Today, the internet brought us the viral news of Kristen Lindsey's callous decision to murder a cat (who was likely someone's pet) with a bow and arrow and then post her proud kill shot on Facebook. Lindsey, a veterinarian, is being publicly shamed for this act and has since lost her job.
Popular sites like Jezebel, Huffington Post, and Telegraph have covered the story, and a Facebook page in support of justice for the murdered cat has 31,000 supporters at the time of this writing.
I saw the photo of her gleefully holding up the murdered tabby and felt my heart ache. I pictured my own cats in his place and felt rage swell at Lindsey. I'm not condoning her actions, and I'm not saying that she shouldn't face the legal and social ramifications of her decisions. This isn't a post in defense of her.
Still, as I read the comments on some of these articles, I couldn't help but feel something was amiss. It made me think of other high profile shame campaigns surrounding similar poses of women with their prey.
A few years ago, Melissa Bachman's photo of her with a lion she killed sparked similar controversy. As this post from Mirror points out, several people were disturbed by her smiling face and joyful response to the kill: "If she gets enjoyment from this then there is something seriously wrong."
South Africans who were angered by Bachman's actions even started a petition in an attempt to bar her from the country.
Most interesting to me, many of the headlines about this story focused on Bachman's other extracurricular interest: cheerleading. Posts from Huffington Post, Slate, and many others focused on her identity as cheerleader both in the headline and the reporting. They were clearly playing up the disconnect that this young, pretty, petite woman could be a vicious hunter. The Huffington Post article even opens with the line "Don't let her diminutive size fool you."
Recently, Ricky Gervais tweeted a photo of Rebecca Francis posing with a giraffe she killed. The outrage was similarly swift and extreme.
It's clear that the general public does not like seeing pretty young women pose with animals they've killed, and I can certainly understand why. It's disturbing to me (even as an omnivore) to see people taking pleasure over their kills.
But I think there's something interesting (and by "interesting," I mean sexist) about how we're so quick to publicly shame and punish women for trophy hunting but tend to ignore men doing it. A quick search reveals hundreds of Facebook pages filled with pictures of (mostly) men posing just like Bachman, Francis, and Lindsey did. Take a quick look at the feed for Big Game Hunting New Zealand, North American Hunting Club, Safari: Hunters, or any of a variety of community pages for hunting, taxidermy, and big game, and you'll see hundreds of photos that look exactly like the ones we're so outraged about here.
It makes me think that our anger is less about defending the defenseless animals and more about policing what activities in which we'll allow women's participation, especially if they are women who otherwise fit our cultural standards of femininity and beauty.
I'm not telling you not to be angered at these displays of killing for fun. I think that guidelines of ethics and morality certainly implore us to question these urges and the way our society supports them. I also understand that in many cases the individual circumstances complicate the public judgment (killing a pet or an endangered animal, for instance, impacts us differently than killing a deer).
But I think we also need to make room for some gender nuance in these judgments. Is part of our knee-jerk reaction tied up not just in the face of the dead animal, but also in the pretty face of its killer?
Photo: Jim Wrigley Photography,