A Girl Going Hunting
October 4, 2017

“For from the start the functions are divided, and those of the man and the woman are different.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

When my daughter first asked me if she could hunt I hesitated. I am firmly convinced that due to the natural difference between men and women, some activities are fitting for girls and some are not.

My first two children are daughters, and neither of them ever asked to hunt–that is, actually to do the shooting–though they both came hunting with me. My third child is a son, and not only had he come hunting with me, but he started hunting deer himself at the age of twelve, having hunted smaller game for a couple years before that.

In this case I was faced with a new point of discernment. Should I hold my daughter back from this thing that she wants to do and that in itself is wholesome… because she is a girl? There are very few times in my wife’s and my raising of our children that we have done this.

But I think that fathers and mothers should be prepared to make distinctions between boys and girls in the activities that we allow or encourage them to participate in. Certain sports, for instance, I would argue are not fitting for girls–such as football and rugby. And any sport for girls should be understood and practiced with a different spirit and goal than sports for men. Why? Because the unique genius and vocation of woman–as mother, and all that this reality implies–calls for a special cultivation and protection.

Perhaps too often girls and young ladies, especially in the past, have experienced from some quarters a spirit that simply excludes and restricts, rather than a spirit that builds up and calls out their unique and precious gifts. A proper correction to this, however, is not the misleading even if well intentioned approach that “there are no significant differences between man and woman and therefore you can and should do anything you want.”

Boys and girls need our assistance and encouragement in discovering their true selves, including what pertains to their unique and complementary roles as men and women. We all face obvious challenges today in articulating, cultivating, and living these differences in the face of a militant and unreflective denial of the natural gift of the difference of the sexes.

My wife and I judged that we would support our daughters’ desire–our next daughter has expressed it too–to go hunting. As a father, I have thus far found it to be an excellent opportunity to spend quality Daddy-daughter time. It feels rather different, and I have taken a different approach than when I did it with my son. This, I think, is appropriate. I have herein yet another opportunity to try to enter into the mystery of woman, and to discern how to respect and to love it.

Last Saturday was youth hunting day in Virginia: a day in which a young hunter gets an early-season opportunity to go hunting under the tutelage of a mentor. I got to observe, from very close quarters, a couple of years of preparation pay off in the form of my daughter bagging a very nice buck. But as often is the case in hunting, the payoff had actually already come, well before the trigger was squeezed.

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  1. Susan and Lucy too pursued the white stag. Bravo! Thank you for sharing your reflection on this topic.

    1. Very nice point!

  2. I love this piece… it makes me wonder if it is really just a lack of Iove and protection from a father …that makes some women militantly want what men have or to do what they do …. in a jealous sense.
    Maybe because they have been deprived of the natural love that should be theirs.
    It’s different then a girl that although still feminine and loved but steeped in life naturally branches into strength and leadership and vocations that might traditionally be considered masculine .

  3. Yes!!

    Although, about the football and rugby…

    Having been raised in a military household with 4 brothers, as the only girl (and number 4 of 5), your article certainly touches themes from my own life. I grew up playing co-ed soccer on base against boys 2 and 3 years older. I must also begin by admitting to having been a very good wing on my women’s rugby team in high school. It probably had something to do with the backyard football I and my siblings played so often growing up…

    I think my parents permitted this because to do otherwise would have been to far down the road of “exclusion and restriction” as you mention. As a military family we moved to 8 houses by my eighth grade year, to be separated from my siblings, always on the sidelines in this way would have been too much.

    That said, “knowing your own strength” was definitely a lesson in our household. My parents provided a frame for playing. It could not simply be brute force. As a result an interesting richness developed in our play.

    I would have loved to say that I was as tough as my brothers. When younger, I FOUGHT to be able to say that I could do anything they could in the way they did it. I’m sure I did say it at times. Talked smack. But it wasn’t true. I learned this from our football games. I’m pretty sure my parents knew I would.

    My presence changed the game. I quickly learned to score I had to play differently. I paid attention and cultivated invisibility so I could sneak and be open for the ball down the field. I also used more laterals. From this my brothers learned more situational awareness. There were also times one of us would allow a play to unfold or allow a touchdown or temporarily flip allegiances simply because it was funnier. In this regard, the game was more relational. It was more about the joy of simply playing together. We explored our strength and learned to temper it. I did get creamed at times, buried, but never broken. I learned I could get up after being tackled. We were competitive and took joy in scoring, but the win was not at any and all costs.

    Playing rugby a few years later in the high school women’s league for me was not about proving I was tough. Thanks to them I was not afraid to tackle or be tackled and already knew precisely how tough I was. I could recognize a physically stronger player and adapt.

    There were times my parents had me sit out or I chose to sit out and just watch. Times my brothers craved a more physical challenge and didn’t really want me to play or times some of the bigger, rougher neighborhood boys were in the game. . I loved to watch the intensity unfold. Looking back, I think it was vitally important that I sat out sometimes. It gave my brothers the space to play the game with all the physicality of growing men and me the opportunity to appreciate the game played this way.

    I remember the bittersweet moment I saw my brothers head up the street to the park to catch a neighborhood game without me – the day I realized I had likely played my last scrapping game with them. I thought about going to watch but went inside instead and spent time with my mom. I had other things to learn and time with her was invaluable.

    I suspect we all have a better understanding of the beauty of sports and sportsmanship from this. I also think I grew to be more assertive than I otherwise would have been.

