The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why female big-game hunters become the hunted online, in a way men don’t

Rebecca Francis is an avid hunter from Utah and former co-host of an NBC Sports show called “Eye of the Hunter.” Her Web site is a Noah’s Ark of death, featuring hundreds of photos of the smiling mother of three posing proudly beside freshly killed bears, zebras, wildebeests and more.

A few days ago, pretty much nobody seemed to care. But in the time since comedian Ricky Gervais shared a photo of Francis lying beside a dead giraffe, the hunter, you might say, has become the hunted.

“What must’ve happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal and then lie next to it smiling?” Gervais wondered on Facebook.

The comedian’s critical Facebook post and tweet have been shared tens of thousands of times, sparking outrage and condemnation — not to mention numerous death threats against the huntress.

One Twitter user even suggested that Francis get hit by lightning. Twice.

Francis initially responded by explaining the circumstances of that particular hunt, in a statement to

When I was in Africa five years ago I was of the mindset that I would never shoot a giraffe. I was approached toward the end of my hunt with a unique circumstance. They showed me this beautiful old bull giraffe that was wandering all alone. He had been kicked out of the herd by a younger and stronger bull. He was past his breeding years and very close to death.
They asked me if I would preserve this giraffe by providing all the locals with food and other means of survival. He was inevitably going to die soon and he could either be wasted or utilized by the local people. I chose to honor his life by providing others with his uses and I do not regret it for one second. Once he was down there were people waiting to take his meat. They also took his tail to make jewelry, his bones to make other things, and did not waste a single part of him.
I am grateful to be a part of something so good.

That explanation did not seem to help; the criticism continued, and Francis eventually deleted her “Extreme Huntress 2010” Facebook page.

All of it — the unhinged tweets, the jihadist-style calls for violence and promises of retribution in the afterlife — might register more shockingly if it wasn’t so familiar.

Does the name Kendall Jones ring a bell?

[The many sins of ‘African wildlife-hunting cheerleader’ Kendall Jones]

How about Eva Shockey?

[‘I’m a huge target for them’: Critics take aim at hunting show star Eva Shockey] 

Both female hunters recently found themselves facing the Internet’s anti-hunting wrath after they posted photos of themselves beside their quarry.

At one point, Jones was even declared the most hated person on the Internet.

A year earlier, trophy hunter Melissa Bachman was the subject of a petition requesting that the South African government deny her reentry to the country after she parachuted in to kill a lion. The Stop Melissa Bachman Facebook page has nearly 360,000 likes.

Female participation in hunting increased by 10 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. During that same period, online hatred of female hunters, it seems, has increased significantly more.

So why is it that so many people bristle at the sight of a pony-tailed blonde gleefully killing for sport?

Or, as pro golfer John Peterson put it last summer:

He’s probably right. It’s not hard to find photos on Facebook or elsewhere of men slaughtering exotic creatures. We’re used to it.

As Slate concluded last summer in writing about Kendall Jones, who was a Texas Tech cheerleader: “Jones is the Internet villain du jour because she upends our expectations. Or, to put it more bluntly, because she is bright, shiny, young and female.”

Kelly Oliver, a philosophy professor at Vanderbilt University who has studied the rise of the “hunting girls,” told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that many people find the idea of a woman with a gun deeply unsettling.

“We expect men to be hunters, but we’re surprised when girls are hunting,” she said. “Whatever we think about hunting the ‘Big Five’ in Africa, it’s clear that we still have issues with women and girls carrying guns and using them.”

Oliver compared the vitriol aimed at Jones, in particular, to the reactions people had when they saw photos of young, smiling women “giving thumbs-up over corpses and tortured Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.”

Oliver found, the CBC reported, that people didn’t respond with the same degree of anger to male soldiers posing in similar photos.

In an interview with the blog First For Hunters, Jones said her sex surely had a lot to do with the vitriol, from anti-hunting groups and individuals.

“I find it odd that only women have been targeted by these organizations,” she said. “Why would these huge, powerful organizations go after me, a woman, a minority in the hunting community and attack me with their anti-hunting rhetoric? I am not the first to go on African safaris yet these groups attack me nonetheless.”

But, some researchers argue, the vitriol directed at some recent female hunters isn’t entirely rooted in gender bias.

Although society views women as “life givers, not life takers,” Marlea Clarke, who specializes in southern African politics at the University of Victoria, told the CBC that there may be other dynamics in play when it comes to huntresses such as Jones.

Clarke singled out Jones’s “seemingly blasé attitude about killing vulnerable wildlife populations” in countries “with staggering economic inequality, and where primarily whites own property.”

She continued: “There’s no self-reflection about the animals she’s bragging about shooting, or her role as a middle-class white American who can afford these big fees to go and hunt. She doesn’t at all question that she’s going to South Africa and she’s benefiting the white middle-class land owners, with few advances going towards the black population.”

Whatever is behind the vitriol, it flowed in the direction of Eva Shockey last November, after she posted photos of a freshly killed, 510-pound North Carolina black bear.

The Canadian hunter, who co-hosts an Outdoor Channel show with her father, was hammered by critics, some of whom wished for her the same thing she’d done to the bear.

“I’ve had 5,000-plus death threats in one day,” she told the Blaze.

In a separate interview with Field & Stream, Shockey said: “My dad warned me before I even got involved with the show that I was going to have to deal with anti-hunters. I’m a huge target for them because I’m a smiley young woman, and I’m different than who they’re used to dealing with.”

Francis has her own theories about why female hunters regularly find themselves in the crosshairs of critics: “I believe that the anti-hunters specifically attack women because they view women as an easier target,” she told last month.

In that interview, weeks before Gervais shifted the social-media spotlight onto her, Francis said that she has “been a target of anti-hunters for several years now. I receive daily death threats against myself and my family, specifically my children.”

Francis responded to Gervais and the recent round of criticism with another statement early Friday morning, telling that “whether hunting is right or wrong is no longer the issue at hand. Ricky Gervais has used his power and influence to specifically target women in the hunting industry and has sparked thousands of people to call for my death, the death of my family and many other women who hunt.”

She added: “I am proud to call myself a hunter. I am proud to be a woman in the hunting industry. I am proud to be a mother. I will never apologize for these things. Hunting is a way of life I have known since birth, and I have experienced first hand all of the good that comes from it.”

For his part, Gervais tweeted this on Thursday:

[This post has been updated to add the second statement from Rebecca Francis.]

More reading: 

Man hunts deer. Deer gets revenge.

The surprising but curiously logical differences between male and female serial killers

Former cop sues Kentucky hunting store after accidentally shooting off his own finger