Feminized Gun Marketing Exacerbates Rape Culture

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Many women learn early on how to defend themselves in dangerous situations: hold their keys between their knuckles in dark parking garages; keep mini-canisters of pepper spray in their purses. From a young age, just as everyone learns to look both ways before crossing the street, women are taught not to walk home alone if they can help it, not to put their drinks down at parties, not to show too much skin — all for fear of inviting sexual assault. It’s a similar, if violently escalated, vein of logic that Second Amendment activists employ when they tell women on college campuses that the best way to protect themselves against sexual assault is to up the ante: Carry a gun.

The argument, which briefly caught the attention of The New York Times last week, is a predictable step for the ever-powerful gun lobby. On the surface, the idea might seem aimed at empowering women, encouraging them to take matters — and weapons — into their own hands. It might even seem like a much-needed change of pace from the typically masculine gun culture. The importance of this switch in reasoning is that it is obviously dangerous — yet quietly gaining traction in statehouses across the nation.

The desire to arm college women is not a misguided attempt at empowerment; it is a transparent effort by the gun lobby to appeal to a demographic it typically has not been able to reach. The arguments are merely one part of an outrageous marketing scheme: New pink guns are entering production and are advertised as being specifically for women. Interest in firearms has declined in recent years, and it seems the industry has grown desperate, first turning to children with the industry-sponsored magazine Junior Shooters — published with the intent of drawing in future gun enthusiasts. Now, a stereotypically feminine, pastel gun design aims to appeal to women, while the industry’s warnings about the dangers of rape are stale and inaccurate.

Yet the facade of prioritizing self-defense quickly gives way to danger and tragedy. Just last month, a 3-year-old child in Albuquerque, NM, reached into his mother’s purse looking for an iPod and found a loaded handgun instead. He accidentally fired, shooting his parents; both survived but could face felony charges for criminal negligence. It hardly bears repeating that firearms and children do not mix. And the danger of guns on college campuses has tragically shown itself too many times in the form of mass shootings.

A Time Magazine article, (Ready, Fire, Aim: The Science Behind Police Shooting Bystanders, September 16, 2013) found that trained police officers only hit their targets with a success rate of 18 percent. Civilians, with little to no professional training in firearm usage and under more duress, would be even less accurate.

But the most striking flaw of the argument is the complete ignorance of the gun lobbyists and legislators about what sexual assault looks like and who commits it. The campaign wholeheartedly buys into the trope of “scary rape” — the stranger waiting in the dark alley, the sudden attack. According to a 2005 study by the U.S. Department of Justice, however, 73 percent of sexual assaults were perpetrated by someone the victim knew; 38 percent of rapists were friends with the victim and 28 percent of rapists were their victims’ intimate partners. Where, then, does the NRA expect us to keep our guns? Under our pillows while sleeping next to our partners? In our purses when venturing to the ’Sco or happy hour at the Feve?

Finally, the campaign leaves crucial legal questions unanswered. As it currently stands, sexual assault survivors face immense difficulty in gaining the law’s protection, and prosecutors have dismal track records when it comes to rape convictions. Add guns to the picture, and it becomes nearly impossible to imagine cases where survivors see favorable judicial outcomes. The 2012 case of Marissa Alexander exemplifies the picture that might result. Alexander, an African-American woman, fired a warning shot as her estranged husband attacked her, but injured no one. A jury swiftly rejected her “stand-your-ground” argument — the same self-defense claim that led to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin — and she was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Given this bleak picture, in which survivors must prove themselves innocent, how can women armed with pink pistols hope to prevail in the

Finally, the campaign leaves crucial legal questions unanswered. As it currently stands, sexual assault survivors face immense difficulty in gaining the law’s protection, and prosecutors have dismal track records when it comes to rape convictions. Add guns to the picture, and it becomes nearly impossible to imagine cases where survivors see favorable judicial outcomes. The 2012 case of Marissa Alexander exemplifies the picture that might result. Alexander, an African-American woman, fired a warning shot as her estranged husband attacked her, but injured no one. A jury swiftly rejected her “stand-your-ground” argument — the same self-defense claim that led to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin — and she was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Given this bleak picture, in which survivors must prove themselves innocent, how can women armed with pink pistols hope to prevail in the event that they actually shoot, or even kill, their attackers?

While the case for arming college women might be easily dismissed as a passing trend or a fleeting marketing campaign, it hints at the threat of a dangerous intersection of gun culture and rape culture. This deadly combination places the burden squarely on victims to shoot inevitable attackers and subsequently prove their innocence in a legal system where institutionalized sexism runs rampant. The necessary work of dismantling rape culture takes more than women’s self-defense. Education is a strong first step, but we need to take the weight off of women’s shoulders, as well as the guns out of their purses, to really fight sexism and rape culture. Feminine firearms are just a distraction from, not a solution to, the violent misogyny of our society.

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