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Jul 16 2014

On Gender, Misattribution, and Kendall Jones

I’ve been a little preoccupied with travel and conferences lately, but now hopefully I’ll have more time to write. If you donated to my conference fundraiser, look out for a post thanking you and summing up the conferences, as well as any posts you may have requested.

For now, here’s a Daily Dot piece about Kendall Jones, the Texas cheerleader who’s become, by some accounts, “the most hated person on the Internet” for posting photos of herself with animals she killed in Africa. The rest of the piece cites some cool research, so you’ll want to click through to it.

Observing all of these responses that have been pouring in over the past few weeks, pro golfer John Peterson tweeted, “I support Kendall Jones. If it was a 60-year-old overweight dude posing with his African kills, no one would talk.” While Peterson doesn’t sound like he has a problem with hunting (indeed, his Twitter bio says, “If I could get paid to hunt, id be doin that”), he correctly notes that men who hunt don’t seem to garner such a reaction.

In fact, a Virginia Democrat—not on the ballot but seeking Eric Cantor’s House seat—named Mike Dickinson even publicly offered $100,000 to any “ex-boyfriends” who could provide naked photos or “sex stories” about Jones. (There, I hope, go his electoral dreams.)

First of all, using misogyny—or whatever noxious mixture of elements causes our cultural panic about women, sex, and nude photos—to abuse someone who’s done something wrong is not any sort of justice I believe in. Second, I’ve never heard of anyone bribing people for nude photos of a man, at least not as some sort of convoluted punishment. That threat is used against women and those perceived as women exclusively.

At the same time as the Democrat’s nudie pic requests went viral, a Facebook page popped up calling for Kendall Jones’ death.

I don’t want to say that the Internet hates Kendall Jones just because she’s a woman. To say that would be to conveniently ignore the cruel things that she does in order to make a point about sexism.

A more accurate way to interpret this might be that the Internet hates Kendall Jones because she’s done cruel things, but the only reason everyone even took notice of those cruel things is because Kendall Jones does not look or sound like the type of person we expect to hunt animals for sport.

Normally, the idea of trophy hunting isn’t one that most people, even those who generally care about animals, have much of an emotional reaction to. Some find it acceptable or even laudable; others mildly disapprove—but not enough to have strong feelings about the issue. It wouldn’t surprise me if seeing someone unexpected participating proudly in trophy hunting triggers a negative reaction that people then attribute to the person’s actions rather than their identity.

After all, it takes a lot of self-awareness to notice and think, “Huh, I seem to be having a very strong reaction of anger and disgust when I see a young attractive woman posing with animals she killed, but not when an older man does the same thing.” Most people will instead think, “Wow, I’m very angry about this. It’s disgusting to kill animals for fun like that.”

Most people who experience such a reaction would simply assume that it’s being caused by the most obvious thing: the pointlessly killed animals. They forget all the times they encountered the idea of men hunting animals for sport—because those encounters didn’t register on such a high emotional level.

Read the rest here.

4 comments

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  1. 1
    Loqi

    I’ll bet that people who grew up in an urban setting are also overrepresented in the people who had the unusually strong reactions to seeing a young woman trophy hunting (and not just because urban areas tend to be more liberal). I grew up in rural Wisconsin where hunting is the norm for everyone, including women, so the only thing unusual to me about a 19 year-old woman posing with her kills is that they weren’t pictures of deer, bears, or various fowl. My reaction to first seeing the Jones story was to roll my eyes and scroll past it the same way I do when high school classmates post hunting photos on Facebook. As much as I’d like to chalk that up to me being so self-aware that normal psychological phenomena don’t affect me, I’m not quite vain enough to think that. More likely it’s just familiarity. There really wasn’t a stereotype of hunters as overweight outdoorsmen to violate.

  2. 2
    Pen

    I think a lot of people are getting crossed signals because of our very sexist pictorial traditions. Even when big game hunting wasn’t widely disapproved of, these kinds of photos existed so that the hunter could say, ‘Look how tough I am, tougher than all these tough animals I’ve killed.’ Even earlier than that, the same kinds of images were used by conquerors. It’s transgressive for an attractive young woman to strike that pose – most people don’t want to acknowledge her toughness*. But they also don’t want to believe they think like that, so they look around for a better thing to fasten the sense of transgression on. Fortunately for them, this situation supplies it in abundance. Some people have a similar reaction to women fighting in wars.

    The photos are also structured like those people are used to seeing in which women are traditionally shown as prizes – advertising for motorbikes or cars or whatever. Whoever can get the other objects in the photo also gets to claim the woman. But you can’t claim possession of an animal she’s already killed and consequently not of her either. I think this is pissing people like Mike Dickinson off so much (probably unconsciously) that he’s willing to go to great lengths to get her back into her proper context as ‘sex object’.

    * I don’t personally think killing animals with big guns is tough, but it used to be thought to be the case and the pictorial language was set up this way.

  3. 3
    Seth

    This is a good piece with one major factual error: Mike Dickinson (if there even is such a person) is not a Democrat; he’s a Poe. The real Democratic nominee for Cantor’s seat is a professor named Jack Trammel.

    1. 3.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Interesting. Every article I read about that incident also made this error. Thanks for the correction!

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