The Sly, Sexist Tactics of the American Gun Industry

Attention females: if you’re feeling disenfranchised lately, get yourself a hot pink AR-15 rifle and blast off a few rounds at a local shooting range. Within the hour, you’ll be a new woman: tough, strong, empowered.

This seems to be the message aimed at American women these days when it comes to guns. A recent Washington Post article notes that gun ownership among American women is increasing. 23% of American women owned guns in 2011, up from 13% percent in 2005. Women’s participation in shooting sports has also grown in the last decade, increasing 51% for target shooting from 2001 to 2011. Explanations for this surge include the shifts in gun culture over the last decade, specifically a smaller emphasis on hunting and more on ranges and shooting leagues, as well as an increased desire for reliable self-defense. But another explanation is that the gun industry is succeeding in their very clever marketing campaign to attract women into the world of guns. 

Gun clubs, ranges, and vendors around the country now offer bra and underwear holsters and guns in an array of “feminine colors,” specifically hot pink or even in one extreme case, a Hello Kitty theme.

A New York Times article from November profiling the rise of elite, trendy gun clubs across the country observed as a female member of the Centennial Gun Club in Colorado “fired bullets from her purple glitter pistol, wrapped in gloves of leather and lace.” Asked by the Washington Post how he caters to female customers, the owner of the FreeState Gun Range in Maryland replied: “I’ve got a whole section of pink guns now.”

This feminization of firearms by the gun industry should be a red (or hot pink) flag on its own. It’s a transparent attempt to get women to view guns as pretty and glamorous accessories. Isn’t it also just slightly condescending and sexist to assume that a woman will only want to buy a gun if it’s pink? It’s as bad as the tobacco industry marketing cigarettes as the key to coolness, with an extra dose of misogyny added in, or Bic selling pens 'For Her' that come in pink and purple, which The Ellen Show satirized.

But what really bothers me is the narrative that guns “empower women.” The website for NRA Women claims to tell “stories of empowered women like you.” Pistol Packing Ladies, a female only shooting club offering NRA classes, has the inspiring slogan “empowering women one round at a time.” And we even have the word of Greg Gutfield of FOX News that “guns do more for female empowerment than modern feminism.” 

I don’t buy this bromide. Telling a woman that she needs to have a pink gun to have power belies real, positive female empowerment. Women can feel powerful and strong on their own, thank you Greg. And also, there’s something inherently troubling in the connection here between power and violence. Even if gun clubs and ranges say it’s all fun and games and sports, guns are weapons that can also kill (surprise!). So does a woman need to embrace violence in order to feel power? 

Of course, many women really enjoy shooting as a sport and they should be free to do so, just as gun vendors and ranges can sell glittery pistols if there’s a market. I’m not saying women should abstain from gun culture just because of “gentle” sex stereotypes. But this is just like the cigarette business selling cancer in a cute new packet. As women, we must distinguish true empowerment from dressed-up empowerment. Maybe ask yourself--are you feeling strong because you’re a smart, capable woman in the 21st century? Or because you now have the ability to fire an AR-15 that comes in hot pink?