Gender roles and golden eagles

I saw a wonderful movie on the weekend, The Eagle Huntress. It’s a documentary about a young girl who learns the ancient practice of hunting with eagles from her father.  At the time of the film, the 13-year-old girl lives in northwest Mongolia and she’s determined to break into the traditionally all-male sport of hunting with trained birds of prey. Now 15, Aisholpan Nurgaiv is traveling and touring to film festivals to promote the movie.

From the NPR review Teenage ‘Eagle Huntress’ Overturns 2000 Years Of Male Tradition: “This specialized hunting practice — woven into the fabric of everyday life and celebrated at regional competitions — has been an entirely male endeavor throughout its history, passed down in families from generation to generation. Now, just as climate change threatens this way of life and as only 250 eagle hunters remain in Mongolia, Aisholpan is coming to the world’s attention as the first woman eagle huntress.”

As much as I loved the documentary–such harsh beautiful landscape, and the eagles are such beautiful, majestic killers–I began to wonder how the plot of the story might seem to space aliens. It reminded me of the rule of science fiction writing that says you’re allowed to make implausible claim for the purpose of fiction but everything has to remain fixed. In this case the one implausible detail the story needed was gender roles.

The daughter clearly wants to hunt with eagles. Her family clearly thinks she’s good enough to learn the art. And she’s pretty good at catching and training her eagle. But the whole plot turns on others rejecting the idea that a girl can hunt. Traditionalists try out various reasons: She’s not tough enough. Girls aren’t strong enough. She’ll get cold. But all of the reasons seem obviously not to be true.

Yes, the hunting starts with days of trekking into the mountains on horseback in temperatures that go down to -40. And it seems super physically demanding. But the images of the smiling 13 year old make it obvious how much she enjoys the work and the role of eagle hunter.

From the BBC website,

It’s G rated. Take your children to see it.

(Yes, there’s some killing of animals by the eagles but nothing too graphic and if you eat animals at all, it strikes me that the eagles are much kinder than factory farming.)

Reviewed also here, A Documentary Star Is Born: The Girl Who Hunts With Eagles. And here,

Here is the trailer:

2 thoughts on “Gender roles and golden eagles

  1. A stunningly beautiful and engaging film — thanks for the recommendation, which I saw via your repost to London’s Bechdel-Wallace film alert page on Facebook.
    We enjoyed the film so much I forgot to wonder about the Bechdel-Wallace Rule until afterwards. Much of the dialogue is between daughter and father (both named), with some hilarious macho lines from the traditional (male) hunters, none of which “counts”. There is a bit of mother-daughter dialogue, and some girl group scenes e.g. at school, but I can’t recall either the mother or the other girl being named…. of course, there is some one-sided talk from Aisholpan to her (female) eagle, but I don’t recall the eagle being named either. So as is often the case, the B-W Rule is only a rough guide at best…

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