Firearms Enculturation, Patriarchy, and Unexamined Hierarchies
Women must not depend upon the protection of man,
but must be taught to protect herself.
- Susan B. Anthony, July 1871
I've come to notice that there is a particular difference between men and women. I mean, aside from the very obvious stuff, slot A meets tab B, birds and bees and all that jazz. Specifically, I've been noticing that many women just don't know anything about guns, and yet most men seem to know technical statistics about guns they'll probably never see, let alone touch or even shoot. This has been true even with women who tend to dispense with most usual gender-role expectations, which is what really got me noticing that something was up.
Our culture is to blame. In patriarchal Western cultures, firearms and other weaponry are the realm of men. Women are not encouraged, and in fact are actively discouraged, from using or even knowing about firearms. We see it in movies and television, news stories, and editorials; guns are the tools that men use, women should use pepper spray and other less effective means to defend themselves. And yet women are subject to a disproportionately high amount of violence. Wouldn't it seem logical to give women a means to prevent and defend themselves from the violence that so many of them are subjected to?
The attitude of keeping women disarmed, and thereby either keeping them dependent on men for protection or making them easy targets for criminals (who may be the same men who they rely on for protection, as most cases of sexual assault are perpetrated by men that the women know) relates directly to what author and activist Derrick Jensen lays out as one of his premises in his monumental two-volume book, Endgame. He states:
Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
This idea certainly sounds familiar to most people, though many have trouble digesting it if they'd never previously realized that their own culture is based on just as oppressive a hierarchy as more obvious dictatorships. Women especially are subjected to this, having been treated as passive beings for centuries and having yet to totally shake that particular stereotype. We also see this sort of oppression being foisted upon various minority groups, even specifically in the case of purposeful disarmament, as the recent video put out by the Jews for the Preservation of Gun Ownership “No Guns for Negroes” makes apparent in its indictment of racist gun control laws copied directly from Nazi Germany by U.S lawmakers.
The dominant culture has many ways to enforce its hierarchies, and they aren't limited to laws and other official actions. Popular culture is a huge means by which social values are shaped, and oppressed peoples can be kept oppressed. Self-policing subjects are the favorites of those at the top of a hierarchy, and many women fall into this category. Pro-gun control propaganda is often aimed at manipulating womens' fear of attack, and yet as Gary Kleck, a Criminologist at Florida State, points out, approximately 550 rapes are prevented every day by women who simply pull a gun on their attacker. There are plenty of other statistics and articles that can be easily found by typing “guns prevent rape” into a search engine. As groups such as Women Against Gun Control will readily declare and explain to anyone, gun control does not have the best interest of women in mind; the Brady Bill's 5-day rule, instead of preventing violence, caused a slight increase in the rate at which rapes occur.
I'm no gun nut, and I'm certainly no fan of much of what I see in “gun culture” in the United States, but it seems readily apparent from any critical look at the history of gun control that it has been routinely, explicitly, and solely used as a means to keep oppressed people in a position in which they can continue to be easily oppressed. We don't all have to turn into junior Rambos to counteract this, but simply educate ourselves and others on the realities of firearms, their proper functioning, and their role in crime prevention. In fact, we need to strip guns from the macho rambo and thug culture as much as possible, and make them the tools of responsible, pro-community people.
Ultimately, this isn't about guns, but about an indictment of a culture that continually and routinely sends implicit messages to women and girls that it's not okay to fight back, that you should really just take what others are forcing on you: “Take the violence, abuse, and trauma that this culture foists upon you, and don't you dare try to stop it.”
This essay is about encouraging women and girls to fight back, not to take abuse, violence, and trauma just because it's the “way things are”. And most of all, it does come back to guns, and making it clear that it is not only all right for women to own and learn to use firearms (or any other means necessary) for their own and their family's protection, but that it is right, it is intelligent, and that effective self-defense is their right just as it is the right of all human beings.