I was reading this article
yesterday about the wolves of Denali National Park in Alaska. The narrative is unflinching in its description of hunting practices, and it's also very long. It's worthwhile though: thought-provoking, sad, and beautiful. It's from January, but the central conflict – conservationists vs. hunters* – is one that is still very much alive. It is also one I have mixed feelings about.
Hunting non-threatened animals for sport or subsistence is all fine and dandy, but despite it being a non-threatened species, the wolf's fate has too often been put into the hands of people with no intention of managing it responsibly, who do not have the wolf's best interests at heart. Therefore, though I may think hunting is okay, I very seldom come down on the side of local governments who wish to profit from a particular style of wildlife management and the lawmakers who would strip wolves of their protection to facilitate this.
Perhaps it sounds foolish, but I often feel that how we treat wild animals, especially the large carnivores, mirrors in some way how we treat women. It seems particularly acute to me when we are talking about the wolf, a grossly misunderstood animal whose recolonization of the lower 48 states is bitterly contested and the hunting of which in Alaska is so furiously debated.
And so when I read this in the article, I felt a stab between my ribs:
It sounds brutal, but Coke swears he loves wolves. As a hunter and guide, he just loves them differently. "I love Dall sheep, too," he says, "but I shoot them because they're food on the planet and a beautiful trophy."
Immediately on reading that my mind shot straight to the countless times I have heard a man voice some sickening, heartless, misogynist opinion, only to follow it up with, or preface it with, "I love women."
Substitute women for sheep, pussy for food, and replace shoot with fuck or hurt or exploit or otherwise use
, and it doesn't sound so different, does it? The love of something only for its usefulness, availability, and its value as a prestige object. Trophy game, trophy wives.
Do you love the wolf? Do you love them because they are what they are, because they are free, because they are like us in so many ways, because they can think and grieve and love? Do you love them only when you can manage them, use them for your own purposes, when you can control them, their breeding, their territories? Do you respect them, or do you enjoy them only so far as their lives and appetites don't offend your sensibilities or interfere with your own, so long as you don't think they are trying to take anything from you?
How about women?
You can love something and not mistake it for something human. You can love animals without seeing them as anything other than a consumable resource, individual only in their cleverness at evading pursuit, or their particular flavor of submission. You can love women the same way. Love the idea of something, what it means to you, what it will gain you, more than you love the actuality of it, more than you respect its right to be what it is.
And that's how so many sexist jackoffs "love" women. Like you love a pet.
In a world where people will risk their lives trying to save their dogs, yes, I believe that one can truly love a thing one doesn't think of as human. But people who say they "love" women while denying them their humanity are perceiving some other
ness about women that is not actually there. They believe women are fundamentally different, and they try to play this off as a positive, as though these differences make women categorically more desirable, as though fuckability were the highest compliment one could pay a human being, and as though putting women on a pedestal above men is less dehumanizing than considering them inferior in every way. These perceived differences, positive or not, become a justification for enforcing all kinds of rules and restrictions on human minds and our bodies.
It also becomes a basis for withdrawing support, should that difference cause too much friction. Culturally, we tolerate wildness in animals only so far as it does not cause them to challenge us, and only so long as it does not make them so clever that they won't come out to be decently shot when we want to shoot them. Women are treated much the same, regarded as bitchy or pushy or castrating whenever we demand to be treated as human beings. Men who "love" women but treat them like animals . . . do they love the women who do not act as they believe women should? Show any sign of justifiable anger, put your foot down, turn a man away, and suddenly you are a real troublemaker. In fact, it often seems incomprehensible to these people that women a) are unhappy about how they are treated, and b) might actually
deserve to be treated better. As a friend's ex-husband said: "Oh, I get it! You women want to be treated like people!
Oh, you mean the people that we are?
Yeah. Yeah, we do. Imagine that, us wanting to be treated with respect.
I think about that hunter who "loves" wolves, and who kills them. I think about that, and I wonder if it is "love" when a life is less important than a man's desire to use that living thing however they like. I wonder if "love" is the right word for a feeling so conditional and so easily withdrawn when the particular thing is no longer useful. How can it be "love" when the individual creature can be so easily tossed aside in favor of the next, and the next, and the next? I wonder how a person can still say that they "love" women when it's all about the passion the desired thing
raises in them, and not about a mutual expression of shared humanity. I wonder how a person can say they "love" wolves when all their knowledge about wolves and the wilderness in which they live serves only to make it easier for that person to find and kill them, when that is their desired consummation.
I don't understand the belief that women were put here for the use of men, whether that use is to fuck or bear children or do laundry. I don't understand the mindset that believes that wolves were put here to look beautiful or to be shot for sport or even as "guides" representing some passionate spiritual ideal.
It's not that I think women shouldn't do laundry or fuck or have kids, or that wanting those things is bad, or that if you would like a woman to do those things for you, you are automatically a sexist shitheel. It's not that I think that wolves aren't beautiful or should never ever be hunted or that they can't be spiritually significant. It's just that I don't mistake a thing's existence for availability, or its usefulness for its purpose. No living thing's justification for existence derives from its usefulness to another thing. No group's justification for existence derives from its usefulness to another group. A lack of usefulness is not condemnation.
I don't know. Perhaps I'm offending one side or another here, perhaps I'm getting things all tail-turned-front and not making a lick of sense. Perhaps I'm being self-centered and narcissistic and thinking too much. Perhaps I'm comparing two things to the benefit of neither. But for me, personally, such a great part of my appreciation for the wolf comes from my appreciation for women, and vice-versa, that I can't think I'm entirely on the wrong trail here.
"Mankind" may have domesticated the dog, which is, of course, man's
best friend. Wolves still remain wild animals, not the property of men, and women desperately need to learn how to become wild. If there was ever a wild creature more suited to teach us that, I don't know what it would be.* Conservationists vs. hunters in the context of the article and in the context of wolf hunting specifically. In a wider sense, there is often no difference between a responsible hunter and a conservationist. How can you hunt if there are no animals and no land? I do not make the mistake of assuming that hunters are the enemy of conservation when they have been the driving force behind so much of what has actually gotten done.
ETA: Just so you all who don't know me well don't mistake me, I don't have a problem with hunting, even hunting of predator animals, provided the population can sustain it and provided it is done responsibly. I don't want anyone to think that I'm saying all hunters are bad, or have the attitude problem I am describing here, any more than all men have an especially shitty attitude about women -- or even that the one is as common as the other. I'm also not saying that all hunters have problems with women. I'm just saying that the set of assumptions and the following thought processes that lead a man like Coke to describe and appreciate a sheep only in terms of its usefulness to him -- food, prestige -- and allow him to shoot from his front porch
a she-wolf who had come to investigate a recording of wolf cries simply because she was right there, is pretty clearly similar to the thought process that allows some men to view women the same way -- as things to be taken advantage of.