Thursday, May 30, 2013

Firearms and feminism

Historically, gun culture in America has not been kind to women. As recently as the May 2013 NRA Convention in Houston, Zombie Industries featured in its display of mannequin shooting targets a life-size bust of a woman called “Alexa.” Alexa’s dark hair brushes her shoulders, and her tight white tank top is torn down the front to expose her large breasts barely contained by her glittery purple bra. She does not appear to be wearing anything below her small, toned abdomen. Her mouth, neck, and wrists are painted with fake blood, and additional fake blood emerges when a bullet makes contact with her torso. Alexa, the life-size target, was initially marketed to consumers as “the ex” -- as in, “ex-girlfriend” -- and for just $90, she can be yours to maim, as well.

Unfortunately, Alexa is just the tip of the iceberg -- the commercial distillation of a grim reality for thousands of female domestic gun-violence victims throughout the country. While men comprise over 90% of gun owners, women account for nearly half of all nonfatal firearm victims in the United States, and in 2010 alone, firearms were responsible for the deaths of 4,316 women -- about one dozen each day. Gun culture is, indeed, a man’s culture, and the cries of feminist gun control advocates have historically fallen on deaf ears. Today, however, a different spin on firearms and feminism is emerging, and this time, the movement is coming from within.

Over the past six months, the market has seen a surge in everything from the advertisement of “bra holsters” to the sale of pink guns. (And yes, you can purchase a youth version for your daughter at Walmart) Indeed, even a blog at the NRA Women’s Outlook includes a “Stuff we love!” page, where the fashionable female shooter can pick up a gun-themed ring, pink firing targets, hunting apparel that fits “in all the right places,” and pink camou shooter bags. Along with the fashion advice, perhaps unsurprisingly, comes a slew of wild game recipes, just for her.

In fairness, the unabashed exploitation of gender stereotypes makes it exceedingly easy to criticize this up-and-coming industry. But the apparent encroaching paradigm shift warrants a second look -- and a thoughtful one at that. In particular, the uptick in female-focused advertising is a direct response to a devastatingly oppressive sub-culture in our society, and it may serve as one important -- albeit imperfect -- step toward alleviating gross gender disparities within gun culture. Guns, the argument goes, are the “great equalizer,” and, even as a marketing manager for Smith & Wesson has noted, they are arguably “the last bastion of male dominance.

I cannot close without disclosing that I am not personally a fan of guns, I do not think that arming everyone is the only way to protect against armed criminals, and I agree with a number of commentators who argue that the optimal conversation to have is one of violence prevention rather than self-defense or anti-victimization. Yet, I think that by feminizing this highly masculinized culture -- whether by pink firearms or ladies’ shooting leagues -- the new trend is at least a nudge in the right direction. That is, if the Second Amendment retains its post-D.C. v. Heller force and guns are here to stay, perhaps encouraging women to be as armed as their male counterparts is not a bad idea. Indeed, perhaps the increasing prevalence of female gun owners will give voice to women within the industry and edge out the disgusting “Alexa” mannequins and offensive advertising campaigns that are so deeply harmful to all women -- gun owners and control advocates alike.

1 comment:

Juliana said...

While perhaps the feminization of gun marketing is a push in the right direction in de-masculinizing gun culture, it still seems fruitless with the paradigm used for female gun ownership is one of self-defense. Especially self-defense from male aggression.

What is most frustrating is that gun rights advocates are arguing women should carry on college campuses as a prevention to sexual assault. Not only does this bastardize any feminist dialogue regarding sexual assault by making the victim responsible for not getting assaulted, but in a push to legalize firearms it legitimizes a culture of violence.

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