her getting licensed and coming out to join in on some waterfowl hunts. She’s welcome to join me anytime she wants.
Also a sign, or maybe a symptom, of the dearth of women in hunting comes in the form of mass media. As far as I can observe, television shows about hunting only occasionally feature women afield; there are of course mainstays such as Vicki Cianciarulo, Brenda Valentine, Tiffany Lakosky, and other influential and successful women hunting on television, but still my ad hoc research has men outnumbering women in hunting shows by more than 2 to 1. Then again, this segment of the demographic looks to be growing and will likely continue to grow…I’m just not sure.
What is most heartening, though is the progress in the environment where I have seen the most honest dialogue about the topic; on the Internet. Blogs and sites devoted to women in the outdoors are all over the web; some of the more diverse and interesting I’ve found to date are the Women’s Hunting Journal, The WhiteTailed Doe, and Gordon Setter Crossing although my research has been far from exhaustive and I’m certain I’ll come across others as I continue to research the subject.
So where can men who, like me, do not know any female hunters have the greatest impact on developing an inclusive, (since for all the self-styled macho history of hunting, I think it is likely in the best long-term interests of the tradition to be inclusive of women, or anyone else for that matter) welcoming environment?
Primarily, and this is from my own experience, it is in being a good mentor and ambassador for hunting. My forays at including my own lovely wife (and a very limited numbers of girlfriends before her) into hunting were fruitless, primarily because I was a bit of a jerk. When I took my wife on a Thanksgiving weekend goose hunt in 2004, I was constantly reminding her to keep her face hidden and to sit still. That compounded the fact that she did not really like being awake that early in the morning. When we went snowshoe rabbit hunting for the first time, I spent as much time telling her to be quiet and to stay behind me (both points important for success and safety respectively) that the afternoon turned into a bit of a power struggle and in the end an argument, never mind that she almost openly wept when I did end up shooting a rabbit.
The moral of these brief, self-deprecating anecdotes is that maybe my wife with her aversion to early mornings, sitting still, being quiet, and the all-important ‘killing’ part of hunting would not be a suitable long-term candidate for the sport; which is fine. Hunting is not necessarily for everyone. But perhaps if I had been less didactic, overbearing, and focused on my own success, and just a bit more accommodating and interested in her having a good, safe time (because one can never be too safe) than maybe I would have had a recruit, or at least an even more supportive partner in this integral part of my life.
Instead, my wife is still supportive of the important place that hunting has in my life, but she likewise has really no interest in even trying deer, turkey, or any other kind of hunting with me. Despite the polite jokes I sometimes make about that, it is a bit of a loss for me. After all, should she not get the same enjoyment out of hunting that I do?
And I think that is all my wife or any woman really wants when it comes to hunting, and that is not to be treated like a man, and not to receive any special treatment or lectures because she is a woman.
Maybe, and this time I’m pretty sure, they just want to be treated equally and with the same respect you give your buddies.
But I could be wrong, because again…I have a history of missing the point with these sorts of things.