If you have any social media presence, a television or, on occasion, read a newspaper, you’ve likely heard about American hunter Rebecca Francis. She’s the one who posed, smiling, with a giraffe she had shot, then posted the photo to social media.
In a phenomenon that happens disproportionately to female hunters, she was harassed, received death threats and was the subject of vitriol not even reserved for baby-killing war-mongers. It was a reaction that played out across every platform I participate in. It made me wonder, what prompted our extreme hatred of Ms. Francis?
Firstly, we must keep in mind that big game hunting and trophy hunting are not poaching. That is to say that big game hunting and trophy hunting exist within the confines of local or international law. While we may morally disapprove of someone’s choice to participate in hunting, they are not participating in activity that is illegal. Like abortion, kink or making art out of one’s bodily fluids, our approval or dissaproval should not directly affect someone’s ability to participate in a legal activity. Whether we chose to try to change the law is an entirely different matter and one that is open to generally unpleasant debate.
Secondly, I’m going to choose not to discuss the inherent gender, colonialism, capitalism and income disparity issues that this particular case has brought forward. Not because I don’t think these issues need discussing, but because, in this case, I’m much more interested in why our reaction was so violent compared to other similar cases.
Thirdly, I am going to state that it is possible to choose not to endorse an initial behaviour while also disapproving of the reaction to that behaviour.
Which leads to my first theory on why we hate the Huntress:
1) You’re Either With Us Or Against Us
Who remembers this clip?
(Note: I linked to the most succinct clip, and do not know anything about the organization that posted it.)
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this statement was telling. It was a moment in history that was either reflective of, or in part responsible for, a massive shift in how we viewed ourselves. One was either on one side or the other and there could be no middle ground. There was no space for disapproval of both the attacks on the US and the military actions of the US. There was no space to approve of the armed forces but not the government in charge. There was no space at all. There were two sides and only one could be chosen. And if you and a neighbour had chosen opposite sides, then you were now enemies. Unlike the yin yang ideal of two sides of nature, where each contains some of the other, the line was perfect and it was impermeable.
This carried over into everything. You could be pro-gay marriage or anti-gay marriage. You could be for reproductive rights or against them. You could be pro-war or pro-peace. And the more we defined our opinions as a binary, the more we separated into factions. And it wasn’t just about feeling safe in our shared ideals, it was about being against the people who were on the other side. It wasn’t about choosing not to participate in activities one disapproved of, but about making sure that no one could participate.
You were either with us, or you were against us. You were either an angel or a devil. Multiple choice answers had been replaced by yes/no boxes that dropped us into smaller and smaller groups until we were alone. Morally right, of course, but alone.
2) She Does With Glee What We Do With Guilt
Another reason, I suspect, that we so hate the Huntress, is because of what she represents. One’s head would have to buried deep in the sand to be able to ignore the damage being done to our planet’s ecosystems. This is especially evident in the numbers around species loss.
I used to volunteer in the biodiversity section of a local museum and one of the statistics scientists there were discussing was that by 2050, we may see a fifty percent reduction in the number of species on this planet. This is a frightening statistic and fear can lead to important and life-saving action. Or it can lead us to attack easy targets as a way to temper our fear.
The biggest dangers to the creatures we share the planet with are overpopulation, habitat encroachment, pollution, introduced species and, yes, over-hunting and fishing. As westerners, much of the damage we do is via consumption. We buy food from a company that uses deforestation to build agricultural factory farms, we purchase newer and shinier items that use chemical processes that create toxic run-off, we plant non-local plants because who doesn’t want a perfect lawn? Every day, we make small decisions that contribute to creating endangered species. Our existence, if not pursued with great care, is part of the problem.
Still, to live a life with zero footprint, or even a reduced footprint, takes a great deal of effort, money and time. Most of us cannot or will not reduce our footprint to the point where we are not contributing to the decline of species numbers.
Do you know what’s easier than changing your entire life? Attacking a person on the internet. Admittedly, attacking a person on the internet is actually easier than almost everything else we do. It takes almost no thought and gives us the same sense of satisfaction that actual action brings, but without the pesky effort.
With this in mind, I modestly propose that rather than attack a human being, we help the creatures we care about. If making change is not possible, then look into organizations like The Giraffe Conservation Foundation, or any of the 28 four-star rated animal conservation charities listed here. Perhaps if we are more vigilant ourselves, we will feel less inclined to seek a sense of accomplishment by flailing outward.
3) Giraffes Are Cute
You know I’m right. If she was holding up an endangered trout, most of us wouldn’t even have noticed.
In the end, we need to examine what our extreme reaction (I saw people calling for her torture and death) means, what it says about us, and what we can do with our feelings to create positive change. Ask yourself, what is the end goal? If it is to stop big game hunting and improve the lot of animals, sending threats to one hunter is an inefficient method of accomplishing that goal. Public shaming doesn’t create change. Public action does.
*If you comment, please do so respectfully.