Kendall Jones big-game hunting furor: Is it sexist?

Photos of Texas teen Kendall Jones posing with animals she hunted in South Africa have sparked global outrage, but some women's and gender-studies scholars are asking why so much outrage has been directed at Jones when men have posed in safari trophy-hunting pictures for years.

19-year-old cheerleader for Texas Tech aspires to host reality show by 2015

Animal lovers and critics of big-game hunting have taken aim at Kendall Jones, 19, a Texas Tech cheerleader and student who posted photos of herself with animals she felled in South Africa, including a cougar, lion and white rhino. (Facebook)

Like it or not, the new face of big-game hunting wears makeup and short shorts.

Those superficial details, coupled with her cheerleader perkiness and ambitions for reality TV stardom, have made Kendall Jones easy prey for haters.

The 19-year-old Texas Tech student posted photos of herself last month flashing a megawatt grin and posing with the bodies of animals she shot in South Africa, including the so-called Big Five game in Africa — lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and Cape buffalo.

American big-game hunter Kendall Jones has said she aspires to have her own TV show in 2015. (Facebook)

Calls for blood poured in quickly. Critics accused her of glamourizing poaching, pointing out that one photo of Jones with an at-risk white rhino, of which only 20,000 remain, was particularly disturbing.

A petition circulated on the White House’s website demands that Jones be banned from Africa. Anonymous commenters said Jones should be hunted down like the animals she targeted. Rape threats followed. Some called her a "slut" and "bimbo." Misdirected rage assailed other blond women who shared the name Kendall Jones.

But where was all this hostility years ago, when trophy-hunting reserves first started operating in South Africa?

That’s what gender scholars are asking, noting that droves of mostly American men have long paid for "canned hunting" expeditions run by South African outfitters. The internet is filled with photos of male western tourists proudly displaying exotic trophy carcasses. Few, if any, have ignited this kind of furor.

Outrage at females in Abu Ghraib pics

It’s a matter of biases, according to Kelly Oliver, who has studied the rise of the "hunting girls" archetype as a patriarchal fantasy and sign of feminist progress.

Kendall Jones poses alongside a white springbok she killed while on a hunting trip in Africa. Facebook has pulled several images of Jones posing with dead animals, saying the images violated the site's policy regarding animal images. (Kendall Jones/Facebook)

"We expect men to be hunters, but we’re surprised when girls are hunting," the philosophy professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee said. Whether or not one considers guided safari hunts to be deplorable, Jones’s case has apparently tapped into another level of anger because of who is wielding the weapon. That could be unsettling in its own way.

"Whatever we think about hunting the ‘Big Five’ in Africa," Oliver said, "it’s clear that we still have issues with women and girls carrying guns and using them."

Oliver compared the vitriol against Jones to public reactions to photos "of smiling pretty teenage women giving thumbs-up over corpses and tortured Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison."

In a media analysis, she found that male soldiers who posed in similar pictures didn’t provoke the same degree of outrage.

Such is the way of our gender-coded society, said Annalee Lepp, chair of Women’s Studies at the University of Victoria.

"You can argue lots of people engage in these activities. So why is [Jones] being selected out?" Lepp asked.

Females as 'life givers, not life takers'

Image is a probable factor, she said, with an element of perceived affluence and entitlement adding to people’s disgust.

"She’s this blond, cheerleading young woman from Texas. That codes her in a particular way that’s she’s privileged enough to be able to engage in this," Lepp said.

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.- Marlea Clarke, University of Victoria politics professor

Male trophy hunters might get a pass because the public has certain assumptions about masculinity and the types of people who do abhorrent things. But Lepp said conventional ideals of women dictate that "unlike men, women should love animals and be caring and nurturing, not ruthless hunters of endangered species."

It’s part of the gender expectation of "women as life givers, not life takers," said Marlea Clarke, who teaches political science and specializes in South African and southern African politics at the University of Victoria.

There might be more going on in Jones’s case, too.

Potentially as offensive, Clarke said, was Jones’s seemingly blasé attitude about killing vulnerable wildlife populations and paying reserve outfitters for the pleasure to do so — particularly in a country with staggering economic inequality, and where primarily whites own property.

While big-game hunting outfitters have been operating for years in South Africa, women's and gender studies scholars say the amount of vitriol directed at Kendall Jones seems disproportionate compared to the amount of negative attention male hunters have received for posting similar photos of their exotic kills. (Facebook)

"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," Clarke said. "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."

Even so, a double standard is a double standard, and Clarke wondered about swapping Jones out for "a more typical-looking male hunter posing with dead animals." What kind of public wrath would ensue?

Probably not much, said Lori Watson, director of gender studies at the University of San Diego.

"If the Duck Dynasty guys were doing it, or some other guy who cultivates an outdoorsman kind of persona, even if we didn’t like it, it might look authentic to the public," Watson said.

There are inevitably "gendered reactions" at play in Jones’s case, she said, not least because the teen’s Facebook bio mentions she "is looking to host a TV show in January 2015."

"Seeing a girl stepping outside of gender norms in this way, and it results in fame, it looks like the purpose is about seeking fame and recognition in that way, and not about the sport," Watson said, adding that people would more readily accept a male hunter’s sincerity.

A marketing ploy?

Muddying matters further is what Oliver described as the "vaguely sexual" nature of the photos, which show "not just a woman, but a very attractive woman" in some cases straddling big animals.

For her part, Clarke said she has little doubt Jones’s poses were part of a "calculated" marketing ploy.

But Terry Scoville, who publishes the Women’s Hunting Journal blog, objects to be rounded up in the same herd as what she calls a "pink camouflage" wave of female hunters.

The 55-year-old rifle hunter from central Oregon mainly goes after deer, elk and waterfowl in the Cascade Mountains, and does it for the chase and for the meat, hides and and feathers.

To her, the fenced-in safari game reserves of the type Jones participated in are often wasteful and unethical, no matter who’s pulling the trigger. Scoville had the same reaction to a news story last year about Melissa Bachman, the Outdoor Channel host of Winchester Legends who sparked outrage after posting a "kill shot" on Instagram of her smiling broadly over a lion carcass.

"It’s important for me to know where my protein comes from. But why bother going to Africa and buying a lion? That’s not hunting to me; it’s killing," Scoville said.

"It’s no different in my opinion what she does as compared to what the men do, killing a lion. These animals have a price on their head, and I don’t care what gender you are, that is not right at all."