    Should my parents have held me back from these things? There are arguments to be made. One year my grandmother bought me a “Barbie Dream House” for my birthday. My mom asked if I knew what it was and I replied “a fort?” I think they definitely wondered if they were making the right choices.

    There were some things I was not permitted that my brothers were. Getting a job at the beach with my friend and staying in an apartment my high school senior summer comes to mind. The legacy of confidence I gained in those games with my brothers meant at times I was not risk averse enough in the world. My parents were firm at these times. I’m glad they were.

    I am so happy for both you and your daughter that as her parents you decided to grant her request and have reaped many benefits as a result. I agree sometimes rather than holding back, especially from something wholesome, it’s more about recognizing that if a girl or a boy, a woman or a man, undertakes something they do so in different ways, from different perspectives and with different natural talents.

    We might start by exploring the motivation. The rules of engagement are most successful at building on potential and complementarity when differences are recognized. There is value and richness to be had.

    I apologize for posting something so long. Thank you so much Dr. Cuddeback. Your post brings much reflection and joy.

  4. This post has really made me think. Then, after reading Malia’s comment I’m thinking even more. When I first read this post, Dr. Cuddeback, I stumbled over your comment concerning football and rugby and your argument that these are not fitting sports for girls because of “the unique genius and vocation of woman-as mother, and all that this reality implies”. Malia’s comments really spoke to me and I could identify with much that she wrote (though I did not come from either a military family nor from a family composed mostly of boys). But before I read Melia’s comment I stumbled at this point because 1) I particularly like football as a young girl and 2) I will likely never be a mother. You did add the qualifier “and all that it [motherhood] implies”, ”, but I there’s a way that I feel that this is a ‘disclaimer’ to cover a plethora of concepts quickly and easily. What in fact do you mean by this and why would you group together under ‘and all this implies’? I think my biggest stumbling block is the perception that you are claiming that there are certain objective activities that cannot or should not (and maybe that’s a distinction that is critical) be undertaken by women. I grant you that such things exist, but in my opinion they exist by force of nature and not societal norms (e.g., women cannot strive to grow a beard like a man does – or would like to 😊). There is a way in which I feel like I “get what you’re saying” but I want you to explicitly say it. What is it about “woman” that would incline you to say that there are certain activities that would be better for them not to participate in (and I’m referring to sports here)? Is it a ‘co-ed’ concept – like it’s not good for woman to play rugby and/or football with men? If so, I totally get that. Or is it football/rugby in and of itself that seems to be opposed to “woman”? What precisely do you mean by “woman-as mother and all that this reality implies”?

    1. Teresa, I apologize: I hadn’t seen this comment when I replied to the other. You ask some outstanding questions. I’m going to ask a few days to formulate an answer… Many thanks.

  5. I deeply appreciate both of these comments, Teresa and Malia. They are both clearly the fruit of much insight and experience. You both push me to consider a very subtle and important aspect of this issue. It really strikes me when Malia says:
    “I agree sometimes rather than holding back, especially from something wholesome, it’s more about recognizing that if a girl or a boy, a woman or a man, undertakes something they do so in different ways, from different perspectives and with different natural talents.”
    And likewise Teresa says:
    “It’s different than a girl that although still feminine and loved but steeped in life naturally branches into strength and leadership and vocations that might traditionally be considered masculine.”

    I think you both point to the truth that what is most important is that masculinity and femininity be protected and exercised whatever a man or woman or boy or girl might be doing.
    Malia your retelling of your childhood stories are deeply heartwarming. In those circumstances who indeed could ask you not to play ball with your brothers? It is interesting how when you grew older, as you note, the differences between boys and girls become stronger, moving into the foreground. I can imagine how it was difficult to adjust. But clearly you did, and the time that you had had together with your brothers was fortifying for you. I think this points up that there is certainly room for prudential judgment in how parents think about the activities of their sons and daughters.
    Teresa your point brings to my mind that we all need to focus on the often more hidden beauty of the feminine gifts. Why does that come to mind? Because I think that, as you note, often girls are inclined toward masculine things because they see those around them at least seemingly only valuing those things, and not the more hidden feminine aspects of human life. I do indeed grant that at times some women can, and perhaps even should, take a turn toward the traditionally masculine areas. At the same time I think that caution and care is in order here. But yes, most of all it will be important that a woman take her femininity with her wherever she goes. This will require great effort in a culture that encourages women to leave their femininity behind from the start.
    I am very grateful to each of you for sharing your thoughts here.

    1. Having been raised in the aggressive feminist movement and realizing only now, years later, how detrimental it has been to me and so many women, have you any recommendations, Prof. Cuddeback, on books regarding true femininity … as I have daughters now that I have been entrusted to raise. My prudence needs to be based on better information. Thanks in advance.

      1. Jan, That is certainly a great question. What first comes to mind is Maria Fedoryka’s The Gift of Woman, which is a little pamphlet published by the Knights of Columbus. Also, my wife is reading a book called “The Education of Catholic Girls” by Janet Erskine Stuart, published in 1911. Although written over a century ago, my wife is very impressed with how timely and practical the author’s insights are regarding this topic. The book is not in print, but I hope you can find a copy. I’ll let you know if I think of anything else. Thanks for asking.

          1. Super! Thanks very much.

          2. Thanks, Emily — just downloaded it to my Kindle!