A JOURNEY THROUGH THE AGES
FROM ARTEMIS TO KATNISS
Like the African lioness, the Egyptian huntresses had a strong feline identity. Sekhmet was depicted as a lioness and regarded as one of the most fearless hunters in the realm, and the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut was often alluded to as a powerful huntress.
It is from ancient Greece that the bow gets its femine touch: Artemis, known as Diana in Roman mythology, is the virgin goddess of childbirth and hunting. She is a true child of the forest.
Atalanta was a mortal heroin in Greek mythology. Her strong physical prowess meant she could wrestle and run better than any man. She was deadly with a bow and arrow, until Zeus turned her into a lion.
The upper class women of the middle ages had ample time to hunt as they had many servants to attend to their chores and children. Wolves, deer and boar were the sought-after quarry. Weapons of war such as cudgels were often used for hunting. Much like men, women also relied on dogs, hawks, falcons and horses for hunting.
If a women’s place is next to her husband, then that applied to hunting in Europe. Affluent European women, such as the ladies of King Louis XIV’s court, often hunted alongside their men.
European women were required to ride side-saddle. Catherine de Medici, married to King Henry of France, was instrumental in side-saddle improvements allowing women to hunt with less risk of injury and the freedom to focus on the hunt itself.
It was not until the crowning of Queen Elizabeth 1st that hunting became a classy pastime in Britain. A passionate rider and hunter, it is recorded that Elizabeth cut the throats of the deer she shot. Hunting was far more leisurely and time intensive in the Golden Age and was a way for royals to keep in touch with the land and the people. In the 1600s, Queen Anne of Denmark hunted alongside her husband King James of England.
The couple revived an interest in fox hunting which carried all the way through to the saddle-sore women in Jilly Cooper novels.
Women of nobility can be seen leading the hunt in the tapestries of the 18th century. Even Marie-Antoinette had time to hunt when she was not eating cake.
George Washington’s wife, Martha(1731- 1802), hunted with both of her husbands in the US. In fact she started hunting from a young age and it appears the Wild West left a lot of room for Calamity Janes. Annie Oakley (1860 -1926) was a child of poverty who started hunting to feed her family. Her dead aim got her a role in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Her most famous tricks included splitting playing cards using a .22 caliber rifle.
Women on the wild frontier of the United States played an essential role in the beginnings of women’s rights movements.
In 1947 DC Comics published The Huntress, a popular comic series about a leather-strapped gal whose weapon was a crossbow. DC comics continued to print The Huntress in various shapes and forms, changing the character from villian to superhero. The story evolved in the 1960s when it was revealed that The Huntress is the daughter of Batman and Cat Woman.
In 1998 the National Wild Turkey Federations confirmed that women aren’t only stuffing Thanks-Giving turkeys, but hunting and killing them too. In 1999, just over a year after establishing the Women in the Outdoors organisation, the number of their female hunting members exceeded 10 000.
Today, gender roles are changing as far north as the permafrost lines. Inuit women are spending more hours hunting caribou and seals, and fishing in kayaks. They have even admitted to killing ‘prized’ polar bears.
In 2007 Kate Middleton was caught donning camo with her pearl earings on a deer hunting trip with Prince William.
In 2010 Sarah Palin, politician turned reality TV star, features alongside her family in her own show Sarah Palin’s Alaska which proves to be a little wilder, and colder, than the Kardasians. Episodes are filled with hunting, fishing and camping in which Palin and her daughters take part.
In 2012 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation reported that the women hunters numbered 1.5 million, a 25% increase in 5 years.
Hollywood hit the bulls-eye when it featured a string of Diana–inspired bow hunting women such as Guinevere in King Arthur (2004) played by Keira Knightly; the half-naked blue alien in Avatar (2009); the assasin Hanna in 2011; the virginal Katniss Everdin in the Hunger Games (2012) and the fiery Princess Merida in Brave (2012).
There has also been a surge in reality TV shows on the Outdoor Channel and the Sportsman Channel with huntresses in Archer’s Choice (2001), Triple MAG (2010), Whitetail Freaks (2010) and Dressed to Kill (2012).
Most recently, Melissa Bachman and Kendall Jones upset the status quo when images of them posing with their lion kills spread across social media garnering scathing commentary and negative publicity from an animal-loving world. Similar negative publicity meant Belgium teenager Axelle Despiegelaere was dismissed from a L’Oreal modelling contract in 2014 when her hunting images surfaced online.
No matter how many women have hunted throughout history, or how much momentum the feminist movement has gained, it seems the huntress will be a controversial figure of fascination for a long time to come.