The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Smashing The Myth Of The Moustachioed ‘Lion Tamer’ (Sort Of)

Posted by Clem Bastow on July 1, 2008

The Age has a feature interview today with zookeeper Kathy Scanlon, who works at Werribee Open Plains Zoo. Scanlon is part of Werribee’s all-female lion keeper team, and has been working with Melbourne Zoos’ various zoological reserves for ten years. Part of her job is training and conditioning the lions to be at ease when around people, so that if they have to have a medical examination (for example), the experience is less stressful for them.

She is one of three lion keepers at the zoo — all are women — and an integral player behind the scenes of the big cats display.

So far, so good; I’m always pleased when careers features look at jobs for women that don’t include the usual teacher/nurse/PR options (not that there’s anything wrong with those, it’s just that sometimes you’d be forgiven for thinking they were the only options available to women).

It’s a shame, then, that Gordon Farrer (the writer) then has to resort to tired old sexism and cutie-pie prose to approach Scanlon’s work:

At about 165 kilograms each, Werribee’s two male lions — 12-year-old brothers Tonyi and Tombo — are smaller than their cousins in the wild, but they dwarf Scanlon, who scrapes in at 140 centimetres and 42 kilograms. She looks as if she’d have trouble blowing the head off a beer, yet with a few words the petite animal keeper has the beasts doing tricks worthy of the Ringling Brothers.

Right, because she’s clearly a tiny, precious little doll, playing with those lovely big pussycats!

Seriously, Farrar, what does her size have to do with anything here? She’s not picking up the lions and juggling them over her heads. Why not delve deeper into the subject – why not explore why it is that Werribee’s lion keepers are all female? Are women better suited to the role, or is it just coincidence?

The article gets better from there, but I couldn’t help but feel a bad taste in my mouth. When will a kick-ass woman ever be allowed to be just that in the eyes of the (largely male) media? Why is there always some little “remember, you’re just a girl” sting in the tail?

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