Cougar figures, gender, and the performances of predation
This article considers how nonhuman animals are enrolled in the construction of gendered identities. Specifically, I interrogate two gendered figures with which I was repeatedly confronted over the course of researching cougar–human relationships on Vancouver Island, home to what
is estimated to be North America's densest population of cougars. The first figure, Cougar Annie, was a woman ‘settler’ on western Vancouver Island, reputed to have killed over 100 cougars in her lifetime and now celebrated as a strong, independent female. The second figure is
a contemporary trope, an older woman who expresses interest in younger men, known in slang speech as a ‘cougar’. Both figures are intimately bound to a third figure, the animal cougar, Puma concolor, whose material–semiotic relationship to humans both performs and
is performed by ‘cougars’ and Cougar Annie. Haraway's conception of figures as embodied and performative mappings of power is central to this article's discussion, which lies at the intersection of animal studies, more-than-human geographies, posthumanism, and feminist science
studies. Methodologically, I draw on interviews and archival research to trace the historical and contemporary specificities of these two figures – Cougar Annie and ‘cougars’ – revealing how they are informed by, and simultaneously produce, uphold, and perform, gendered
understandings of the relationship between humans and cougars, predator and prey, humans and animals, and culture and nature.
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