An abnormal hunter responds

  Dear HCN,

The last time I heard a spiel like Marc Gaede's letter, a male forester was telling me that women shouldn't be foresters because the cave MAN went out and clubbed the mammoths (HCN, 3/1/99). Give me a break.

Gaede chooses to define "hunting" only as the tracking and killing of large animals by groups of males. But the search for high-quality protein has never been limited to males. In many so-called primitive societies, women did gather most of the plant foods that actually fed the group, while men followed large game animals around until one or the other of them dropped dead; hard to do while lugging a baby around. It's more efficient to dig for roots and grab the odd monitor lizard for lunch. And I would remind him that the hunter-gatherer societies of New Guinea, for instance, are not, in fact, "uncluttered" by "complexities." They are incredibly complex, much more so than the generic societies of the modern West.

Gaede asserts that if an adolescent female is "coerced" into hunting, "it doesn't work in the long term." What does that mean? That the adult female ceases to hunt? That hunting females do not pass on this behavior to their female offspring? I'm acquainted with lots of examples that fly in the face of this sweeping statement. But, of course, "For a female to hunt for the joy of killing, like a male, would suggest a significant abnormality to the behavioral constant." Letting that "joy of killing" bit go by for a second, what he's saying is that women who hunt aren't normal.

Are men who dislike hunting (like Gaede, apparently) abnormal? Yet hunting is part of a complex set of behaviors, called culture, and not inherited. Young chimpanzees learn to stick a twig down a hole and snare termites, or to rip a baby antelope apart, from other chimpanzees. What they - and we - inherit is a tendency to develop cultures and pass them on to our offspring.

After spending six paragraphs telling us that hunting is a males-only activity that developed to help humans survive, he predicts that hunting will soon be regarded unfavorably because of a purported association with violence. But if group hunting by males evolved as a way to deflect intraspecies violence, why is it now counterproductive? Is something else replacing it? Is he saying that aboriginal Eskimo, or African pygmy, or Bushmen societies are more violent than, say, the non-hunting populations of the Los Angeles Basin? And which is more infused with the "joy of killing," a native Alaskan shooting a moose, or a rumble in the Bronx?

Speaking of people who think they are thinking, but aren't, I'm reminded of the (male) archaeologist who decided that the reindeer skulls in a group of Paleolithic burials couldn't possibly be hunting trophies because - guess what? - one of the graves belonged to a woman. Presented with a letter from a woman who hunts, Gaede discusses female hunters as "abnormal" and reaffirms that hunting is the "realm of the male." And women can't be priests because Jesus had testicles. Pu-leeze.

Human cultures are highly valuable, and guess what? They evolve, too. The herding and culling of domestic livestock is a modified form of hunting. The herding dogs that help manage flocks of sheep are direct descendants of the hunting dogs who drove wild prey toward the hunters.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go out into the brisk winter wind with a .22 rifle and a very sharp knife, to butcher a mutton. It's abnormal, I know, but it's hard to eat them until they are dead and skinned. My First World male companion does not want to be with me. He will want to eat the leg roast we will have three days from now, however.

Louise Wagenknecht

Leadore, Idaho

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