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[On wolf eradication] you got so many men with guns they'd be
up there and they'd be rid of 'em in less than a year.
[My father] hunted food and trapped it.
Nevertheless, a gentler side of 'male' attitudes towards animals also appeared, as
Susan indicated when recounting her son's distress at witnessing the slaughter of a
goat. Even Alice identified a chink in her father's hard emotional armour; discussing
her father's experience at the slaughterhouse, she said: 'Daddy couldn't kill the sheep
because of…the sound they would make when you kill 'em. The sheep broke his
heart.' But despite these stories of empathy, the gendered construction by women of
'male' and of 'animal' appears to fix in place a certain relationship between the two.
Relative to men, little was explicitly said about women's relationships with
animals. Irene noted her mother's sensitivity to animal needs and happiness,
contrasting it to the anthropocentric attitude of her father and siblings, as she
explained her mother's decision not to grant the children their wish for a dog:
I couldn't understand why my mom just didn't want to let the dog live back
there and let him in the house sometimes. And she used to tell me, 'We're not
going to be able to keep the dog because this is mean to the dog. We're gonna
give him away to somebody with a big farm so he'll run around.'…I wanted
my dog in the backyard…. You know, my mom was more sensitive to the
animal's feeling…she did do the right thing, cause…we lived in a townhouse
but…the backyard wasn't that big…. I understand now but then I couldn't
stand my mother.
But there were plenty of counter-examples. Carla's abrupt and somewhat brutal
description of the slaughter of chickens ('kill it and skin it') and Alice's admission of
never being 'concerned with animals' both seem to contradict Susan's belief that
'women are more soft' on animals. The abstraction of gender to a totalising 'male'
or 'female' was deeply ingrained in participants' minds, despite the fact that their
own discussion revealed such essentialised views to be equally as erroneous as the
abstraction of animals to a single category. Instead, the discussion of concrete events
revealed that human—animal relationships occur within personal/local histories
that make use of and illustrate the variety of relationships that both men and women
maintain with animals in their various and flexible categories on a day-to-day basis.
'Male'/pet relations differ significantly across both time and space, as much if not
more so than 'male'/pet versus 'female'/pet relations. Alice's dog, Benjamin, as we
have seen, constituted pet in one set of circumstances yet quickly emerged as 'pest'
within a different context, resulting in his death at the hands of her father, who,
incidentally, had to change jobs at the slaughterhouse because the slaughtering of
sheep 'broke his heart'. In short, despite participants' stereotypical responses when
asked about gender differences, their situated stories showed how animal-human
relations vary across space and time, across gender, and within context.
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